There’s something compelling about symbiosis: two different species working together. Sometimes one takes advantage of another, sometimes both species benefit. The process seems to show the wild world operating at a nursery level, every animal doing its level best to help its friends and it’s all part of some marvellous plan.
But symbiosis is a fact of life. On my first morning back in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia I found two classic examples and the first was completely new to me. It concerned warthogs and Egyptian geese.
Warthogs work as a good pig should: by rootling, by turning the soil over with their noses. They are equipped with a large prenasal bone and a fair amount of cartilage, so they can get beneath the surface – even the baked-hard surface of the Valley in the late dry season.
The warthogs’ work makes food items available to other species: stuff they miss, stuff that’s too small to bother with, stuff that’s not to their taste. Across a dried-up lagoon six warthogs rootled; at a discreet distance behind them 14 Egyptian geese followed, going through the newly-turned soil for what the warthogs had left.
A little later I was at Mushroom Lagoon, where a few hippos were snacking on Nile cabbage, moving through the warm water like ice-breakers, shoving the weed aside. This created a fair amount of disturbance and two species of herons – two hammerkops and a great white egret – were exploiting it. They did so by standing on the hippos’ backs.
They rode the hippos like surfers, occasionally darting their long grabbing beaks into the water to find a silvery reward. The hippos were untroubled by their passengers, scarcely noticing them. Then came a hippo-spat – a roar and charge from these spat-prone creatures – and the birds took the air, only to start surfing once again when things calmed down.
- I was co-leading the Ultimate Luangwa safari for wildlifeworldwide.com. Next year I will be co-leading https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/sacred-combe-safari and I will also be participating in https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/festival-of-wildlife-zambia