It is not just on Valentine’s day that nature’s couples care for and tend to each other. Survival of the species is predated on the fact that the males find their mates and a good place to live in order to produce healthy litters to continue their line. Fundamental to rewilding transfrontier areas is putting males and females together to begin the mating game. Whether cheetah, elephant, impala or warthog, there is endless romancing in the African bush.
Among all these courtships, there are also life-lasting unions that are not affairs of the heart. Many unusual yet symbiotic relationships lie at the heart of healthy ecosystems. The oxpecker bird, for example, is completely committed to its host, spending its whole life alongside except during nesting season. Eating ticks and insects from animals such as buffalo in exchange for protection from predators, the birds also keeps the buffalo healthy by picking off its scabs and wounds.
Elephants never stray far from mating partners, developing strong and intimate bonds between friends and family members. They can form lifelong friendships and will often only move in the same groups for their entire life. As elephants can live for up to 70 years in the wild, being part of a group is important to them.
A very odd couple is the fig and the wasp who are co-dependent on each other for pollination and survival. A fig wasp will fly as far as 6 miles to find a tree with flowering figs. Laying its eggs inside, as the larvae grow they emit carbon dioxide which nourishes the fig. In turn the fig protects and nourishes the growing wasps. The fig tree benefits from this situation because the fig wasp brings the pollen to start pollination.
Then there is the well-known partnership between the wildebeest and zebra. Both grazing species, they nevertheless graze in harmony because they eat different types and parts of the grasses in the plains (zebra feed on the long, tough grasses while wildebeest prefer the shorter grasses). They also travel together during migration periods to find food and water, each species bringing its unique skills into play. Zebra have great recall of safe migration routes, which helps the more aimless wildebeest. Wildebeest have superior hearing while zebra have better sight, so one can alert the other to predators. It is by working together that these species survive and thrive.
Of course, there is one rather special relationship that needs a mention on Valentine’s day. The life-long commitment between a camp dog and the Peace Parks’ rangers. Hunter, who really is the camp favourite, makes a huge fuss of the rangers. Adopted by the Limpopo team as a pup, yet unable to excel at tracking – the role of most working dogs out in the bush – a place was nevertheless found for Hunter on the team: as camp companion and guard dog that watches over the rangers at night, ensuring no large animals like elephant or hyena, come too close to camp. It shows that nature really can make room for everyone.
These special, co-dependent relationships are what biologists call an “obligate mutualism”, meaning that everyone benefits. Peace Parks Foundation strives to create mutually beneficial partnerships where all parties benefit and can live and work alongside in harmony. Both on Valentine’s Day and every day throughout the year!