The Bare Truth About the Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus means river horse in Greek and spends most of the day soaking in the water and even though it appears docile, it is a fact that the hippopotamus is one of the more ill-tempered mammals in the wild. Hippos kill more humans than any other wild animals such as tigers, lions or even gorillas included.

Hippos are fiercely territorial and are common knowledge that hippos attack boats that infiltrate large herds and fisherman who work along the banks and frequently lay waste to inland fields, crops, farms while roaming the land at night. Hippos are huge animals and often grow up to 15 feet long and weighing up to 8000 pounds. (Remember ‘Moto-Moto’ from Madagascar 2 movie?) They can run up to 20mph and have large, strong choppers, canine teeth that can as long as 20 inches. Do you know that crocodiles don’t pick a fight with hippos because hippos can literally bite crocodiles in half easily! Imagine what it will do to a fragile human body.

If you go diving in jungle rivers or lakes, make sure they are no hippos in the region. If you encounter a hippo, go ashore as quickly as you can because they are clumsier on land. Do not try to go head on with a charging hippo as most probably you will end up like a squash marshmallow. If you have to fight with a hippo, poke its eyes and stay out of their mouth. You may not be able to outrun a hippo, but you can easily out maneuver the hippo by running in zigzag fashion and climb a tree if you see one.

Hippopotamus have glands that ooze a protective oily liquid whose red color has led to many myths that hippos sweat blood. Actually the oil helps the skin moist and possibly helps heal wounds and combat germs.

Protecting Kenya’s Wildlife at the Maasai Olympics

The Maasai Olympics is a biennial event in Kenya that started in 2012. Last year saw the second olympics and we are very excited for the next one in 2016. So in the lead up to the next event, we have a look at what it is all about.

Big Life Foundation and Lion Guardians work closely with the Maasai communities in the region surrounding Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks in southern Kenya to hold this event. The Maasai traditional initiation rite was to hunt and kill a lion. But a few years ago, in 2008, the elders of the area recognised the practice as unsustainable and approached Big Life Foundation to assist in setting up a different way to prove the manhood of the Maasai. And so the Maasai Olympics were born, to educate the communities and gain their commitment to conserving wildlife and habitat for the future and to recognise that this is their only sustainable way of life.

The Olympics consists of five events: rungu throwing, spear throwing, high jump, 200-metre sprint and five-kilometre run. A rungu is a club that most Maasai men carry (you often see it tucked into their belt) and the throwing competition tests accuracy while the spear-throwing competition tests distance. The high jump is not the standard high jump we think of in the west. The Maasai traditional dance involves a lot of jumping where the men simply stand on the spot and jump as high as they can, staying as rigid as a pole. Trophies, cash and even a prize bull are up for grabs for the winners. The two winners of the five-kilometre run in 2014 even received a sponsored trip to the 2015 New York Marathon!

Changing the tide to conserve lions (and other animals) is vital for the survival of Kenya’s delicate eco-system. The initiative taken by the Maasai elders a few years ago is admirable and the Maasai Olympics stands as an example to other communities to work towards conservation and education of their youth. More information can be found on Big Life Foundation’s website.

The Maasai Olympics takes place every two years in December usually somewhere in the Amboseli-Tsavo eco-system. If you would like to be join OTA’s safari in Kenya which includes attending the event, please contact us on [email protected] and we will add you to the list and let you know as more information becomes available.

Belize: The Magnificent Booby Birds

The Red-Footed Booby is a species within the Pelican family that lives in tropical coastal areas. This Booby Bird is also found on tropical islands in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, excluding Africa’s Atlantic side.

In Belize the Booby is most often found out on the Cayes, most notably Half Moon Caye, part of which, in 1928, was gazetted as a Crown Reserve Bird Sanctuary under the Crown Land Ordinance. The Crown Sanctuary Reserve was specifically dedicated to protecting the Red-Footed Booby Bird. The Crown Reserve was the first and still is the oldest area designated for the protection of wildlife in Belize.

Half Moon Caye is currently home to a colony of about 4,000 plus birds including the Booby Bird. Boobies like to nest in very large colonies among the orange-flowered Ziricote thicket. At the western end of Half Moon Caye one has a spectacular view of the Boobies from an observation deck.

The Booby mother will lay only one light blue egg in her nest, which is made from sticks. Using their feet both Booby parents will take turns incubating their eggs for about 44 to 46 days then the babies will learn to fly about 3 months after hatching. Boobies must use their feet to incubate their eggs as they do not have a brood patch. Mating Booby pairs may remain together over several seasons though they do not stay together for life.

The Boobies love of the Ziricote trees is not a one-sided relationship. The Booby colony actually supports the forest’s stability with their droppings which the forest uses as fertilizer. This very unique relationship between Booby and Ziricote has and will continue to endure for many future years if it is left alone as nature intended.

The Booby has a very unique variety of color morphs, unlike other seabirds. The Boobies on Half Moon Caye are made up almost entirely of white-colored birds with some black markings on the tips of their wings. Elsewhere Boobies are a light brown and looking into the flock you may see a white-tailed brown morph or a Red-Footed Booby that is entirely brown. Despite plumage differences, all of these adults will have the same characteristic: red feet.

Being a coastal bird it is no surprise that Red-Footed Boobies eat fish. Like many fishing birds Boobies will dive into the ocean at high rates of speed from the air to catch prey in the water. Their diet has a main makeup of small fish and squid which will sometimes swim in large numbers close to the water’s surface.

The Red-Footed Boobies in Belize are the smallest of all the nine Booby bird species in the world. There are three Booby bird species in Belize: the Masked, Red-Footed and the Blue-Footed Booby. The Red-Footed Booby is about 28 inches in length and has a wingspan of just over 3 feet. The Boobies’ 3 foot wingspan makes them very powerful and agile fliers, however, they are known for clumsy takeoffs and landings.

A trip out to Half Moon Caye to see these magnificent birds will be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life!

Grease Balls for the Birds: Feeding Birds in Winter

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere then you will know by now that winter is only a stone’s throw away. That means freezing cold days and nights, ice, frost and in some cases lots of snow. Once winter does arrive and you are cosy and warm in the house do you ever consider the animals and birds that live, eat and sleep outside? Well you should and in particular the wild birds that fly in and around the garden all year-round.

Do you feed the birds in winter? If you do, and I know many of you do, do you make your own grease balls? Well, making your own bird feed for garden birds is a great idea as you can add whatever seeds including flower seeds you have spare, nuts and other ingredients you like then mix them all together. But to get the ingredients to stick together what do you use? Well read on for my tips on making greaseballs which will keep those wild birds fed all winter long, and it won’t really cost you that much.

What to Feed Wild Birds

These are just some of the ingredients you can use when making the perfect snack in winter for your feathered friends. I use all these and usually all at once but the choice is yours, use whatever you have lying around. Another tip is to save things all year-round. Seeds and nuts will keep so will muesli and oats provided they are kept in an air tight container and somewhere dark and cool. These ingredients alone would guarantee to attract wild birds in winter.

  • Bird seed
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Dry bread
  • Biscuits
  • Muesli
  • Old cooking oil
  • Oats. A similar alternative is porridge oats
  • Cornflakes

Old cooking oil I hear you say? Well yes. If you have a chip pan or deep fat fryer when you clean them out save the oil. I have a large 10 litre drum which I pour old oil into it and then keep it outside near the door. Leave it out there with a lid on until wintertime them use it for the balls. It saves on using fat, margarine or other things to get your grease balls to stick, and you are recycling at the same time.

Other Utensils to Consider

  • Old mixing bowl
  • Old mixing spoon
  • Rubber or surgical gloves

It’s True, it’s True

Yes it’s true, the wild birds around where I live are better fed than me in winter! No wonder there are hundreds all lining up in the morning waiting for their breakfast!


  • Take the corn flakes, oats and muesli and crush into powder or tiny pieces. As a guide I try to get the oats looking like ready brek.
  • Take the bread and break up into small pieces. If I have a lump of bread I will grate it with a cheese grater.
  • Crush the biscuits then add everything including the seeds into a large mixing bowl. It’s best to use an old one you no longer use or go to a cheap shop and buy a cheap one for that purpose.
  • Mix the ingredients together and slowly add the cooking oil until the ingredients stick together.

Now comes the sticky part and that’s why you should wear gloves.

  • Take a lump of the mixture and squeeze together into a ball. If it sticks when you open your hand then it’s ok, if it falls apart keep mixing and add a little more oil. You want it so everything sticks together without being soaked.
  • Once you are happy with the consistency make a ball and put inside the netting then secure. You can use all sorts to secure the netting including electrical ties, bread stoppers, or an old coat hanger like I use.

Save for a Winters Day

As for the netting to put the grease balls in do you save them once they are empty? Again I do and reuse them. I also save the netting that you get fruit and vegetables in at the supermarket solely for this purpose, just make sure the holes in the net are not too small or large. To put them on the tree I use an old coat hanger which is bent at both ends. Just thread one end through the netting then the other end hooks on a tree branch.

And there you have it. Feeding birds in winter with homemade grease balls for all the wild birds will cost you less than you think. Once they are outside and the resident wild birds tell their friends there’s food in your garden you will see a huge increase of birds all clambering for a tasty morsel. These are excellent and easy bird feeders kids can make so why not get them involved too? It’s a great way of introducing them to the wildlife around them.