Who will be first to scoop the eland eating an indigenous willow?

The Dutch were the first northern Europeans to explore southern Africa in the seventeenth century.

Immediately, at the site of what is now Cape Town, they met an antelope (https://dewetswild.com/2014/06/27/common-eland/#jp-carousel-4870 and https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-some-eland-image21533192) which reminded them of the European Alces alces (https://fineartamerica.com/featured/cow-moose-2-alex-mironyuk.html) in its rangy build, trotting gait (https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-moose-alces-alces-young-bull-with-small-antlers-foraging-in-moorland-136137922.html vs https://www.stuporterphotography.com/index/G0000.l6epIS9fOo/I0000oiE0dXv86_E), dewlap, pale legs, and browsing habits.

They called this animal 'eland' because the Dutch name for the moose was, and still to this day is, 'eland'.

That is right: the common name for Taurotragus oryx, the largest species of antelope, is the same as the Dutch name for the largest species of deer.

Of course, everyone knows better than to read too much into a name coined as a historical accident. After all, the eland is restricted to Africa whereas the moose is restricted to the boreal North, and their ranges have always been thousands of kilometres apart, in categorically different climates.

However, there is one unexpected link between them, one of those caprices of Nature which can delight the biogeographical curiosity of any naturalist.

If there is a single genus of plants which is most significant for the moose, it is willows (Salix).

Willows are mainly rather nondescript-looking shrubs in a boreal biome characterised by its coniferous trees. However, it is the willows that the moose depends on (https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-bull-moose-foraging-on-willow-trees-in-the-toklat-river-valley-in-173192723.html) because, like natural weeds, they are exceptionally nutritious, accessible and fast-growing, and seem to thrive on abuse by herbivores. In their innate generosity, willows can perhaps be thought of as the woody equivalent of lawns, flexible of stem and eager to be mown so that they can keep refreshing their growth during the brief Northern summer (https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-bull-moose-feeding-leafes-of-a-willow-103500947.html).

Indeed, it seems possible that, without these plants, the moose would not be able to afford its antlers - which, unlike the horns of the eland, are re-grown and discarded each year as if by analogy with the affluent foliage of the willows (https://www.alamy.com/large-bull-moose-amongst-the-willows-in-a-boreal-forest-image271990520.html).

Given that Africa is a hemisphere, a continent and several floras apart from the home of the moose, who would have predicted that a species of willow would occur - an outlier but fully indigenous - in the habitat of the eland? And that it would occur on the very site where the Dutch first landed, and first met the eland?

Such is the case for the Cape willow (Salix mucronata), which grows widely but inconspicuously in South Africa (see map in https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/593611-Salix-mucronata).

The Cape willow is probably not as nutritious as the boreal willows favoured by the moose. However, it was probably part of the original diet of the eland, which occurred throughout the distribution of this plant species.

To obtain a once-in-a-lifetime photo of the eland 'coming full circle' to its namesake, in eating the Cape willow, naturalists still have several places to visit with a specific search-image.

The most natural of these - still nearly the same as it was when the Dutch first established Cape Town more than three centuries ago - would be the Nyika Plateau of Malawi (https://www.africaguide.com/country/malawi/nyika_national_park.htm), where the eland remains common in an original, wild population (https://www.alamy.com/a-herd-of-common-eland-taurotragus-oryx-in-the-grasslands-of-the-nyika-plateau-nyika-national-park-in-malawi-image344122819.html). Here the Cape willow grows in a unique outlying population deep within the tropics (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/44890322).

There should also be several conservation areas, including privately-owned ones, in various parts of South Africa, particularly the provinces of Western Cape (e.g. https://www.alamy.com/eland-in-the-cederberg-mountains-image337582150.html and https://es.123rf.com/photo_130063893_eland-in-the-cederberg-mountains.html), Eastern Cape (http://shutterstock.puzzlepix.hu/kep/1680384328) and Mpumalanga, where the eland has been reintroduced (https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/628/206817.html) and the Cape willow grows humbly as part of the natural community of shrubs along streams.

Is capturing the African equivalent of https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-moose-alces-alces-gigas-cow-eating-willow-salix-sp-just-south-of-denali-43929406.html not a worthy challenge for a new generation of naturalists with a heightened appreciation of the subtle connections among seemingly disparate continents and organisms?

Publicado por milewski milewski, 13 de septiembre de 2021


The following is a good source of photos of Taurotragus oryx: https://dewetswild.com/2014/06/27/common-eland/.

Publicado por milewski hace 3 meses (Marca)

That was nice reading! Thanks!
I guess I will have to travel to Malawi then!

Publicado por sonnekke hace 3 meses (Marca)

Agregar un comentario

Acceder o Crear una cuenta para agregar comentarios.