Book of the Week: BHL on Safari

Over the past few weeks, you’ve heard a lot about our recent meetings and world travels in Berlin, Germany and Cape Town, South Africa. The BHL-Europe, BHL-Global, and BHL-Africa meetings were incredibly productive, paving the way for the future development of both the existing global BHL network as well as the inception of a new BHL node in sub-Saharan Africa. As you can imagine, such meetings, though undeniably rewarding, also require quite a bit of work, so the final weekend of our escapades, we decided it was time to “play” and, in true BHL spirit, explore the country’s wildlife in person, through a safari at Inverdoorn Game Reserve and Safari Lodge.

As BHL employees, we naturally saw our experience through the lens of the biodiversity literature held in our digital collection and recognized many species immediately from illustrations we’d seen in BHL. On returning to our “regular” lives, we found that one book in particular served as a vivid reminder of our great adventure: Johnson’s Household Book of Nature (1880), edited by Hugh Craig.

Johnson’s Book of Nature is intended for the general public, presenting information not in technical scientific language but in everyday terms. It is the illustrations, however, that truly distinguish this work. The editor, Hugh Craig, eloquently wrote,

To the attractiveness of this work the numerous beautifully-colored plates with which it is illustrated contribute in no ordinary degree. The designs are original and have been prepared at unusual expense. They represent in a more vivid and striking way than mere words can depict, the shape, the habits and the habitations of the animals, as well as the colors with which Nature has adorned them and the attitudes which most distinctly characterize them.

There are innumerable ways to explore nature, from books and illustrations to photographs and, best of all, personal interaction. Our BHL group was lucky to experience Africa on a multitude of levels, and we’re thrilled to share that opportunity with you!


The Ungulates

Wildebeest and Common Eland

Also known as a Gnu, the Wildebeest is a bizarre-looking creature, with the tail of a horse, the head of a Cape Buffalo, and the stripes of a zebra. Our tour guide, Alex, told us that in Africa, they say that when the creator was finished creating life, he had leftover pieces and combined them into one animal to create the wildebeest.
The Common Eland is the second largest antelope species in the world (the largest is the Giant Eland). They display what is known as the Flehmen Response, during which a male will stick his head near fresh female urine in order to facilitate the transmission of pheromones to their Jacobson’s Organ, which helps them determine whether the female is in heat. We experienced this display with the male Cape Buffalo we encountered.



There are three recognized species of zebra, with many subspecies. We saw Plains Zebras on our safari. Though closely related to the horse, Alex told us that, as zebras lack significant stamina and have weak backs, they have never been truly domesticated.



The word impala comes from the Zulu language, meaning “gazelle.” Their populations are estimated to be near 2 million in Africa. It was the only ungulate we saw on our safari that is not pictured in Johnson’s Book of Nature, but it was so lovely that we couldn’t resist including its picture here.



The springbok is a skittish creature, literally “springing” away from anything it deems remotely threatening, including, apparently, safari groups. Hence, we only captured shots of these graceful animals sprinting away from us. Alex informed us that this species has an incredible jumping capability; when threatened, they will lock their legs and channel their momentum earthbound, creating incredible thrust that allows them to leap over enemies.
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Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo can reach lengths of 5-11 ft and weights of up to 2,000 lbs. Unpredictable, they can be dangerous to humans, but the group we saw on safari were clearly used to being observed and all but ignored us.




The most surprising characteristic of the giraffes we encountered was the grace with which they run, despite their absurdly-long necks. The male giraffe pictured in this photograph was particularly dark due to high levels of testosterone.



White Rhinoceros, also known as square-lipped rhinoceros, are endangered, being hunted maliciously for their horns, which are sold on the black market for use in Chinese medicine. The horns of the rhinoceros at Inverdoorn were all tagged and poisoned, making them unattractive to potential poachers. Inverdoorn has three rhinos: a male, female, and their calf. The female rhinoceros’ horn has been preemptively removed to save her from poaching, but the act has made her somewhat ill-tempered. Alex told us she has a history of charging vehicles. Fortunately for us, she seemed to be in a good mood during our visit.



The name hippopotamus comes from the ancient Greek for “river horse.” It is the third-largest land mammal and is terribly aggressive, being considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Near water sources with hippo populations, there are signs reading “No Boats: Hippos Present.”


The Predators


Lions are one of the most iconic predators on the planet, but sadly, they often find themselves prey to what is known as Cage Hunting. The illegal practice of Cage Hunting occurs when lions are bred to be sold to “hunters” that shoot them while they are imprisoned in cages. Though outlawed, the activity still occurs, and the lions at Inverdoorn were purchased by the park from just such an operation in order to save their lives. They are thus larger than the average lion, but will unfortunately never be allowed to breed, since neither the mother or the father would be able to teach the cubs how to survive in the wild.




The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70-75 mph. Inverdoorn runs a cheetah conservation program, and as part of our visit, the keepers demonstrated just how fast these cats really are. After luring a group of three young cheetahs to one end of a “runway,” they then attached meat to a lure and reeled it in, sending the cheetahs chasing after it at top speeds. It was truly incredible.
Finally, since no BHL-Africa activity is complete without a movie, BHL Program Director Martin Kalfatovic created a short video about our epic adventure. Enjoy, and be sure to check out all of the images from Johnson’s Book of Nature in Flickr.

Pictures by Grace Costantino and Martin Kalfatovic

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Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.