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CREATURES OF HABIT: UNDERSTANDING AFRICAN ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR (article first published : 2001-06-8)

Creatures of Habit: Understanding African Animal Behaviour by Peter Apps and Richard du Toit is a fascinating and highly informative book. Published by Struik New Holland, it is a hardcover 160-page book with dust jacket and 190 full colour photographs.

One of my favourite pictures is that of an obviously long-suffering lioness’s warning snarl to her cub which has a paw placed on her massive reclining foreleg and is obviously nagging for attention. The cover of the book features an endearing picture of a lioness carrying a cub – perhaps the same pair? The expression on the cub’s face - a glazed look of both resignation and surprise - is that often seen on the very young in both animal and human species as mothers unceremoniously and determinedly cart them from one place to another

Inside, the reader will discover how lionesses and other animals deal with their young and how these youngsters eventually find their place in the group unit, whether it be a tribe, a herd or a troop.

But this is no dry and dusty sociological and academic analysis of animal behaviour. Filled with Richard du Toit’s superb photographic images and Peter Apps’s sympathetic, down-to-earth and often humorous text, it is a publication that will appeal to all lovers of wild life as well as those working within an environmental context.

Apps is acknowledged as having gone “out of his way” to get the photographs. In his notes, he avers that none of the images have been “manipulated or altered in any way by computer software” and that they are a true reflection of animals in their natural habitat. He is also generous in sharing information about the camera technology that he uses.

“Animals never do nothing,” maintains Peter Apps in his introductory chapter. He also states that there is no such thing as typical mammal behaviour” and that there is no “single individual whose behaviour can stand for a whole species”.

The various chapters of Creatures of Habit deal with birth and infancy; food and water; strategies for survival; social life; communication and reproduction. By the time I reached the end of the book, I was much inspired to get out in the wild and see if I could identify varying behaviour patterns. Now that I know what to look for in what appears to be a herd of impala grazing peacefully or a troop of monkeys chattering seemingly aimlessly in a clump of bush.

Apps talks about how animals gather information about their surroundings and each animals sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are adapted to its habitat and lifestyle. He poses the enigma that no reptile has ever been seen playing in the wild and explodes the myth that elephants get drunk because they have eaten fallen fruit that has fermented inside them.

Creatures of Habit: Understanding African Animal Behaviour retails at R149.95 and is worth every cent, particularly if you are a lover of animals whether wild or domestic.. - Caroline Smart




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