This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by The Government of South Africa, now available on Google Arts & Culture
Two rhinos cool off from the hot sun by giving themselves a bath in a shallow mud pool. After their mud bath, they typically find a tree trunk to scratch their skin and rid themselves of ticks and fleas.
By Nina LeenLIFE Photo Collection
Rhinos are not able to sweat so the mud cools them down and also acts as natural protection from the sun’s UV rays. Despite their 1.5cm-thick skin, they are vulnerable to sunburn.
Rhinoceros (1749/1749) by Jean-Baptiste OudryGallery of Old and New Masters, Staatliches Museum Schwerin / Ludwigslust / Güstrow
Rhino horns are distinct because they are made up entirely of keratin. In contrast, cow horn has a bony core with a keratin sheath and deer antlers are made up entirely of bone.
Rhino horns have been prized in Asia because of the alleged medicinal properties which has contributed to the tragedy of rhino poaching. It’s incredibly important to continue to protect this beautiful species from the threat of poaching.
Shingwedzi River is the left hand tributary of the Olifants River. It’s a seasonal river which means the river bed can be dry for long periods.
There are over 11,000 elephants within Kruger National Park. Groups of elephants are called a herd, or memory. They normally consist of all the mother elephants and their babies. This herd is likely giving themselves a dust bath which they do to cool off and keep insects away.
In the distance, we see a section of the river with water but in the foreground it is a dry river bed. It’s quite common to see large herds of elephants--up to 60 elephants at times--along the dry riverbed.
A massive herd of Cape buffaloes graze amongst the long savannah grasses.
Cape Buffaloes are larger than their Asian water buffalo counterparts and have never been domesticated. A distinct feature of the adult buffaloes is that their horns have fused bases, forming a bone shield called a “boss.” They are considered part of the “big five” of Africa’s wildlife.
The herd size of Cape buffaloes varies widely, but the core of the herd is made up of related female buffaloes and their offspring. Surrounding them are sub-herds of subordinate males, high-ranking males and females, and older buffaloes. The dominant bull is recognized by the thickness of his horns.
Savannah grasslands are characterized by trees being spaced wide enough apart so that the canopy does not close. This allows a vast expanse of land to be completely covered in grass. It is also known to have seasonal water availability. Most of the rainfall happens in one period of the year.
A lone bull elephant grazes in the savannah.
African bush elephants are the largest terrestrial mammals on Earth. While female elephants traditionally move in close-knit herds, bulls are usually thought of as solitary wanderers.
In recent years, there have been observations of young bulls forming small groups in times of water scarcity. However, in times of water abundance, the social structure disappears and bulls generally travel alone.
An elephant can eat up to 450 kg of vegetation a day. Due to inefficient digestive systems, typically only 40% of this is properly digested. Elephants have 4 molars to chew grass, each weighs 5 kg. When the front pair wears out, they fall out and the back molars move forward to replace them.
An elephant will replace his or her teeth 4 to 6 times in their lifetime. When the last set of molars fall out, they lose the ability to chew grasses properly and a common cause of death for elephants is starvation.
A group of juvenile giraffes stand amongst acacia trees.
Giraffes are the tallest terrestrial mammal on Earth. Their necks can get up to 2.4m in length. Their primary food source are acacia leaves and they can eat up to 34 kg of foliage daily.
Giraffe, from the Wild Animals of the World series (N25) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes (1888) by Allen & Ginter|George S. Harris & SonsThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Giraffes have distinct horns called ossicones on top of their head, which are made up of ossified cartilage and covered in fur.
Acacia trees, commonly known as thorn trees, are shaped by grazing animals such as giraffes. The thorns on the tree are a defense system against herbivores. South Africa is home to a number of species of acacia. Pictured here is the knob thorn, which is fire-resistant.
While giraffes are normally found in groups, the groups can change up to every hour. They don’t have very strong social bonds and as they get older, males tend to become more solitary. The longest lasting groups typically happen between mothers and their young which can last a few weeks or months.
Zebras have black and white striped coats which are unique to each individual. It was once believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes but evidence now shows that they are actually black with white stripes.
A Zebra Crossing
A group of zebras crosses the road with giraffes in the distance.
The stripes of zebras are for camouflage and they frequently stand head to tail when in a group. This type of camouflage was called dazzle camouflage or razzle dazzle and used on WWI ships. The intention is not to conceal but to make it more difficult to judge speed and direction of an individual.
Zebras are very social animals and form groups called “harems.” These usually consist of one male and up to 6 females with their offspring. Bachelor males wander alone or with other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge another male for their harem.