Camelthorn Acacia – Acacia erioloba
Other Names: Camelthorn, Giraffe Thorn, Kameeldoring (Afrikaans), Mokala (Tswana), Mpatsaka (Sotho), Umwhohlo (Ndebele), Mogohlo (Sependi).
Distinctive Characteristics: The slow-growing Camel Thorn Acacia, one of southern Africa’s most common trees, has drooping, often contorted, branches and a rounded or umbrella-shaped crown. Its common name refers not to a true camel, but instead to the Afrikaans’ name for the giraffe, “camel-horse.” The tree is identifiable by the sweet-scented, bright yellow, ball-like flowers that are found on many acacias. The Camel Thorn, like most acacias, has bipinnately compound leaves, but it is easily discerned from its cousins by its larger leaves and large, light-gray, velvety seedpods shaped like crescent moons. The pods are highly nutritious and are eaten during the dry season by livestock and large native herbivores such as the elephant, black rhino, gemsbok, eland, greater kudu, and of course, giraffe. Seeds are dispersed through animal droppings and may lie dormant for up to 50 years without losing their viability. The genus name Acacia comes from the Greek word for “thorn,” and most species are indeed thorny, protecting them from being over-browsed. Giraffes are partial to acacias and have a specially adapted tongue and lips that protect them from the vicious double thorns. The roots of Camel Thorn Acacia penetrate the soil deeply and can obtain water from depths of up to 197 ft (60 m); this accounts for their green foliage throughout most of the year.
Distribution: Southern Angola and Namibia, parts of Botswana, southwestern Zimbabwe, northwestern South Africa, and just into southwestern Mozambique.
Ecosystem: Arid desert regions and savanna woodland communities, including the Kalahari Desert. Often is the only large tree in its environment.
Maximum Age: Approximately 250–300 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 6.5 ft (almost 2 m) as a spiny shrub up to 56 ft (17 m) in height; girth not significant.
Animal Community: With the exception of a short time in which they lose their leaves, the tree provides valuable fodder almost year-round. Its canopy foliage is also valued as shade for both humans and animals and provides habitat for birds, rodents, lizards, insects, scorpions, and spiders. It has been found to be the preferred scratching post of leopards in some parks. A species of silk moth nests in the tree to produce silk cocoons that can be used to produce high-quality silk.
Medicine: The bark, leaves, pods, and roots tree have a number of uses. The gum can be used to treat influenza or gonorrhea; and the dry, powdered pods can be used to treat ear infections. The bark has been used to remedy diarrhea, and when pulverized and burnt, it can be used to treat headaches. The root can be used to treat toothache and cough, or boiled to make a mouth rinse for tuberculosis (planzafrica.com).
Food: The finely ground seeds can be made into porridge or a coffee substitute.
Tools: The hollowed-out bark of the root is used to make quivers to carry arrows, and the wood is used to make fences and axe handles.
Shelter: The wood is used for the construction of houses.
Threats and Conservation: This tree has been over-exploited for firewood and is now a protected species.
Desert-Adapted Elephants – Loxodonta africana
Distinctive Characteristics: The elephant in this photo belongs to a unique group of desert-adapted elephants living in northwestern Namibia. Although belonging to the same species as the African bush elephant, this group of slightly shorter elephants lives predominantly in the Kaokoland and Damarland regions, where they are specially adapted to harsh, arid conditions. While many elephants in Africa live within the confines of preserves, these elephants are free to roam, routinely traversing distances up to 37 miles (60 km) a day between their favorite feeding grounds, seasonal riverbeds, and scattered water holes during the dry season. The common herbivorous African elephant browses on a wide variety of tree and plant material including seeds, leaves, shoots, bark, branches, flowers, fruit, bulbs, tubers, and roots as well as grasses and sedges. These special Desert-Adapted Elephants can survive without eating as much as other elephants in food-abundant parts of Africa, and without drinking water for up to an astonishing four days; it can dig holes for water when it is scarce.
Elephants are complexly evolved mammals with the ability to communicate through seismic vibrations at infrasonic frequencies over a range of 62 square miles (100 sq km). They are thought to be able to detect these frequencies not only with their giant ears, but also with sensory capacities in the bottoms of their feet and tops of their heads. Scientists have acknowledged that elephants have the capacity for experiencing a wide range of emotions, including grief and mourning long-dead family members.
Threats and Conservation: The survival of elephants is threatened everywhere in Africa by illegal poaching, legalized trophy hunting, increasing droughts from climate change, as well as the desecration of their habitats and their food sources by humans, bringing elephants into increasing contact and dangerous conflict with local communities when in search for food, water, and safety.