Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Coke's Hartebeest

The hartebeest is an African antelope with eight subspecies, one of which, the Bubal hartebeest of North Africa, is now extinct. The subspecies we encountered, Coke's hartebeest or kongoni, is found in Kenya and Tanzania. Six other subspecies are found in other areas of Africa and there are some cross-subspecies as well. Among other differences, each subspecies has different shaped horns and different variations in coloring. The name "hartebeest" comes from the Afrikaans word "hertebeest," a name given them by the Boers who thought they looked like deer. The Dutch word "hert" means "deer" and "beest" means "beast." The hartebeest is tall, narrow, has a high-shoulder, and a long narrow head.
Coke's hartebeest in Nairobi NP - by far our best viewing of hartebeest. 
Also in Nairobi NP.
An elongated forehead forms a bony pedicle that supports the horns. 
Large pedicle on top of head. In Ngorongoro Crater. Photo by John Mirau.
Coke's hartebeest is one of the smallest subspecies with a less developed pedicle. The color is reddish tawny/fawn/tan on its upper parts and lighter on its rump and lower parts.
In Nairobi NP.
Young hartebeest in Nairobi NP.
It has thick, short horns that diverge almost horizontally at the base, then turn upwards and backwards.
Various views on horns. Good view of them slanting backwards.
Both males and females have horns. Herds consist of 5 to 10 females and young and the males only join them when breeding or herding.
In Serengeti NP where we only saw one or two hartebeest.
In Ngorongoro Crater.
Hartebeest meat is considered very good which has made it a popular game animal. That, along with habitat destruction, human incursion on their habitat and competition with domestic cattle for food has made their numbers drop quite dramatically. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Whole Armadillo: Sous Vide and Fried

Armadillo is something I've wanted to try eating for a long time. I got an email from Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market on Thursday saying he had just gotten some in - did I want one? I quickly responded, "yes," and it was delivered to my office the next morning. The package created quite a stir in the office, even among people who have seen me get some pretty weird things. It was an entire armadillo, head, shell and all. Sometimes the game I order is already cut-up into steaks or stew meat. That is nice from a convenience standpoint, but I really do enjoy the process of cleaning the entire animal, when possible. It gives me a better idea of how the animal is structured and a better appreciation for how much work it was for people in bygone eras to actually prepare game, instead of just buy it in prepared pieces from a store. 

Armadillo is an exotic looking animal. I've never seen one alive in the wild. I did see one years ago that was dead in the road in Louisiana. I saw an Andrew Zimmern episode where he ate one, I believe somewhere in Mexico or South America and I'm just seeing now that he ate one in 2012 in Central Florida with some "crackers." I haven't seen that episode yet.
A picture of an armadillo from Wikipedia.
There is a great article on armadillo as food here, including some recipes. Armadillo has been known as "possum on the half-shell" and "Hoover hog," a reference to the poor in the South eating them during the Great Depression. The taste is supposed to be "like fine-grained, high-quality pork." The article provided the only instruction I could find on cleaning them: "skin from the underside to split the skin from the neck most the way down to the tail...Peel the animal out as you would a squirrel or rabbit. Remove all fat from under the front and back legs and wash meat thoroughly. After meat is cleaned completely cut into quarters."

As indicated above, the armadillo I got still had the head and shell, as well as the legs and most of the innards. There was a hole in the stomach and at least the intestines were removed. As I cleaned it further I did find the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs were still intact, but I did not keep them. As recommended, I cut the underside from the throat to the existing cut and extended the cut down the rest of the underside. Then I took a long knife and some kitchen shears and cut the shell away from the body until I was able to remove the body completely from the shell. That skinned three-quarters of it and left the belly and legs to deal with. The skin is quite hairy, rough and thick. It took a little bit of work to cut through it and work it and the underlying layer of fat off, particularly from the limbs. Ultimately, I got it down to the torso and four limbs and then cut it into quarters.
I used the Styrofoam shipping container as a base for skinning the armadillo. I did it out on the back lawn to avoid a mess in the kitchen. It took a day and a half to thaw it out.  
The underside of the armadillo. The slit in the belly was already there.
This picture gives a sense of the wrinkled, heavy skin and wiry hair, as well as the sharp digging claws.
The head and floppy ears. 
Here I've slit the chest open from the neck to the back and separated the body from the shell. 
Body and shell separated.
The backside comes clean from the shell, except some excess fat to remove, but the skin has to be removed from the legs and belly. 
Part of the skin removed. You get a sense for how thick it is.
The back after most of the fat has been removed.
The front after all of the skin and unnecessary fat has been removed.
Cut into four pieces.
One recipe suggested soaking the meat overnight in salted water (1 tablespoon of salt to each quart of water). I've found that similar instruction in quite a few wild meat recipes. From what I can find this does a number of things: (1) removes blood from the meat; (2) kills bacteria; (3) reduces the gamy taste; and (4) helps to tenderize the meat. I used three quarts of water and three tablespoons full of salt and you can see from my picture that quite a bit of blood was removed from the meat, and that was after the meat was thoroughly washed and cleaned before it was put in the brine solution. After soaking it in the brine solution, I washed it thoroughly in cold water to remove the salt.
Bloody water after brining overnight.
I have a relatively new sous vide machine that allows me to cook meat at a constant temperature for a long time. Particularly for wild game, this helps to tenderize the meat without drying it out and without over-cooking it. To prepare it for the sous vide process, I coated the four pieces of armadillo with melted butter, added salt and pepper liberally, and then put the four pieces into three vacuum sealed bags (I was running out of bags and had to combine two pieces into one of the bags and it worked out fine). I was not able to find any instructions for temperatures or times for sous vide armadillo, so I went off general recommendations for wild game cooked "medium" and opted to make the water temperature 140 F. (60 C.). A minimum recommended time was 8 to 10 hours. For good cuts of steak from wild game I opt to cook it rare/medium rare (131 F). But with the armadillo, I wanted to make sure it was cooked adequately and felt better about a higher cooking temperature. I put it into the sous vide Sunday morning and pulled it out just over 9 hours later for our late Sunday afternoon linner (lunch/dinner).
Pieces after brining.
Brushed with butter and then sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. I got it into three bags.
The three bags in the sous vide cooker. 
The bag after it has cooked over 9 hours.
Sous vide cooked foods often need some more work in order to be more palatable. In this case I opted to remove the armadillo pieces from the cooking pouches, dabbed them dry with a paper towel, then coated them in flour mixed with salt and pepper and put the coated pieces in a pot including butter and olive oil. I decided also to include the juices from the cooking pouches. I figured that the pieces would not get quite the same crispy coating, but that the juices would add to the flavor. I cooked the pieces for about ten minutes. We had three female LDS missionaries over for Sunday dinner and I did not want the meat to be underdone as I knew that they would already be hesitant to eat armadillo well-cooked.
The contents of the sous vide pouch. I decided to use the liquid and added it to the pot where I fried the meat.
Cooking the flour coated armadillo in a pot.
The final product. Four pieces coated in flour and fried.
It worked out very well. There was a substantial amount of meat on the armadillo. The texture was firm, but moist, and I would best describe the taste as smoked chicken. The meat even had a smoked kind of a tint to it. The breading added some texture and nice salty flavor.
A portion of one of the pieces cut into strips - for those that are a little more squeamish.  I ended up taking my piece and eating it with my hands, like fried chicken. 
The three missionaries were good sports. After pictures for journals and family letters, all tried it and all remarked that it tasted good. I took some to work on Monday and shared it with those that were willing to try it. Four people tasted it and three refused. All who tasted it were surprised at how good it was. One remarked that it was a taste combination of turkey and beef.
The missionaries pose behind the plate of armadillo meat.
For those with an interest in wild game, this is a very fun meat. The armadillo is interesting to skin and it has a very good amount of meat for its size. And I think it is unsurpassed as far as a conversation piece. And best of all, it tastes really good.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk

In Buffalo Springs National Reserve we encountered an eastern pale chanting goshawk standing in the top of a thorny acacia tree, identified for us by Stephen, our guide and Land Cruiser driver. I have heard the term goshawk since a youth and have always thought of it as an exotic raptor, one that I had never previously encountered. Now, there before us, was a pretty ordinary looking raptor with this exotic name. What is a goshawk and how is a goshawk different from some other kind of hawk? 

It turns out that there are about 18 species of goshawk and they are grouped in the genus Accipiter with about 19 species of sparrowhawk, as well as some other raptors such as the sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper's hawk, birds I am familiar with. These raptors are slender with short broad rounded wings and a long tail, long legs and long sharp talons and a sharp hooked bill. They are distinguished by the lack of a procoracoid foramen, which has something to do with the shoulder assembly. Enough of that. 
Eastern pale chanting goshawk in Buffalo Springs NR. Photo by Judy.
The eastern pale chanting goshawk is also known as the Somali chanting goshawk. As I get more familiar with the African animals, I am struck by how many are identified by the term "Somali." I don't think I've run into any animals known as "Ethiopian" or "Kenyan" or "Tanzanian" or "Ugandan," etc. But several "Somali." This goshawk is found in southern Ethiopia, Djibouti, western Somalia, eastern Kenya, northeastern Tanzania and Uganda. It has a gray head, neck, breast and upperparts, except for white or lightly barred uppertail coverts. The belly has narrow gray and white bars. The upper portion of the bill (the cere) is yellow, the legs are orange/red and the eyes are red. 

It just helps illustrate that there is a huge world out there that I know nothing about, but I do enjoy dipping my big toe into this unfamiliar pond to begin to learn a little about it. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Black-Headed Heron

The black-headed heron is found in most of sub-Saharan Africa.
Black-headed heron. Photo by Esmee Tooke. 
It has a black head and neck and a white throat with black streaks down the front.
Black streaks visible on throat. Photo by Mark Edwards.
The upperparts are dark gray and the chest and belly are lighter gray.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
Black-headed heron in Serengeti NP.
The bill varies from black to yellow and the legs are gray to black. It has distinctive white wing linings that contrast with the dark flight feathers in flight. 
Black-headed heron in flight in Serengeti NP.

We saw some in Serengeti NP and Masai Mara NR, that I recall.  Because it is so similar to the herons in the U.S., some members of our party showed little interest in it, not recognizing that it is not found in the U.S. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014


The bushbuck has the largest distribution of any antelope in sub-Saharan Africa: from Senegal, in West Africa, east to Ethiopia, then south through the Congo Basin and East Africa as far as northern Botswana and south Cape Province. Despite that, it is secretive and active mainly at night, so we did not see many, except for at Mount Kenya National Reserve where we saw quite a few. However, good pictures were hard to come by because we were seeing them at a great distance in light not conducive to good photography. 

The bushbuck has a smooth coat, except for a spinal crest that goes erect when it runs or is alarmed.  It has a distinctive rounded form. Females are yellowish or reddish tan above and males are reddish brown when younger and then turn dark chestnut as they grow older. They have six or seven irregularly spaced vertical white stripes on their backs, from the shoulder to the rump, white spots on the cheek, on the muzzle between the eyes and on the flanks and rump, a white band at the base of the neck, and a bushy tail that is white underneath, most visible when running. 
Female bushbuck at Mt. Kenya NR. White stripes faintly visible on the back and white spots on the sides, flank and face. 
Male bushbuck at Mt. Kenya. Note how much darker it is and the fewer number of spots. Stripes on back are visible and note the rounded back. 
Only the male has horns and they are straight, except with one tight twist.  Wikipedia notes that the bushbuck is regarded as the most dangerous medium-sized antelope because if it is wounded it will hide in the brush and charge the hunter when the hunter gets close, impaling the hunter with his horns. 
Male bushbuck at Mt. Kenya NR. Picture by John Mirau. White underneath tail is visible and some spots on the flank. Two red-billed oxpecker birds are perched on its neck and back. 
Another male bushbuck. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
A lighter female bushbuck at Mt. Kenya. Photo by Mark Edwards. Black spine stripe is visible and white chest stripe are visible.
I thought the bushbuck was one of the most beautiful antelope we saw. Quite a few entered the meadow around the water hole at the Mountain Lodge, both male and female. Only females during the daylight hours and males and females in the evening and early morning hours.  I was very disappointed that we did not see many after Mount Kenya NR or under better picture-taking conditions. The only one I remember after Mt. Kenya was when we first arrived at the Serena Mara Lodge in Masai Mara. When we went out the sliding door at the back of our room, I was very startled to see a female bushbuck walking right below us. I think the bushbuck was just as startled as I was. Note that the head is very fuzzy in the picture, indicating that the bushbuck was taking a double-take of me. 
Bushbuck below our balcony in Masai Mara. Good view of dark ridge on back. 
The same bushbuck after it continued on. The electric fence in front of it is meant to prevent the wild animals from coming in to the lodge area. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Olive Baboon

The olive baboon is one of five species of baboon and the one with the widest ranging distribution. It is found in most of central Africa, from east to west, except near the coasts. It gets its name from the color of its fur which looks like a green/gray from a distance.
Baboon in Nakuru NP.
In Serengeti NP.
Photo by Jack Duckworth.
Close-up, because of yellow/brown and black on the hairs, it has a multi-colored hue. It is also called the anubis baboon because the Egyptian god Anubis was sometimes represented by a dog head with a muzzle that looked like that of a baboon. Males have a mane of longer hair.
Mane on a male. Photo by John Mirau.
Another male. Photo by Michael Lewin. 
This female carrying a baby lacks a mane. Photo by John Mirau. 
It is one of the largest monkeys. Only the chacma baboon and mandrill get to a similar size. All other monkeys are smaller. 
Photo by Steven Shuel.
While staying at the Serena Mara Lodge in Masai Mara, we had the door to our balcony open, which abutted the Reserve. It was a warm day and we had the fan in our room on, trying to get more circulation. I was laying on the bed and starting to doze off, when I opened my eyes and saw two very large baboons in our room close to the bed. My first impression was that they were exceedingly large and I needed to get them out right away. So I screamed "Get out" at them and they quickly high-tailed it out the balcony door, one of them holding a packed of wet-wipes from our room. We were very thankful that is what they grabbed, because we had several cameras and a pair of binoculars on the table where the wet-wipes were, items they could have taken instead. 

The first quarter of the tail is erect, then the rest drops down sharply, making it look broken.
An example of the broken looking tail. In Masai Mara. This may be one that came into our room.
It has a bare patch on its rump, but the rump patch is much smaller than on other baboon species. 
The bare patch on rump. In Serengeti NP.
We saw olive baboons in a number of places, quite often near the lodges where they try to take advantage of the leftovers of the human inhabitants. The first ones we saw were a large troop of about 25 or 30 near the Sarova Shaba Lodge.
Large troop near the Sarova Shaba Lodge. Note the mane on the large male in the center. Also on the male at the far left. 
Another memorable sighting was in Nakuru National Park where they were beginning to rest in trees, along the side of the road, for the night.
In Nakuru NP.
We saw a number of babies riding on the backs of their mothers and some solitary baboons spread out among individual trees.
In Nakuru NP. Photo by Judy.
In Nakuru NP.
In Serengeti NP. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Photo by Judy.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
Photo by Judy.