Wednesday Wildlife – The Leopard

We saw the leopard slinking low in the desiccated grasses of the Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo region. I almost soiled myself, not out of fear but of excitement. I have been to almost every major game reserve in Southern Africa, yet never to have once spotted this dotty kitty. Until now – this was a huge moment for me and my underpants.

One solitary male on a discrete hunt for food. At first, I celebrated the sighting, treasuring every second that I could watch him sleekly moving through the dry bush. A sighting like this – a once in a lifetime – is too often over in seconds.

Leopard by Thea Beckman 1

But a hunting leopard makes use of lofty vantage points to spy potential prey and, in one fluid movement, our male launched himself up the bole of a tree and took up sentry. Leopards are shy animals and extremely unsociable, which likely explains his unimpressed expression with being watched and photographed.

Leopard by Thea Beckman 3

Legs (and litchis) dangling out all over the place, he remained in suspension for the better part of 20 minutes, while lazily surveying the surrounding bush and staring at us with piercing, tawny eyes. On average, leopards weigh between 60 and 70 kg and can live up to 15 years. What is most exceptional about these cats is that they can drag prey heavier than themselves up a tree, where it can hang safely out of the reach of other predators and scavengers, offering the leopard a consistent source of meat for several days.

Leopard by Thea Beckman 2

The heat, the altitude, and the lack of action took its toll and he let rip an enormous yawn, offering us a glimpse at teeth that could crack your neck like a cheese stick. Seeing this leopard quite honestly constitutes one of the high points of my life and if you’ve seen one, perhaps you’ll understand why. They are truly beautiful, extraordinary animals.

Introducing “Wednesday Wildlife”

I may have shifted my attention to travel but a fascination with wildlife and birdwatching, in particular, remains a stubborn fixture on the landscape of my unorthodox personality. As a part of my new venture, therefore, I shall be posting a weekly picture of an animal or bird that I have taken on one of my adventures. I would like to introduce to you… *appropriately lengthy drumroll*… Wednesday Wildlife! Aren’t I original?

Hold on… I have a better one: Wander Woman’s Wednesday Wildlife! Isn’t the alliteration maddeningly satisfying?

Anyway, enough of that tomfoolery. Before I got around to repurposing this blog to travel, I let rip with the Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea, which I urge you all to like, follow, share, interact with, drool over, and even fondle yourself inappropriately to. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. Over the past few weeks that’s been going, I’ve posted three Wildlife Wednesday features – or, I should say, #WildlifeWednesday – so in an effort to bring you all up to speed, here are those posts.

The Cheetah

Wednesday Wildlife post 1

On a recent trip to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, I had the incredible life joy of seeing my very first ever cheetah in the wild. We approached this male by foot and got within about 15 meters of him, where I swooned over his kitten-esque antics. Did you know that cheetahs purr? Also, they are the fastest land animal in the world, able to reach speeds of 80 to 120 km/hr in short bursts. I shit you not.

An excerpt from my article for Southern Vines magazine about the reserve:

“Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a malaria-free, big five private game reserve located three hours’ drive from Cape Town in the Little Karoo. Believed to have originated from the Khoikhoi word for “desert”, the Karoo is a semi-desert region of unique and desolate beauty, marked by tough, low-lying shrubs, hellishly thorned acacia trees, otherworldly succulent plants, rocky koppies, and russet soils.”

Read full article here.

In other words, get your butts to South Africa and come explore our truly gifted natural heritage. Also, because I love to travel and will use any excuse to get out the house, especially to play tour guide to a foreign visitor, get in touch with me if you do make it to our fair shores. Just please don’t axe murder me.

The Owl

Wednesday Wildlife post 2

This absolutely gorgeous creature is a spotted eagle owl, which I photographed in the golden late afternoon light of a game drive that culminated in a glass of chardonnay overlooking a dry river bed.

Sunset chardonnay

There, just in case you didn’t believe life could get THAT good.

Spotted eagle owls are medium-sized, as far as owls go, yet are one of the smallest of the eagle owls. Interestingly, they are a big fan of bathing and so can often be seen around water or on exposed branches or on the ground with spread wings during summer thunderstorms.

Nestled into a thicket of rather nasty Karoo Acacia thorns, this guy glared smugly and somewhat angrily at us, confident that none of us would be stupid enough to breach his/her boma of razor sharp thorns. Of course, human nature is by definition a balance between high intelligence and sublime stupidity. Needless to say, we took our pictures and left the owl alone to its angry vigil.

The Baboons

Wednesday Wildlife post 3

If a picture could speak a thousand words, this one would be a “50 Shades of Grey” novel.

These are Chacma baboons AKA Cape baboons and they are one of the largest of all the monkeys. Indigenous to Southern Africa, they live a highly social life with a defined hierarchy, at the top of which is the alpha male, quite easily one of the most intimidating of all the African animals. Quite honestly, of all the sounds I have heard in the bush, I find the resounding, explosive bark of a baboon to be far more terrifying than a lion’s roar or the hollow clink of an empty wine bottle (and knowing that it’s the last one). An angry male baboon could easily give Chuck Norris a thorough bitch-slapping.

Baboons spend the vast majority of their days foraging and grooming each other as a way of strengthening social ties and, well, just feeling loved.

The Mousebirds

Wednesday Wildlife post 4

These three stooges, who are warming their undercarriage in the mid-morning sun in a coastal bush at De Hoop Nature Reserve (southwestern Cape coast of South Africa), are speckled mousebirds. Mousebirds are gregarious and enjoy the company of other mousebirds, as we can see from the amount of love biting going on in this picture.

Fruits, buds, and berry eaters, mousebirds are named after their appearance (small, greyish bodies and long tails) and foraging behaviour; scurrying around in the bush in search of food. They are the only bird order that is confined entirely to sub-Saharan Africa and – get this – could actually be considered “living fossils” because the 6 species that exist today are the only survivors of a lineage that was massively more diverse in the early Paleogene and Miocene (thanks, Wikipedia).

Another magazine excerpt from an article I wrote about the reserve:

“The seamless confluence of a variety of vegetation biomes and landscapes in De Hoop Nature Reserve has attracted an enormous diversity of birdlife, from iridescent sunbirds and large raptors to swooping aerial birds and gaily coloured flamingos. In a single day, in fact, you could quite easily rack up a bird list of over 100 species, so abundant and varied it is (over 260 species of birds have been recorded here).”

Read full article here.

Wednesday Wildlife with me

That, my friends, is all for today! I will be posting these pictures along with an explanatory blurb every Wednesday at 9am SAST. Of course, if you like my Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea, you can get all of this delicious intellectual goodness delivered right to your feed or inbox. You can also find me on Instagram at @wander_woman_thea.

Happy hump day!

Prehistoric Life: A Time When Size Really, Really Did Count

From flying insects that would cave in your car’s bumper to a snake that, at an average 50 feet (15m) long, could easily have eaten a herd of cows for breakfast… there are some pretty large animals to have roamed the Earth in its history and this amazing science video takes us on a journey through them. It also provides us with a relative scale, so that we can appreciate just how f***ing huge they are in comparison with our own tiny selves. Just do yourself a favour and turn your computer’s volume off, because the accompanying music will make you want to bludgeon yourself to death with a brick.

Video Source: “World’s 10 Biggest Animals of All Time” Uploaded by Hybrid Librarian on YouTube channel

The Wildlife Video That Will Make You Go "WHOA!" At The End

In an effort to attract attention to their home-shot videos, people often post them with elaborate and totally embellish titles like: “The Totally Best And Most Amazing Video Ever!” The heading of this particular video, however, really does say it all: “Most Amazing Wildlife Video Ever”.

I literally exclaimed “WHOA!!” at the end!

Video Source: “Most Amazing Wildlife Video Ever” uploaded by BestVideosEver911 on YouTube channel

The Wildlife Video That Will Make You Go "WHOA!" At The End

In an effort to attract attention to their home-shot videos, people often post them with elaborate and totally embellish titles like: “The Totally Best And Most Amazing Video Ever!” The heading of this particular video, however, really does say it all: “Most Amazing Wildlife Video Ever”.

I literally exclaimed “WHOA!!” at the end!

Video Source: “Most Amazing Wildlife Video Ever” uploaded by BestVideosEver911 on YouTube channel

Earth’s Top 10 Weirdest Animals, PART 2

Welcome to the second installment of this two-part blog series on animals you’d likely encounter in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not zoo if the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not franchise did indeed have a zoo. If you haven’t read Part 1 you can check it out by clicking the following link:

Read Part 1. I mean, who reads Part 2 before reading Part 1? Are you dyslexic? Are you an anarchist trying to upset world order? Or are you another hipster on yet another fruitless quest for originality?

Just kidding.

Here are the next 5 super strange critters on my list!

Deep Sea Pompeii Worm

Alvinella pompejana 

Deep sea pompeii worm

Image Source:

Contrary to appearances, this is not some outlandish proctology case study. It’s a very special kind of deep-sea worm that belongs in the cool-sounding category of the “extremophiles,” which are organisms that thrive in extreme environments. The neighborhoods of choice for Pompeii worms are hydrothermal vents and volcanic fissures, especially around the active plate boundaries in the Pacific Ocean. Also known as bristle worms, these rather hideous deep-sea squishies are a very recent addition to our taxonomic system, having only been discovered off the coast of the Galápagos Islands in the 1980’s.

Named After: Pompeii worms are named after the Roman city that got completely leveled by Mount Vesuvius’ epic tantrum in AD79. It’s kind of ironic that these worms, which thrive in volcanically active areas, are named after a city that did anything but thrive in a volcanically active area.

Physical Address: Pacific Ocean

It’s On This List Because: Pompeii worms live in water that is close to boiling point! They’re also covered in hairs that aren’t hairs at all: they’re stringy colonies of bacteria that are thought to help them withstand the perpetual heat they live in. To repay them, the worms secrete a delicious gooey snot that the bacteria feed on. Bloody charming.


Zaglossus attenboroughi

echidna strange animals

Image Source:

The echidna is just one of Australia’s many and very unique offerings to the animal kingdom. They look very much like hedgehogs, with a bristling back of spines that would deter even the hungriest, most desperate and stupid of predators. Like the duckbilled platypus, the echidna is a monotreme; the order of mammals that lays eggs. Yes. A mammal that lays eggs.

If you want to impress an echidna, lay out a picnic spread of termites and ants and they’ll hoover up the lot. There are three different species of echidna in Australia and one of them is named after my third favorite old man, Sir David Attenborough. My dad comes first and Santa Claus a close second.

Close Relatives Include: Duck-billed platypus.

Physical Address: New Guinea and Australia.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a mammal that lays eggs. I mean, could you imagine walking in on your cat sitting on a clutch of eggs? So weird!

Sphynx Hairless Cat

sphynx hairless cats

In Egyptian mythology, the Sphynx was a great and terrible beast that had the head of a man and the body of a lion. In fact, the Sphynx was such a douchebag, it would get a kick out of posing travellers impossible riddles that – if they got wrong, which they invariable would – would land them up as lunch. Today, however, the Sphynx has been very much downgraded from merciless flesh-eating beast to a bald, comical looking cat. Whether it’s divine justice or coincidence that these two share the same name is yet to be proven by science.

Around the 1960’s some idiot got it into his or her head that it would be fun to own a hairless cat and rather than simply shave a regular domestic cat, they began a selective breeding program that has resulted in the breed known as the Sphynx. They’re strange-looking beasts, with velvety downy skin, huge sardonic eyes and prominent cheekbones; an aesthetic they share with most runway models.

Closest Relatives: The Egyptian Sphynx (yet to be proven by science)

Physical Address: Yours possibly… if you like your cats hairless.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a bald cat that doesn’t seem to know it, or care.

Hispaniolan Solenodon

Solenodon paradoxus

Solenodon picture

Photo Source: Miguel A. Landestoy T. 2007

Okay, so I KNOW you’ve never heard of this one before! In fact, I had to slowly pronounce the name of this critter about 7 times before I could say it out loud properly. The Hispaniolan solenodon is not a Latin dinosaur*. Rather, it’s a long-snouted nocturnal mammal that – get this – is venomous! The Hispaniolan solenodon gets its very name from the unique structure of its teeth (dont meaning tooth in Latin), which are capable of delivering a shot of venom into its prey or enemies. This special critter is found exclusively on the island of Hispaniola, hence its name, although there is another specie of solenodon on Cuba.

*Please excuse my culturally inaccurate joke.

Physical Address: Of the two surviving species of solenodons, the Hispaniolan solenodon can be found hanging out on the island of Hispaniola (shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and the other smoking cigars in Cuba.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a rodent-like critter that’s venomous! Also, solenodons closely resemble the primitive mammals that were alive towards the end of the reign of the dinosaurs.

Goblin Shark

Mitsukurina owstoni

goblin shark pictureThe goblin shark is one of those creatures whose name pretty much nails their appearance. It’s probably a good thing these animals dwell at ocean depths where no sunlight filters through, because if girl goblin sharks saw just how ugly boy goblin sharks are, the species would likely go into extinction. In fact, the first person who accidentally discovered this species reportedly thought it was a regular shark that had been accidentally or genetically disfigured.

Goblin sharks usually grow to between 3 to 4 meters in length and use their very large and sensitive schnozz to sense out the weak electrical impulses generated by other deep-sea animals. They typically hang out below 100m depth and the only reason we know they exist is because the odd one gets dredged up by deep-sea fishing trawlers.

Physical Address: Goblin sharks adore the inky darkness of the deep ocean, so you’ll find them around submarine canyons and upper continental slopes.

It’s On This List Because: It could literally eat an apple through a tennis racket with those teeth and its nose would make a Jewish banker jealous.

What’s Your Suggestion?

That concludes my list! So, apart from your husband, what do you find to be the strangest animal and why?

Earth's Top 10 Weirdest Animals, Part 1

Our beautiful Blue Planet is home to a staggering variety of life that ranges from the simplest, single-celled amoeba to the most complex and advanced mammals. We interact with a variety of these species on a daily basis, whether its swatting away an annoying fly, taking your dog for a run or giving your husband a pat on the back for being civil to your mom, even when she chews him out for not being Brad Pitt.

Then of course there are those species we only get to see on the odd occasion – perhaps at the zoo, on safari or even in your own backyard if you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on your worldview). Bears, raccoons, porcupines, deer, wild cats, monkeys… the world is full of places where human and beast regularly brush shoulders with each other. Unfortunately, it’s rarely for the good of the beast or for your neighborhood’s aesthetics.

However, this blog isn’t about any of these critters. This blog is about the truly exceptional and outlandish; the animals you’ve probably NEVER heard of and that make you “ooh,” “aah” and “UGH, what IS that?” And so I present to you: Earth’s 10 weirdest animals according to me and my life experiences, environmental exposure and current opinion on what is normal and what isn’t, which is dodgy to say the very least.


Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
Capybara funny picture
 If you like your hamsters supersized, here’s a great pet for you! Capybaras are the largest rodents on the planet and are not only coveted by South American tribes for their meat and fat, but also by slightly more civilized folk for their company. That’s right: it’s not unusual to find families with a pet capybara taking up the majority of the TV room couch. These gargantuan rodents may wear a perpetual expression on their hairy faces that could only be described as morose or philosophical at best, but capybaras are chipper creatures that enjoy recreational swimming, hanging out with friends and lumbering about sniffing out jungle floor delicacies.

Close Relatives Include: Rock cavies and guinea pigs

Physical Address: South America

It’s On This List Because: Capybaras are the largest rodents on the planet and they look like giant hamsters.

Pet capybara on couch
Image Source:

Amazon River Dolphin

Inia geoffrensis

What’s pink, wet and slippery?

The Amazon River dolphin, of course! And you thought I was being rude.

Pink amazon river dolphin
Image Source:

This particular species of odontoceti or “toothed whale” is also aptly known as the pink river dolphin for its rather strange color, which is (can you believe it) PINK! They’re also the largest river dolphins and are as unfussy about what they put in their mouths as a broke hooker. The Amazon River dolphin’s diet includes more than 50 different kinds of fish and, if they happen to come across them, crabs and turtles, too. Unfortunately, these dolphins don’t do very well in captivity, which makes breeding and conservation programs a tad tricky.

Close Relatives Include: Flipper, the dolphin.

Physical Address: The Amazon and Orincoc basins, as well as Bolivia’s upper Madeira River.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a PINK dolphin, for crying out loud!

Star-Nosed Mole

Condylura cristata

Star-nosed mole
If you can look at this picture without feeling like you’ve been touched by your uncle, I commend you.

With 22 fleshy tentacles offensively wiggling about at the end of its nose, this astounding critter would be the envy of any self-respecting octopus. Well, it’s the star-nosed mole and it uses its rather grotesque schnozz to sense out the unfortunate invertebrates that make up its diet. This “touch organ” is rather extraordinary, not only in appearance: it houses a staggering 25,000 sensory receptors, which enable the mole to negotiate its way around and detect food.

Physical Address: The wet lowlands of the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.

It’s On This List Because: It’s got a nose that makes me want to wear a chastity belt and cross my legs.

Blob Fish

Psychrolutes marcidus

Ugliest animal blob fish
Image Source:

I’m pretty sure the blob fish was the inspiration behind the classic horror film “The Blob” and for obvious reason. Although, instead of looking disgustingly malignant, the blob fish looks more like a cartoon rendition of a pasty, overweight, middle-aged guy called Steve. From the front, it doesn’t even look like a fish! Actually, these deep-sea fish are fish, but unlike the fin-and-flipper variety we’re used to, blob fish are jelly-like masses whose buoyancy (and the fact that they’re slightly less dense than water) allows them to drift just above the deep ocean floors they forage off of. With a lack of sophisticated hunting machinery, the blob fish will simply eat anything remotely edible that happens to float past its maw.

Close Relatives Include: Eyeless cave fish

Physical Address: Deep ocean off the coast of New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a gelatinous beast that thrives at an ocean depth where the ambient pressure is as much as 120 times that of sea level! Also, it’s the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and 2013 winner of the world’s most hideous critter!

Komondor Dog

Image Source:

If Bob Marley were reincarnated as a dog, THIS would be it. The Komondor is a type of sheepdog that, given its vocation as a shepherd, is obviously struggling with some serious identity issues. I mean, can you imagine how many times this poor dog has had to politely turn down the amorous advances of unsuspecting male sheep? This be-dreaded pooch naturally grows these long matted locks, but don’t be too hasty to make fun of it. The Komondor is a proud breed of Hungarian sheepdog and a powerhouse of discipline and service, accounts of which date as far back as 1544.

Physical Address: The Komondor is believed to have been introduced by the Cuman warrior tribe to Hungary. Today, it’s not a breed often seen in your neighborhood dog park, but it can probably be found on all continents with the obvious exception of Antarctica. Because no domesticated dogs live there.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a sheep dog that looks like a sheep and could probably double up as a Swiffer or a floor mop.

Having Fun So Far?

 Good, but you should really get some work done and so should I, so stay tuned for Part 2 on Monday 21st December to read about more creepy, exotic, strange, otherworldly and outlandish creatures!

Bioluminescence Caught in the Act!

Just to add a little illustration to the recent TED Talks video post on bioluminescence, here are some pretty spectacular ocean creatures fluorescing under water!

Video Source: “Bioluminescence on Camera” by National Geographic on YouTube channel

A Snoring Hummingbird (For Real Real)

Hummingbirds look like bumblebees dressed in drag and routinely pull off amazing feats of flight and manoeuvrability. And while we already know these tiny bejewelled aviators are ridiculously cute, THIS video is something else entirely! It will soften your soul to mush and generate a cacophony of “aaaawws” from all the ladies AND dudes in the office.

It’s a snoring hummingbird.

You’re welcome.

Video Source: BBC, posted on the YouTube channel

Today's Biology Lesson: A Talking Squirrel

There’s nothing like a flurry of cute animal videos to make you feel better about going to work. This one of a fast-talking squirrel will only take 10 seconds of your day, so when your boss exits the room for Office # 2 (to see a man about a wallaby), you’ll have ample time to watch it at least four times… because you’re going to want to.

The more you watch it, the funnier it gets. Here’s a grateful talking squirrel…

Video Source: “A Talking Squirrel” uploaded by Fun4you on YouTube channel

“Hello there I am a fat little squirrel sitting on your porch thank you very much for giving me these delicious walnuts I like them very much you are a nice person i will be sure to come back tomorrow to get some more walnuts you are my favorite person in the neighborhood I like you like you love you love”