Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Penguins and Whales and Guinea Fowl...OH MY!

What is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Africa? ANIMALS!! I'm sure I'll have more to say about the "Big 5" (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, and Rhino) along with the other wildlife of South Africa after my trip to Kruger National Park and beyond later this month, but I thought I'd start local.

Over these past few months living in Cape Town, one fun thing I've experienced is all the wildlife that call this interesting environment home. Despite the surprising similarities between this ecosystem and that of California, the array of wildlife is quite different. Though I haven't had the luck (or lack thereof I guess you could say since they're notoriously mean) of running into one of the baboons that roam campus and Table Mountain park, or come across any wild ostriches yet (though I've eaten their meat a few times...), I have been able to experience a few other animal species that call this part of the world home.

A particular bird with fantastic feathers has caught my attention here. The polka dotted blue headed Guinea Fowl has a super obnoxious birdcall and their funny run will have you giggling. The first time I spotted this creature was at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens under the shadow of the mountains of Table Mountain National Park. My South African friends laughed at me when I was running around trying to take a good picture of them because they are regarded as a silly annoying bird. Since then I've noticed them all over the UCT campus grounds and randomly around the city.

Next up we have the endangered Southern Right Whales that I saw off the coast of the town Hermanus, which is a bit outside of Cape Town and just so happens to be one of the best whale-watching locations in the world. Back in September, during prime whale watching season (due to the fact that the whales come to this spot every year for 2-3 months to mate), a few classmates and I went out to Hermanus for the day to take a whale watching boat tour. For 2 hours we got up close and personal with the whales, at one point even being surrounded by about 20 of the giant creatures. They're curious and playful, coming right up to the boat as it was lurching up and down in the waves. It's awe inspiring to be so close to such huge living things who call the deep mysterious ocean their home. Female Southern Right Whales can be up to 15 m long (49ft) weigh up to 47 tonnes. I've seen Humpback Whales in the waters of Alaska and off the coast of northern California, but being this up close and personal with some of their southern cousins was really quite an experience.

The third animal I've had the pleasure of encountering here in Cape Town is by far my favorite: The African Penguin! Also known as the "jackass" penguin for the donkey-like sound that it makes, they aren't as brightly colored as some of their Arctic relatives and are pretty smelly little guys, but they are just so darn adorable. Just down the coast from the harbor of Simon's Town in the southern peninsula region of Cape Town, there's a beach called Boulders that these cute creatures call home. On a rainy afternoon back in August, a few friends and I went to check them out. We took a walk behind the beach through their nesting area and saw plenty of them waddling around and napping. I just think they are the cutest things and I wish I could stuff one in my suitcase to have as a pet back home. 

And there you go, a little taste of the wildlife of Cape Town. 
I leave you with a whale tale wave...

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