Explore the significance of interconnectedness in nature through Kruger National Park's symbiotic animal friendships

Research reveals on the intriguing dynamics between certain species. Picture: INSTAGRAM

Research reveals on the intriguing dynamics between certain species. Picture: INSTAGRAM

Published Jul 25, 2023


Research has revealed intriguing dynamics between certain species, such as the oxpeckers and rhinos, as well as the baboons and impalas.

These unique pairs demonstrate not only the wonders of symbiosis but also how different species can support and protect each other in the wild.

Enock Mkansi, a seasoned safari guide at Kruger National Park, provides insightful comments on these extraordinary animal relationships.

The Oxpecker: Nature's grooming and security experts

The oxpeckers in Kruger National Park play an essential role in maintaining the well-being of several mammal species. These small parasitic birds have formed remarkable symbiotic bonds with elephants, impalas, and rhinos.

As "askari wa kifaru" (the rhino's guard) in Swahili, oxpeckers perch on their mammal friends to feast on ticks and parasites, providing them with a valuable grooming service. Not only do they keep their hosts free from pests but these avian custodians also act as unlikely security guards.

Research shows that they help black rhinos evade human detection in up to 50% of encounters, improving the rhinos' safety by enhancing their human detection distance.

A blended crowd

In the serene Greater Kruger Conservancy along the Sabie River, zebras and wildebeest form unique and powerful alliances. These herbivorous grazers band together to create hybrid herds that benefit from each other's strengths.

“In this special alliance, the Kruger’s striking zebras are blessed with a sophisticated sense of sight, whereas their brawny wildebeest allies are gifted with superior hearing,’’ says Mkansi.

He says these majestic animals also protect each other from potential threats and predators by forming joint herds. This strategy allows them to leverage their unique strengths in a complementary manner.

For instance, zebras possess excellent eyesight while the wildebeests have exceptional hearing. By joining forces, they effectively create a defence team that benefits from the advantages of both species.

Moreover, during their shared grass dining sessions, zebras and wildebeests display a fascinating approach to ensuring efficient food consumption. Zebras, with their preference for taller grass, graze on it first, leaving the shorter grass behind.

Subsequently, wildebeests readily indulge in the remaining grass, demonstrating a clever way of sharing resources, and optimizing their mealtime experience.

Impalas and baboons ensuring mutual safety

At the picturesque acacia country water holes of the Lower Sabie, impalas and baboons demonstrate a fascinating foraging friendship. The park's most common antelope, the impalas, gather to enjoy the delicacy, which hangs from the sausage tree.

However, they are unable to eat the fruit due to its tough skin. Enter the baboons, who are more than happy to help. Baboons, can access the fruit and dine on it, leaving behind scraps that the agile impalas can then consume.

Mkansi highlights that the relationship between these two species extends beyond food sharing to mutual safety. Impalas seem to feel safer around the baboons, relying on their companions' calls to identify potential predators and reducing the time spent on surveillance.

Mongoose and warthog in Uganda

Beyond the boundaries of Kruger National Park, researchers in Uganda have observed another intriguing animal relationship. Similar to the oxpeckers in Kruger, mongooses have been known to assist warthogs by ridding them of unwanted pests.

Warthogs willingly become "clients" to their mongoose friends, lying down as the mongooses scamper over them to eliminate ticks and parasites.

This cleaning partnership benefits both species, ensuring the warthogs are free from pests, and the mongooses have access to a meal of ticks and parasites.

Humans can learn something from this - there is power in collaboration and mutual support. Just as the animals form alliances to protect each other from predators and dangers, humans can also achieve more when they work together as a team, leveraging their individual strengths to accomplish shared goals.

With World Conservation Day on Friday, July 28, we can incorporate how each species play a unique role in the ecosystem, and how their interactions contribute to the overall balance and health of the environment.

This serves as a reminder for humans to recognize their interconnectedness with nature and the responsibility to care for the environment and all its inhabitants.

They can learn to appreciate and embrace diversity in their communities, workplaces, and society as a whole. Embracing diversity can lead to more innovative problem-solving, increased empathy, and a more harmonious coexistence.

Furthermore, the friendships observed among these animals demonstrate the importance of empathy and mutual assistance.

Whether it's the oxpeckers providing grooming and security services to rhinos or baboons sharing food scraps with impalas, these actions exemplify the significance of helping one another, even across species boundaries.

The friendships formed by the animals in the Kruger National Park teach us the importance of collaboration, interconnectedness, diversity, and empathy.

By reflecting on these lessons and applying them in our own lives, we can foster stronger relationships, contribute to a healthier environment, and create a more compassionate and harmonious world.