They’re good, they’re bad and they’re ugly

There’s no other way of putting it. None of the following creatures were blessed with movie star looks but each one has a majesty and a beauty all of its own. As you’ll see for yourself at The Homestead. Let’s start with the vulture.

Vultures get a pretty bad rap. Maybe because they feed on the decaying flesh of slaughtered animals. But by doing this, they play a vital role in the ecosystem by preventing the spread of disease. Vultures’ extraordinarily robust digestive systems allow them to consume the sort of bacteria that would be lethal to other animals. This means deadly bacteria are removed from the ecosystem and other creatures are protected.

These magnificent birds can have wingspans of almost three metres. They soar to astonishing heights to detect their food, aided by almost supernatural eyesight.

A flying formation of vultures is known as a “kettle” but when they’re feasting on dead animals, they’re known – quite appropriately – as a “wake”.

Mud-wallowing, den-dwelling warthogs are surprisingly nippy. They can run at speeds of up to the 30 mph but, unlike vultures, their eyesight isn’t great. This is why they run with their distinctive tails rigid in the air like aerials. So, when a group of warthogs – known as a “sounder” – are hurtling through long grass, they can easily keep track of each others’ tails.

Despite their fearsome appearance, warthogs are not predators. Their sharp tusks are used primarily to forage and this has the additional benefit of aerating the soil. Closely related to both the pig and the wild boar, warthogs have cordial relationships with other animals. Oxpeckers and yellow hornbills can be spotted on a warthog’s hide, feasting on insects while monkeys will carefully remove ticks from that hide. These relationships both free the warthog from pests and provide food for other animals.

The Marabou Stork has a pterodactyl-like appearance, which always reminds us that birds evolved from dinosaurs. It fills its huge yellow-green bill with fish, frogs, lizards, insects and mice. The largest of all storks, Marabous are not fussy eaters. They’ll happily feast alongside the vultures on whatever’s going, so they too prevent the spread of disease into the ecosystem by digesting the bacteria that might cause disease in other animals.

With their dark grey, cloak-like wings, white tail feathers and long white legs, their appearance from behind has led to the Marabou Stork being referred as the “undertaker bird” and a group of them is known as a “funeral”.

Hyenas live in clans of over a hundred and are one of the most important animals in African ecosystems. Although known for scavenging food from other predators, hyenas actually kill most of their food themselves. They’ll run at their prey at almost 40 mph and can devour up to a third of their body weight in one feed. Hyena cubs are born ready for action, with teeth, fully developed muscles and their eyes wide-open. What’s more, they have the strongest jaws of all African carnivores.

Like their fellow uglies, the vulture and the Marabou Stork, hyenas are a first-class clean-up crew for the ecosystem: they make quick work of clearing bones and consuming carcasses, which again means they prevent the spread of disease.

Heavily built with a long anvil-shaped nose and hairy face, a horse’s mane, a beard, curved horns, stripes of black hair down their hunched backs and short back legs of an antelope, the wildebeest was never going to win any beauty contests. One of the largest of all antelopes, this fabulous beast can be up to 8ft in length.

Despite their meaty appearance, wildebeest are actually vegans, constantly grazing on grasses, herbs, shoots and leaves. Unlike warthogs, wildebeest need a constant supply of water, which fortunately, isn’t a problem on a lush reserve like Nambiti.

They co-exist quite happily with giraffes and zebras but live in huge herds to protect themselves from predators like lions, cheetahs, crocodiles and hyenas. Despite this, the female wildebeest will do anything to protect her cubs. One was seen on the reserve fighting off two jackals immediately after childbirth. The dominant male Blue Wildebeest, however, are almost comically playful. Their bizarre antics and mating rituals have led to them being known as the “Clowns of the Savannah”.

Given these many contradictions, is it any wonder that their collective noun is an “implausibility” of wildebeest.