My sundried vegetables are the best! – In the enchanting old village of Chingliao, near Chiayi, south-western Taiwan, Judy and I met this elderly woman, who was selling dried vegetables. When Judy remarked that they were a bit expensive, she pointed out that they had been dried in the sun, and that they were so good that we would surely come back for more! As it later turned out, they were really tasty, but, unfortunately, Chingliao is far from where we live. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hindu Brahmin, Varanasi, India. Brahmins and other aspects of Hinduism are described on the page Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Courting pair of Australian gannet, Muriwai Beach, New Zealand. This species is described below under Birds: Sulidae. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) are often affectionate towards each other. – Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. Several other pictures, depicting camels, are shown below under Mammals: Camelidae. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man, Kandahar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Hazara partly descend from immigrating Mongolians or Central Asian Turks, who settled in Afghanistan around the 1200s. Their facial features, as well as part of their culture and language, differ from those of other Afghani tribes. Most Hazara are Shi’a Muslims, as opposed to other tribes of the country, who are mainly Sunni.
The origin of these factions of Islam is described on the page Travel episodes – Asia & Europe 1975: Long journey home.
Hazara boy, Kandahar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Happy man, Kapsiki Mountains. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Woman in a village near Garoua. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The vast majority of people in China are Han Chinese, constituting more than 90% of the population, besides huge numbers, who have emigrated to other countries. Officially, the Chinese government recognizes 55 ethnic minority groups within Chinese territories, comprising c. 8.5% of the population.
A number of pictures, depicting Chinese tribal peoples, may be studied on the page People: Chinese minorities.
Pictures from Tibet are shown separately under ‘Tibet’.
Chinese biologist Li Ching, showing a gorgeous flower of Magnolia liliflora, which we observed on the Suei Gau Fong Mountain, Guizhou Province. – Our adventures with Li Ching are related on the page Travel episodes – China 2009: Among black-necked cranes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mother and son with rhododendron flowers, Wumeng Shan Mountains, Guizhou Province. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grimy little girl, enjoying a bottle of water, Guizhou Province. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Yunnan Province of south-western China is home to at least 25 tribal peoples, who often wear very colourful traditional dresses.
Wearing traditional dress, this young woman of the Bai minority is posing for tourists in the city of Dali, Yunnan Province. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An elderly woman of the Nakhi people (also called Naxi), clad in traditional dress, performs a dance in the town of Lijiang. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man, Iconi, Grande Comore. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians are historically linked to the Norse Vikings, seafarers of Germanic origin, whose conquests and commercial travels during the Viking Age (c. 793–1066) are legendary. Since then, immigration and numerous invasions have had the effect that the Nordic peoples today are of mixed descent, as is evident from the collection of pictures below.
Twelve-year-old girl and young man, both of the blond Nordic type. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small percentage of Nordic peoples have red hair or beard. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man, enjoying a pipe of tobacco among autumn leaves of beech (Fagus sylvatica), Jutland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little boys, Jutland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Two elderly men, Jutland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ethiopia is home to a multitude of peoples, mainly of Hamitic origin, the largest of which are the Amhara, counting about 20 million, or c. 27% of the country’s population. The pictures below show people from various regions of this vast country. Other pictures may be seen in the gallery at People: Tribals of Ethiopia.
In 1996, I attended an orthodox Christian festival in Lalibela, described on the page Travel episodes – Ethiopia 1996: Timkat – a Christian festival.
Young female pilgrim with a peculiar hairstyle, attending the festival of Timkat, Lalibela. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A girl and a little boy, Lalibela. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young beauty with braids, Negelle. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elderly Amharic at a market in the town of Kayet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Oromo girls, west of Dinsho, Bale Mountains. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Villagers near the Genale River. The white cap is typical of this area. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Woman, girl, and boy, Nechisar National Park. The woman is blind on one eye from trachoma. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female vendor in a market, protecting herself from the fierce sunshine under an umbrella, Bahir Dar, Lake Tana. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paris is home to a wealth of people of multiple ethnic descent, as seen from these pictures, showing kindergarten children. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Our adventures in this country are related on the page Travel episodes – Guatemala 1998: Land of the Mayans.
This woman, attending a market in the town of Solola, is waering a local dress, called a huipil. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the Festival of the Dead, these men are dressed up for participating in a horse race in the town of Todos Santos. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The vast Indian Subcontinent is home to a multitude of peoples of Aryan, Dravidian, or Austronesian origin.
Dravidian Hindu women in the town of Karwar, Karnataka, South India. The mark on their forehead, called tika, indicates their status as married women. Multi-coloured tika marks, as the one on the forehead of the woman in the lower picture, are usually applied only during Hindu festivals. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This elderly man in Udaipur, Rajasthan, greeted me with a friendly smile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elderly Muslim, Pahalgam, Kashmir. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aboriginals of India are small people, many of Australoid descent, which lived in the forests for thousands of years. When the Dravidians, and later the Aryans, invaded India, these tribal peoples were driven into remote areas. Many still live in the states of Odisha (Orissa), Chattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.
Unfortunately, the culture and way of living of these peoples are rapidly disintegrating, and many have lost their land to entrepreneurs, who extract coal, iron and other minerals from it. Owners of paper factories have persuaded several of the tribes to plant eucalyptus trees on their land, promising these people a large outcome from these trees. However, they omit to inform them that eucalyptus trees dry out the soil, often leading to scarcity of water in areas, which were previously covered in lush forest.
When the pictures below were taken in 1997, many tribal peoples had still preserved part of their traditional ways.
Young Sabara mother with her infant son, Sabari River, Odisha. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sabara girl near the Sabari River. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paraja tribal vendor at a market in the town of Kotpad, Odisha. Note the tattoo on her arm. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Between 600 and 1500 A.D., Rajasthan – in those days called Rajputana – was divided among numerous rivalling Hindu kingdoms, ruled by Rajputs (‘Sons of Rajas’). They managed to persuade Brahmins (Hindu priests) to produce genealogical tables, which connected them with the sun, the moon, and the Hindu god of fire, Agni.
These people were born warriors, divided into 36 royal clans. Because of their internal rivalries, each Rajput king ordered his people to build forts and other strongholds to protect himself and his nobles against enemies. Naturally, nobody worried about the safety of the common people.
You may read more about Rajputs on the page Travel episodes – India 1986: “His name is Muhammed!”
Like most men in Rajasthan, these men in Jodhpur wear a turban. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Muslim shoemaker, Jaipur, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little Hindu girl in the village of Seventri, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A friendly Hindu brahman (roughly corresponding to a priest) in front of a Hanuman temple, Charbhuja, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young woman of the weaver’s cast, near Jodhpur, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This man makes an income by rowing tourists up and down the Ganges River, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many people in the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are Hindus of Caucasian origin, who migrated here from Rajasthan hundreds of years ago. You may read more about this area on the pages Travel episodes – India 2008: Mountain goats and frozen flowers, and Plants – Plant hunting in the Himalaya: Abode of the deodar.
Young woman from the town of Gushaini, Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh. The red mark between her eyebrows, called a tika, indicates her status as a married woman. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This girl from the village of Agora, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand, has collected wild ferns in the forest to be used for her family’s lunch. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
I met this Dravidian holy Hindu man, a saddhu, in the great Minakshi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. Saddhus are dealt with in depth on the page Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The vast Thar Desert stretches across the state of Rajasthan, north-western India, and further west into Pakistan. The main part of this desert is level sand or gravel plains with scattered bushes and trees. This fascinating area is presented in detail on the pages Travel episodes – India 1986: “Sir, would you like to see this peacock?” and India 2003: Camel safari in the Thar Desert.
Turban-clad dancers at a camel festival in the town of Bikaner, Thar Desert. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This little Hindu girl in the city of Jaisalmer, in the heart of the Thar Desert, is wearing her finest dress, and a red ribbon adorns her hair. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Turban-clad men in the Thar Desert. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Muslim women from the village of Bambara in the heart of the Thar Desert, near the Pakistani border. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“Would you like a cat?” this Malayalam woman asked me. – Kannimera Market, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, Ladakh was a province in the Indian State Jammu and Kashmir. However, there was a huge resistance in the population against this arrangement, as the Ladakhis, justly, felt that they were treated unfairly by the Muslim government in Srinagar. The people and language of Ladakh are of Tibetan origin, and the dominating religion is Lama Buddhism.
The Indian government has proclaimed that from October 31, 2019, Ladakh constitutes a Union Territory, ruled by the central government in Delhi.
In former days, among the Ladakhi population, the will to share was widespread. There was a common responsibility to keep the water courses clean, as their water was utilized in the households. At harvest time, everybody participated in helping each other. These sympathetic features largely vanished, when the area was opened to tourism in 1972. Today, a common consumer capitalism is prevailing, at least in the cities.
Ladakhi woman, clad in traditional dress, Leh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Near Umlung, Markha Valley, I encountered this elderly man, carrying his granddaughter on his back. In Ladakh, grandparents are highly respected, and they often participate in the upbringing of their grandchildren. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ladakhi boy, Markha Valley. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This shaman from the Markha Valley is wearing the typical high felt hat of the area, and a rosary with 108 beads, made from plant seeds. (108 is a sacred number to Buddhists.) Officially, Ladakhi shamans are Buddhists, but their practice contains many traces from Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Central Asia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Ladakhi woman from Chyskylmo is wearing two neclaces with corals and other semi-precious stones. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Holi is a Hindu spring festival, celebrating the god Krishna, and the victory of good over evil – a gay festival, in which people, regardless of caste, pelt each other with red, yellow, purple, or green powder, or with water, dyed with powder. For this reason, Holi has been dubbed The Festival of Colours.
In Charbhuja, Rajasthan, where the pictures below were taken, Holi lasts no less than 15 days, described in depth on the page Travel episodes – India 1991: Attending Hindu festivals in Rajasthan. My own ‘colourful’ adventures during this festival are also related.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little boy eating sugarcane, biting off the outer hard shell, near Mysore, Karnataka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Gujjar-Bakarwals are a tribe of pastoral Muslim nomads, who live in the Indian Himalaya. Although the Rajaji area in Uttarakhand was declared a national park in 1993, these people still live here. Foresters have pointed out that they should be banned from grazing their animals in the park, but, ironically, they seem to benefit wildlife here, as they keep poachers away from the area. For instance, the number of wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in the park has increased in later years. The Gujjars themselves do not harm wildlife, as they are vegetarians.
Gujjar-Bakarwal man, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tamils are a people of South India, numbering around 76 million, thus being the largest Dravidian people. They constitute about 6% of the population in India, 15% in Sri Lanka, 6% in Mauritius, 7% in Malaysia, and 5% in Singapore.
This Tamil policeman in Pondicherry (Puducherri), southern India, is wearing a French style police cap, called a kepi. This union territory was formerly a French colony. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tamil children, Valparai, West Ghats, Tamil Nadu (top), and Tarangambadi (Tranquebar), Tamil Nadu. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hindu beggar with immaculately combed hair and beard, Varanasi, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This beggar in Varanasi is wearing a huge turban and is clad in several layers of clothes, as a protection against the winter cold on the northern plains. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Indonesia is home to a multitude of peoples of Austronesian, Malayan, or Melanesian origin. A collection of pictures below shows a variety of people in this vast archipelago.
The front teeth of this young Muslim woman in the town of Sapé, Sumbawa, have been filed down, probably an ideal of beauty on this island. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Minangkabau boy has been sprayed with mud from working in a paddyfield, Kotubaru, Sumatra. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man from Java. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The headdress of this Muslim woman on the island of Lombok is a beautifully folded towel. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young seaman in a local type of sailboat, east of Sumbawa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During a hike up the volcano Gunung Rinjani, situated on the island of Lombok, our cook Sutardi has collected wild ferns to be used in our evening meal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man, Medan, Sumatra. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Batak are a group of closely related Austronesian peoples, including the Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Toba, Angkola, and Mandailing, who live in a large area of northern Sumatra. The pictures below were taken in the area around Lake Toba in 1975.
Other pictures, depicting Batak people, may be seen on several other pages on this website, including People: Children around the world, and Culture: Musicians.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Lur are a people who live in the Zagros Mountains in south-western Iran. In 1973, Arne Koch Christoffersen and I spent about six weeks in this area, staying for three weeks in the house of Muhammed, headman of a village name Mirabad. Our, at times, rather bizarre adventures with Muhammed are related on the page Travel episodes – Iran 1973: In the mountains of Luristan.
Lur man, wearing the typical felt cap of the area. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Maria, 16-year-old daughter of Muhammed. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mamakru, 12-year-old son of Muhammed. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Arab, enjoying his meal, southern Iraq. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Children in the village of Hamar, southern Iraq. It is often the duty of Arabian girls, however young, to take care of a smaller sibling. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Boy from the town of Dawaya, southern Iraq. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man, Chibayish, southern Iraq. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
For thousands of years, a huge marsh area in southern Iraq, between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, was the home of the Madan tribe, whose way of life was completely adapted to the wet habitat. They moved about in canoes, built their reed houses on islets, and made a living by hunting and fishing, growing rice, and raising water buffaloes.
The regime of Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (1979-2003) put an end to their way of life by draining the marshes, as a retaliation for the Madan siding with the Americans during the First Gulf War (1990-1991).
This interesting wetland is presented in detail on the pages Travel episodes – Iraq 1973: The hospitable mudir, and Iraq 1973: Dust storm and sheep’s head.
This picture of a Madan father and son was taken in 1977, prior to the destruction of this area. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Kikuyu are a Bantu people, native to Kenya. Numbering about 7 million, they account for about 17% of the total population in the country.
Young Kikuyu men, Lake Naivasha (top) and Nyeri. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Kalenjin are a group of Southern Nilotic peoples, numbering around 6.3 million, who live in East Africa, mainly in the Rift Valley area in Kenya. One of the tribes is the Pokot, numbering around 900,000 people. They live in western Kenya and eastern Uganda.
Pokot boy, Cherangani Hills. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Kyrgyz people (also Kyrghyz or Kirghiz) are a Turkic ethnic group, believed to have descended from the Yenisei Kyrgyz, who originated in central Siberia, around the Yenisei River. Later, this nomadic people spread to large parts of Central Asia, especially to the area, which is today called Kyrgyzstan.
Parts of their land were ceded by the Chinese to the Russian Empire in 1876. Following the Russian revolution in 1919, Soviets took control of the Kyrgyz region, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Soviet Union. In 1936, a Soviet Republic, named Kirgizskaya Sovetskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika, was established.
As a result of the Russian dominance, a large number of Russians emigrated to the area, and by 1989 they numbered almost one million. Following the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991, and the majority of Russians in the country returned to Russia.
Today, the Kyrgyz number about 5 million, of which 4.5 million live in Kyrgyzstan. There are about 350,000 Russians in the country.
In the summertime, a small number of Kyrgyz still live a semi-nomadic life. These pictures show an elderly couple, photographed in the Karakol Valley, Tien Shan Mountains. Note the man’s typical felt hat. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Islamic mullah (priest) in the city of Karakol, explaining principles of Islam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kyrgyz woman with her grandchildren at a market, Karakol. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This elderly Russian woman is working as a tourist guide in Karakol. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lake Malawi is the third-largest lake in Africa, 575 km long and up to 85 km wide, covering an area of c. 23,000 km2. The majority of the population of this area are various Bantu tribes, including the Achewa, who live around the south-western corner of the lake.
My adventures on board a ferry on this lake are related on the page Travel episodes – Malawi 1997: A three-day ferry cruise on Lake Malawi.
Achewa man with his son from the village of Chembe, Lake Malawi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Achewa man, Chembe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Achewa boy, swimming near Cape Maclear in the south-western corner of the lake. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Achewa children, Chembe. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The indigenous population of Borneo is a multitude of Malayan tribes, known by the common name Dayaks. My visit to one of these peoples, the Punan, is related on the page Travel episodes – Borneo 1975: Canoe trip with Punan tribals.
Elderly men of the Kayan tribe, Rajang River, Sarawak. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dayak boys in the village of Belaga, Sarawak. One has a fancy hairstyle. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Punan elders, Sarawak. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dayak woman, Belaga, Sarawak. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little Malay girl on board a ferry, Tatau River, Sarawak. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Han Chinese boy, Sarawak. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Myanmar, a white paste, called thanaka, is made from branches of the orange jessamine tree (Murraya paniculata). This paste is applied to the face of women and children to protect the skin against the sun. It also makes the skin smooth.
Children in central Myanmar with thanaka paste applied to their face. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The majority of the population of Namibia are various Bantu peoples, of which the largest is the Ovambo, accounting for around half of the population. Other significant groups are Kavango, Herero, Damara, and Caprivi.
The fantastic natural features of Namibia are described on the page Countries and places: Namibia – a desert country.
Bantu women with semi-precious stones, Spitzkoppe. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nepal is home to a multitude of peoples of Mongoloid, Aryan, and mixed origin.
When I wanted to photograph these little girls in the Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal, one of them made a face to make fun of me. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little boys, Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Girl, Pati Bhanjyang, Helambu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Kathmandu Valley is mainly inhabited by Newars, a people of mixed Indo-European and Mongolian origin. They number about 1.3 million.
This little Newar girl is eating the white flesh of a lychee fruit (Litchi chinensis), Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
About 500 years ago, the Sherpa, a Tibetan tribe of pastoral nomads, migrated south and settled in several separate areas: Langtang, Helambu, Solu-Khumbu, and Arun Valley in Nepal, and Darjiling in India. In Tibetan, sherpa means ‘a person from the East’, relating to the fact that the Sherpa originated in eastern Tibet. Today, they number about 150,000, and they still speak a Tibetan dialect.
The Sherpa are Lama Buddhists, mainly of the Nyingma-pa School (also called ‘red-hats’, because the high lamas of this sect wear red hoods). Women have a very high status among the Sherpa, and usually weddings are not arranged by the parents. Sherpas love to eat meat, but their Buddhist religion condemns killing of any creature, so the slaughtering is done by non-Buddhist Tibetans. Only domestic animals are eaten, and wildlife in Sherpa areas is generally left in peace.
Among Westerners, the Sherpa are mainly known as excellent guides and climbers on mountaineering expeditions, and many Sherpas have scaled Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) several times. Today, numerous Sherpas work in the tourist industry.
Despite having had an obviously strenuous life, this old Sherpa woman in the Arun Valley has aged with grace. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sherpa woman, displaying her goods for sale on the weekly Saturday market, Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Sherpa woman, visiting the market in Namche Bazaar, is wearing a string around her neck with a talisman and two pieces of coral. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the trekking seasons in spring and autumn, this young Sherpa girl from the Khumbu region can easily find work as a porter for tourists. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s, thousands of Tibetans fled to Nepal and India. Today, they constitute a very prominent part of the population in Nepal, and Tibetan monasteries have been constructed several places.
This small Tibetan monk seems to have become bored during an initiation ceremony in a Tibetan monastery near the Bodhnath Stupa, Kathmandu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This old Tibetan, wearing an embroidered hat, visits the Bodhnath Stupa during Losar, the Tibetan New Year. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common greeting in most parts of Nepal is Namaste, which means something like ‘I salute the divinity in you.’ While greeting, you cup your hands in front of your face or chest.
Namaste! These sweet little children were photographed in the village of Betrawati, Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This village man from Gupha Pokhari, eastern Nepal, is wearing a khukuri knife, formerly a traditional weapon of the Gurkhas and Kiratis. The blade is curved, and today the knife serves multiple purposes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Boys of the Hindu Brahmin caste, Khewang, Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spectator at the Tibetan Yartung Festival, Muktinath, Mustang, Nepal. The badge on his hat says: ‘Sheriff’s Deputy, Nassau County’ – a county on Long Island, New York. Presumably, the hat was a gift from an American tourist. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
British entomologist Colin Smith (born 1936) shows spectacular moths, which he collected in Nepal. He has been living in Nepal since 1964, and has made huge collections of butterflies and moths. The picture was taken in Kathmandu in 2002. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Children in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A Nepali man of Caucasion heritage visits the weekly Saturday market in the village of Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Tuaregs, also known by various other names, including Kel Tamasheq, Imuhagh, Imazighen, or Itargiyen, are a large group of Berber peoples, living in the western half of the Sahara Desert, south to Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. They have often been called the Blue People, because they dye their clothes with indigo, the blue colour of which stains their skin.
I met this Tuareg south of the town of Arlit. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes, are historically linked to the Norse Vikings, seafarers of Germanic origin, whose conquests and commercial travels during the Viking Age (c. 793–1066) are legendary. Since then, immigration and numerous invasions have had the effect that the Nordic peoples today are of mixed descent.
Skipper on a tourist boat, Runde, western Norway. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Baluchistan, western Pakistan, is famous for its proud and independent population – and also for its gangs of bandits. However, during our stay in the area in 1978, we met only friendly and helpful people.
Our adventures in Baluchistan are described on the page Travel episodes – Pakistan 1978: Encounter with robbers.
This Baluchi, wearing a typical headcloth, approached us to ask for water. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Peasant boys, Kot Sabzal, Sind. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Ifugao and the Bontoc are two out of a dozen Malayan tribes, who inhabit northern Luzon, Philippines. At least 2,000 years ago, these tribes constructed fantastic terraced fields on the mountain slopes, irrigated through an advanced system of canals. On these terraces, they grow their main staple, rice, supplied with sweet potatoes, taro, and various vegetables. They also raise chickens and black pigs, and the men hunt wild animals in the jungle.
My adventures among the Ifugao are described on the page Travel episodes – Philippines 1984: Shamanism among Ifugao tribals.
This Ifugao quenches his thirst by drinking the sap from a forest liana. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Old Ifugao shaman in the village of Bocos, near Banawe, Luzon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bontoc woman, dancing during wedding celebrations in the village of Sagada, Luzon. Her hair is adorned with pearls. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bontoc man, Sagada. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bontoc man, smoking a huge pipe, Sagada. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Old Bontoc tribal, between Bontoc and Tococan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Veddas are the aboriginal people of Sri Lanka, thought to be of mixed Negrito and Australoid origin. They were driven far into the jungles by invading Sinhalese, a people from North India, who, in the 6th Century B.C., conquered most of Sri Lanka, creating an advanced civilization, comprising several competing kingdoms. The various peoples of Sri Lanka are presented on the page Travel episodes – Sri Lanka 1974: Among the Veddas.
Vedda from the village of Pollebedda, south of Maha Oya, eastern Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Vedda children, Polebedda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sinhalese of various age, Panadura, southern Sri Lanka. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sinhalese girl, weaving, Hikkaduwa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sinhalese fishermen on the island of Karativu, near Kalpittiya. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sinhalese woman, Anuradhapura. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sinhalese soldiers on duty in Jaffna. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sinhalese beauties of various age. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This old fisherman, whom I met at Lake Bolgoda, south-western Sri Lanka, has lost all his fingers when fishing with dynamite, a common, but illegal practice. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little Sinhalese girl, Ohiya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tamils in Sri Lanka descend from residents of the former Jaffna Kingdom in the northern part of the island, and from Vannimai chieftaincies in the eastern part. Scientific evidence shows that Tamils have a very long history in Sri Lanka, living on the island since at least around the 2nd Century B.C.
Old Tamil with a fancy hairstyle, Dambulla. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A majority of the Taiwanese practice a religion, which is a peculiar blend of Buddhism and Daoism, described on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. Numerous pictures, depicting their artwork, is shown on the pages Culture: Folk art of Taiwan, and Culture: Tribal art of Taiwan.
Fishermen, Siao Liouchou Island, southern Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Jiang Guo-chin enjoys an icecream. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This female acrobat, performing in the city of Taichung, is dressed as a monkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Taiwan, people, dressed as devils, or Bajiajiang, often practice kung-fu during Daoist parades. As a rule, Daoists do not regard these participants as regular people, but rather as persons being possessed by the various gods or spirits.
During Daoist parades, these young men are dressed as Bajiajiang. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During a performance in Taichung, the face of this female member of the Chio-Tian Folk Drums & Arts Troupe is decorated as a Bajiajiang. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During a Daoist parade in the city of Taichung, women with flower baskets perform a dance in front of a shop, supposedly bringing prosperity to the owner. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dressed in temple outfit, these elderly men on Siao Liouchou Island, southern Taiwan, participate in the Daoist Boat Burning Festival, honouring the God of Plague, Wang-yeh. – This festival is described in depth on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This little boy covers his ears, when fireworks explode during a Daoist festival in honour of the Mother Goddess Mazu, celebrated in the town of Pitou. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elderly couple, Wufong, south of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Taiwan is home to a multitude of tribes of Malayan origin, who inhabited this island long before the invasion of Chinese peoples. Today, these indigenous peoples are numbering about 600,000 persons, or c. 2.5% of the island’s population. They include the Amis, who number about 180,000, living mainly in the lowlands along the east coast, and the Bunun, counting about 50,000 people, who mainly live in the mountains in the central part of the island.
The pictures below are from a tribal fair, which took place in the village of Dilih, central Taiwan.
Woman of the Amis tribe, wearing pearl ornaments. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Bunun man in Dilih is wearing a woven headband, adorned with the horns of a Reeves’ muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi ssp. micrurus). In former days, aboriginals of Taiwan were keen hunters. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bunun woman, wearing pearl ornaments, Dilih. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bunun girl, Dilih. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Friendly school teacher on the island of Kwale. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young man, Bangkok. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
I 1987, I spent several weeks in Tibet, a harsh land with a delightful people. My at times rather grotesque adventures in this enchanting country are related on the page Travel episodes – Tibet 1987: Tibetan summer.
In later years, a common policy of the Chinese government is to ‘Mandarinize’ autonomous areas by settling a huge number of Han Chinese in these areas. Today, more Han than Tibetans live in Tibet, and the cities have changed from being typically Tibetan, with beautiful old houses, to being typically Chinese, with ugly concrete buildings. Naturally, any attempt from the Tibetans to oppose this policy, is turned down by the Chinese government, who claim that the Tibetans constitute a minority. In their own country, at that!
Men of the Khampa tribe, working as porters in the town of Khasa (Zhangmu). Men of this people often adorn their hair with bits of red cloth. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This boy from Shigatse wears a natural ’scarf’ around his neck – dirt! (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elderly man from the town of Gyantse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Boy, Gyantse. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Han Chinese boy in Shigatse is carrying his younger brother on his back. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The majority of the population of Turkey are Turks, a Turkic people of Central Asian descent, who migrated to present-day Turkey from the 11th Century onward.
In former days, men in rural areas of Turkey were all wearing a distinct cap. These pictures were taken in 1973, and today this cap is a much rarer sight. – Samsun, on the Black Sea coast (top), and Taurus mountains, southern Turkey. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At Pamukkale, western Turkey, water, containing dissolved calcium bicarbonate, is running down a slope over a wide area, where the mineral is deposited, and, over time, has formed numerous bluish-white terraces, some dry, some containing ponds with shallow water.
This boy is enjoying a shower in a natural pond on a terrace with deposited calcium bicarbonate, Pamukkale. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Kurds are a proud people, whose language is Indo-European, related to Iranian. Previously, Kurdish men were wearing their traditional dress – a jacket and baggy trousers, whereas most women wore a black dress and a scarf. Across the shoulder, many men carried a strap with cartridges for their rifles.
In former times, a small part of Kurds were sedentary farmers, whereas the majority were nomads, who, with their herds of sheep and goats, roamed the mountains of eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran, and the adjacent parts of the Caucasus. Farmers and nomads would benefit from each other, as much trading took place between them. Cereals and vegetables were exchanged for mutton, felt, and wool. Today, however, almost all Kurds are sedentary.
The sad fate of the Kurds is described on the page Travel episodes – Iran & Turkey 1973: “Kurdistan! Bum-bum-zip!”
This Kurdish man is from the town of Silvan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This man in the ‘Living Museum’ in Jamestown, Virginia, is dressed as a British soldier from The American Revolution. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In September 2001, during an outdoor play at Fort Ticonderoga, New York, scenes from The Revolutionary War were re-enacted. Here, a small boy in the ‘rebel forces’ is marching, playing a flute. Other pictures from this performance are shown on the page Novel: Rose of the Revolution. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The majority of the population in Zambia are various Bantu peoples. The pictures below show two of these tribes from the northernmost part of the country, the Unga and the Bena Kabende. The Unga, who live in the great Bangweulu Swamps, are presented in detail on the page Countries and places: Bangweulu – where water meets the sky, and other pictures, depicting Bena Kabende people, are shown on the page People: Women are more than half of the world.
Unga women, Bangweulu Swamps. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Unga men, Bangweulu Swamps. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bena Kabende woman, Mushili. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young Bena Kabende mother, Manokola. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bena Kabende youngsters, Samfya. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Shona are a Bantu people, living mainly in Zimbabwe, where they form the vast majority of the population, counting at least 11 million.
Shona police officer, Harare. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bovidae Cattle etc.
This large family, comprising about 47 genera and c. 143 species, are cloven-hoofed, ruminant animals, including cattle, antelopes, sheep, goats, and many others.
Aepyceros melampus Impala
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Male impala, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Antidorcas marsupialis Springbok
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Springbok, Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bos bison American bison
The sad fate of this animal is described on the page Folly of Man.
American bison bull, rubbing itself on a fence. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bos taurus Cattle
Catte, including the zebu ox, are described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Portrait of a zebu ox, dark morph, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Longhorned Ankole cattle, an indigenous cattle breed of sub-Saharan Africa, Mubende, Uganda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As their name implies, Scottish Highland cattle originated in the Scottish Highlands, or maybe in the Outer Hebrides, first mentioned in the 6th Century A.D. In Scots, this breed is called Heilan coo, a name of Norse origin, meaning ‘highland cow’. They are characterized by their long horns and wavy coat, which comes in a variety of colours, including red, ginger, black, dun, yellow, white, or grey. This long coat allows them to spend the harsh Scottish winter outdoors. They are raised primarily for their meat, which is prized for its low content of cholesterol, and also for the milk, which generally has a very high butterfat content.
Today, Scottish Highland cattle is found in many countries around the world.
Scottish Highland cattle, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Capra ibex Alpine ibex
At one point, this magnificent animal was almost hunted to extinction, only surviving in a few pockets in northern Italy. Due to the alarming decrease of the population, Victor Emmanuel, later to become king of Italy, declared the Royal Hunting Reserve of Gran Paradiso in 1856, and a protective guard was created for the ibex. In 1920, King Victor Emmanuel III donated the original 21 square kilometres to the country, and it became Italy’s first national park in 1922. Despite the park, ibex were poached until 1945, when only 419 remained. Since then, the population has increased, and there are now almost 4,000 in the park. It has been reintroduced to numerous other areas in the Alps, and also to Bulgaria and Slovenia.
In summer, the alpine ibex lives in rocky areas just below the snow line, at elevations between 1,800 and 3,300 m, descending to lower altitudes in the winter.
Male Alpine ibex, marked with an ear tag, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Connochaetes taurinus Blue wildebeest
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Blue wildebeest, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kobus ellipsiprymnus Waterbuck
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Male common waterbuck, ssp. ellipsiprymnus, chewing the cud, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male East African defassa waterbuck, ssp. harnieri, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kobus kob Kob
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Male Uganda kob, subspecies thomasi, resting in tall grass, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nilgiritragus hylocrius Nilgiri tahr
A rare species of sheep, which is restricted to mountains of South India, counting only around 3,100 individuals. Formerly, this species was placed in the genus Hemitragus, together with the Himalayan tahr (H. jemlahicus) and the Arabian tahr (today called Arabitragus jayakari). However, recent genetic research has shown that it is more closely related to sheep of the genus Ovis than to tahrs, and, consequently, it was moved to a separate genus.
Several pictures, depicting this species, are shown on the page Quotes on Nature.
Eravikulam National Park, Kerala, where this picture was taken, is a stronghold of the Nilgiri tahr, housing an estimated 700-800 individuals, app. one-fourth of the total population. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Oreamnos americanus Mountain goat
Despite its name, this animal is not a true goat of the genus Capra, but is more closely related to serows (Capricornis), gorals (Naemorhedus), and the chamois (Rupicapra), sometimes referred to as goat-antelopes. It is endemic to mountainous areas of western North America, from southern Alaska southwards through western Canada to Oregon, northern Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek oros (‘mountain’) and amnos (‘lamb’), thus ‘mountain lamb’, presumably alluding to the white fur of the animal.
Confiding female mountain goat, Mount Rushmore, Black Hills, South Dakota. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ovis canadensis Bighorn sheep
Three subspecies of this impressive animal are widely distributed in mountains of western North America, from British Columbia and western Alberta southwards through the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada to Baja California, north-western Mexico, and south-western Texas, as far east as North and South Dakota. This species was once very numerous, but the population has been much reduced by overhunting and introduction of diseases from livestock.
The desert bighorn sheep, ssp. nelsoni, occurs throughout the desert regions of the south-western United States and north-western Mexico.
Ram of desert bighorn sheep, ssp. nelsoni, Tucson Desert Zoo, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Raphicerus campestris Steenbok
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Feeding female steenbok, Etosha National Park, Namibia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tragelaphus scriptus Bushbuck
This antelope is described on the page Animals – Mammals: Antelopes.
Female bushbuck, Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The origin of camels, and their relationship to people, is described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Camelus dromedarius Dromedary, one-humped camel
This species is extinct in the wild, but is widely distributed as a domestic animal, from India across the Middle East to the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Somalia, and northern Kenya. It was probably first domesticated in Somalia or southern Arabia, around 3000 B.C.
The dromedary is described in detail on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Portrait of a dromedary, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Decorated dromedary at a camel festival, Bikaner, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dromedary, chewing the cud, Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
When a dromedary bull is in heat, froth is oozing out of his mouth. – Bikaner, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Canidae Dog family
This family is described in depth on the page Animals – Mammals: Dog family.
Canis lupus ssp. familiaris Domestic dog
The domestication of the dog and its association with Man, is described in detail on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
This dog in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China, may have some Tibetan spaniel genes, and probably also some Pekingese, due to its very prominent lower jaw. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
I asked the owner of this little terrier in Taichung, Taiwan, why it was wearing sunglasses. She said that it was to prevent the dog from getting cataract. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The short-legged dachshund was developed to chase foxes and badgers out of their dens, for the hunter to shoot them. In America, they have also been used to chase prairie dogs out of their dens. This breed comes in three forms: smooth-coated, long-haired, and wire-haired.
Wire-haired dachshund, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Samoyed originated among the nomadic Samoyed people in Siberia, to pull sledges and to assist in the herding of reindeer. Today, it is a very popular family dog in the West.
Samoyed, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Rhodesian ridgeback is a large-sized dog breed, which originated as a cross between the ridged hunting dogs of the Khoikhoi people, and European dogs, brought to the Cape Colony of South Africa by the Boer. The name was instigated in 1922 in Bulawayo, South Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe).
Pup of Rhodesian ridgeback, chewing on a bone, Keetmanshoop, Namibia. Note the ridge along the spine. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The commonest type of stray dogs in Taiwan, generally called Taiwan dogs, or sometimes Takasago dogs, are a result of the indigenous Formosan hunting dogs interbreeding with imported dog types. Taiwan dogs are usually black or brown, or a mixture of the two.
During Chinese New Year, a red scarf has been tied around the neck of this c. 12-week-old Taiwan pup. A red envelope, on which is written wang-wang, has been fastened to it. The red colour of the envelope, as well as the text, denotes well-wishing. At the same time, wang-wang is an imitation of a dog’s barking. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Canis mesomelas Black-backed jackal
The black-backed, or silver-backed, jackal is quite common in two widely separated areas in Africa, namely from Sudan and Uganda south to northern Tanzania, and in southern Africa, from Angola and Zimbabwe south to South Africa.
Resting black-backed jackal, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lycaon pictus African hunting dog
This fascinating animal is described in depth on the page Animals – Mammals: Hunting dogs – nomads of the savanna.
Hunting dogs are formidable hunters, with powerful jaws and long legs. They are able to run at 60 km/hour. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cercopithecidae Old World monkeys
The species below are all described in depth on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.
Macaca fascicularis Long-tailed macaque
Long-tailed macaque, Wenara Wana Temple (popularly called ‘Monkey Forest’), Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Macaca mulatta Rhesus monkey
This rhesus monkey was photographed at the Buddhist temple Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Nepal, where two troops of these monkeys live. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Papio anubis Olive baboon
Male olive baboon, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Papio cynocephalus Yellow baboon
Male yellow baboon, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Piliocolobus kirkii Zanzibar red colobus
This Zanzibar red colobus is feeding on leaves of beach almond (Terminalia catappa), Zanzibar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Semnopithecus schistaceus Nepal langur, pale-armed langur
The Nepal langur is easily identified by its luxurious, pale grey fur and the large white ruff around its jet-black face. These two were photographed near Lake Dodi Tal, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Theropithecus gelada Gelada baboon
In the Simien Mountains, the gelada baboon is fairly common in some areas. This picture shows a female at Gosh Meda. On the chest, males as well as females have a naked red skin patch, giving rise to an alternative name of the species, bleeding-heart monkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A large number of deer species, including the ones below, are described on the page Animals – Mammals: Deer.
Axis axis Spotted deer
Spotted deer stag, drinking from a waterhole, Sariska National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cervus canadensis Wapiti
Resting wapiti stag, Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge, Nebraska, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rusa unicolor Sambar deer
In Maha Eliya Thenna National Park (Horton Plains), central Sri Lanka, sambar deer have become accustomed to tourists, as this one, which I could approach to within 10 metres. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Echimyidae Spiny rats
A large family with 27 genera and about 100 species, mainly found in South America, with some species in Central America and the Caribbean.
The family name is derived from the Greek ekhinos (‘hedgehog’, ‘sea urchin’) and mys (‘mouse’), alluding to the stiff hairs that many members of the family have on their body, presumably to deter enemies from eating them.
Myocastor coypus Nutria, coypu
This animal is native to the southern half of South America, living in wetlands. At an early stage, it was introduced to North America, Europe, and Japan for the fur trade. Over the years, numerous animals have escaped, and the species has become naturalized in many places. It is considered a pest, as it competes with, and sometimes expels, native species, erodes river banks, destroys irrigation channels, and chews up house panels etc.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek mys (‘mouse’) and kastor (‘beaver’), alluding to its resemblance to the beavers (Castor).
Nutria, escaped on Avery Island, Louisiana, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elephants and their sad fate are described on the page Animals – Mammals: Rise and fall of the mighty elephants.
Elephas maximus Asian elephant
Grazing bull Asian elephant, Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. Note that the gland in front of its ear is emitting fluid, indicating that it is in heat, called musht. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female Asian elephant in a breeding centre for elephants, near Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Loxodonta africana African elephant
African elephant, eating grass, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Note that it has only one tusk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
After spraying itself, this African elephant is covered in a layer of grey mud as a protection against biting insects, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The origin of horses, asses, and zebras is described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
There are 3 species of zebra, living in Africa, 3 species af ass, living in Asia and Africa, and one species of horse, which went extinct in the wild, but has been reintroduced to Mongolia. Herds of feral domestic horses are found many places around the world.
The three zebra species are described on the page Nature: Nature’s patterns.
Equus ferus ssp. caballus Domestic horse
In Europe, the true wild horse, or tarpan (Equus ferus ssp. ferus), was hunted to extinction, and the last one died in a Russian zoo in 1909. Another subspecies, Przewalski’s horse (E. ferus ssp. przewalskii), named after Russian geographer and explorer Nikolai Przewalski (1839-1888), only survived as scattered herds on the vast grass steppes in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. Attempts have been made to recreate the tarpan by crossing Przewalski’s horses with various ancient, primitive types of domestic horses, resulting in tarpan-like horses, such as the Konik horse. Today, herds of these ‘primitive’ horses have been released various places in Europe.
The domestication of wild horses is described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
The Konik horse resembles the extinct tarpan, apart from the long mane. A feral population of these horses live in the nature reserve Oostvardersplassen, Flevoland, Holland, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, the Belgian draft horse originates in Belgium. It is one of the strongest of the heavy horse breeds.
Portraits of Belgian horses, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A mule is a cross between a jack (male donkey) and a mare (female horse). This one was observed in the town of Shigatse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Equus quagga Plains zebra
Resting plains zebra, subspecies chapmani, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Previously, plains zebras in Namibia were regarded as a distinct subspecies, antiquorum. However, recent studies have revealed that it is genetically identical to Burchell’s zebra, subspecies burchelli, which was once regarded as extinct. As subspecies burchelli was described prior to antiquorum, the former name takes precedence. Thus, the plains zebras of Namibia are now called Equus quagga ssp. burchelli. Following the extermination of the quagga, ssp. quagga, in the late 1800s, Burchell’s zebra is today the least striped surviving subspecies.
Burchell’s zebras, Etosha National Park, Namibia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Erithizontidae New World porcupines
These animals, comprising 19 species in 3 genera, are primarily South American, with a few species extending into Central America, and a single species in North America (below).
Erethizon dorsatum North American porcupine
This striking animal, whose body is covered in up to 30,000 quills, is the second-largest rodent in North America, only surpassed by the beaver (Castor canadensis). It grows up to 90 cm long, excluding the long tail, which may be to 30 cm long. It is quite heavy, usually weighing 7-10 kg, sometimes more.
Divided into 7 subspecies, it is distributed in most of subarctic Alaska and Canada, extending its range through western United States to the northernmost parts of Mexico, and in the eastern states it is mainly restricted to the Appalachian Mountains, southwards to Pennsylvania.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek erethizein (‘to irritate’), referring to the quills, the specific name from the Latin dorsatus (‘ridged’). Thus, the name can be loosely translated as ‘the animal with the irritating back’.
The word porcupine is derived from the Latin porcus (‘pig’) and spina (‘thorn’). Despite its name, this animal is not closely related to Old World porcupines (Hystrix).
An adult North American porcupine may have up to 30,000 quills. This one was observed at Bend, Oregon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This worldwide family, only absent from the Australian region, the polar areas, and Madagascar, is divided into two subfamilies, Felinae with about 32 largely smaller species, and Pantherinae with 7 mostly large species.
The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is described on the page Animals: Animal tracks and traces, whereas the sad fate of the tiger (P. tigris) is related on the page Folly of Man.
Acinonyx jubatus Cheetah
The fastest land mammal on Earth, during hunts often running at speeds of up to 64 km/h, being able to accelerate up to 112 km/h on short distances. Because of this ability, the cheetah was tamed as early as the 16th Century B.C. in Egypt, and later also in India, to be used for hunting.
This species mainly inhabits savanna, but is also found in various types of open forest. Four subspecies are currently recognized. The nominate jubatus occurs from Uganda and Kenya southwards through eastern and southern Africa to Namibia and South Africa. It has been exterminated in Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi. The population is estimated at around 5,000 individuals.
Subspecies soemmeringii is restricted to north-eastern Africa, occurring in South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
With a total population estimated at less than 250 individuals, subspecies hecki is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. It has a scattered occurrence of tiny populations in southern Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin.
Today, the Asiatic cheetah, subspecies venaticus, is confined to Iran. It is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, as the total population in 2017 was estimated at fewer than 50 individuals, scattered over the central plateau of Iran. In former times, this subspecies was distributed from the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey eastwards to Central Asia and India.
By 2016, the total cheetah population was estimated at around 7,100 individuals in the wild. Its decline is caused by loss of habitat, poaching for the illegal pet trade, and conflict with humans.
The generic name is derived from the Greek akinitos (‘motionless’) and onyx (‘nail’ or ‘hoof’), thus ‘motionless nails’, referring to the fact that the cheetah, unlike other cats, is unable to retract its claws. The specific name is from the Latin iuba (‘mane’ or ‘crest’) and atus (‘like’), thus ‘having a mane-like crest’, referring to the long mane of cheetah kittens below the age of 3 months. This mane is a means of camouflage, when the kittens are left in dense cover by their mother, when she goes hunting. The name cheetah is derived from the Sanskrit citra, meaning ‘variegated’, ‘spotted’, or ‘speckled’.
Resting cheetah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Felis catus Domestic cat
The domestic cat is presented in depth on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Kittens, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Felis libyca African wildcat
Despite its name, this small cat is not only found in Africa, where it is very widespread, but also has a scattered distribution in the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, north-western India, and Central Asia, eastwards to Mongolia and northern China.
Previously, this species was regarded as various subspecies of the European wildcat (F. silvestris), but today most authorities consider it a separate species with 3 subspecies, the nominate in northern Africa, cafra in southern Africa, and ornata in Asia. Numerous other subspecies (or even species) have been described from skins that are now regarded as specimens of African wildcat.
African wildcat, ssp. cafra, resting in savanna grass, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leopardus pardalis Ocelot
A medium-sized cat, which may grow to almost 1 m long and weighing up to 16 kg. It is distributed from extreme southern Arizona and Texas southwards through western and eastern Mexico and Central America to southern Peru and northern Argentina. Its prime habitat is in the vicinity of water, with dense vegetation cover.
Populations are decreasing in many parts of its range due to habitat destruction, hunting, and traffic accidents.
Female ocelot in captivity, Tucson Desert Zoo, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Panthera leo Lion
Lions live in prides, consisting of females and young, and a single or several males. If there is more than one male, they are brothers or half-brothers. Even if they often don’t participate in a hunt, the stronger males will chase away lionesses and cubs from a prey, if it is not large enough to feed the entire pride.
The lion is unique among cats due to the male’s mane, a large growth of hair around the neck and down the chest, and often a little way down the back. The mane makes a male lion look larger than he actually is, without the disadvantage of a larger weight, which would require more food. A large mane is a signal to other males that here comes a powerful animal that shouldn’t be challenged, even if the challenging male is in fact larger than his opponent, but has a smaller mane. The mane also gives some protection during fights among males, for instance when stray males attempt to take over a pride.
The lion is described in detail on the page Animals: Lion – king of the savanna, and an unusual nightly encounter with lions is related on the page Travel episodes – Tanzania 1990: Lions in the camp.
Golden cat in golden grass. – Male lion, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male in Serengeti National Park has a huge mane. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Panthera pardus Leopard
This large cat has a very wide distribution, from Ussuriland in south-eastern Russia southwards through parts of China and Southeast Asia to Indonesia, and thence westwards through the Indian Subcontinent to the Middle East, and most of sub-Saharan Africa. It has adapted to a huge variety of habitats, from tropical jungles to semi-desert and mountains, and even farmland near villages.
More about leopards, including a terrible man-eater from northern India, is found on the page Animals – Mammals: The spotted killer.
Leopard, Chief’s Island, Okawango, Botswana. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This leopard is dozing after feeding on a white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus ssp. mearnsi), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Giraffidae Giraffe and okapi
This family consists of only two surviving species, the giraffe (below), and the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), which is restricted to eastern Zaire.
Giraffa camelopardalis Giraffe
The tall and seemingly ungainly giraffe was once distributed throughout Africa, except in rainforest. However, it has diminished alarmingly, and today there may be less than 100,000 individuals.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), only one species of giraffe exists, divided into 9 subspecies, whereas other authorities recognize up to 8 separate species.
The name giraffe was derived from the Arabic zarafah, meaning ‘the one that walks fast’. The specific name is from the Greek words kamelos (‘camel’) and pardos (‘leopard’), and the Latin –alis (‘-like’), alluding to its camel-like shape and leopard-like pattern.
Approximate distribution of the 9 subspecies of giraffe. (Borrowed from Wikipedia)
The West African giraffe, subspecies peralta, is the palest subspecies. It is seriously endangered, as only about 400 individuals survive in fragmented populations in southern Niger and northern Cameroun. This one was encountered in Waza National Park, Cameroun. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The reticulated giraffe, ssp. reticulata, is distributed in extreme southern Ethiopia, north-eastern Kenya, and south-western Somalia. These pictures are from Buffalo Springs National Park, Kenya. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The dark blotches on the Masaigiraf, ssp. tippelskirchi, have a jagged outline. This subspecies is found in Tanzania and extreme southern Kenya, here photographed in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg
The giraffes in Arusha National Park, northern Tanzania, are probably Masai giraffes, although some authorities regard them as hybrids between reticulated giraffe and Masai giraffe, called Galana giraffes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Angolan, or Namibian, giraffe, subspecies angolensis, is found in northern Namibia, northern Botswana, extreme south-western Zambia, and extreme western Zimbabwe. This one is feeding on an acacia on Chief’s Island, Okawango, Botswana. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young Angolan giraffes, Chief’s Island. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small family of only two surviving species. The hippo (below) and its smaller cousin, the pygmy hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis), are both described on the page Animals – Mammals: Hippo – the river horse that lives on both sides.
Hippopotamus amphibius Hippo
Hippos can crush a canoe with a single bite from their enormous jaws. – Banagi River, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leporidae Hares and rabbits
This family contains more than 60 species, of which about 32 belong to the genus Lepus (true hares). Members are found on all continents, except Antarctica, although they have been introduced to Australia. The family name means ‘those that resemble lepus’, lepus being the classical Latin word for hare.
Lepus europaeus European hare
This species is native to the major part of Europe and the Middle East, and thence eastwards across the Asian steppes to Mongolia. It has also been introduced elsewhere, including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and southern South America.
European hare, resting in a littoral meadow, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Otariidae Eared seals
As their name implies, these seals have a small ear flap, which distinguishes them from the true seals, family Phocidae, and the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). Eared seals include sea lions and fur seals, altogether 7 genera with 15 species, occurring throughout the Pacific Ocean and the southern parts of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. They are absent from the north Atlantic.
Arctocephalus pusillus Brown fur seal
There are two widely separated populations of this seal, also known as Afro-Australian fur seal: the South African, or Cape, fur seal, subspecies pusillus, and the Australian fur seal, subspecies doriferus.
The Cape fur seal ranges along the southern coasts of Africa, from Ilha dos Tigres in southern Angola, along the Namibian coast to Algoa Bay in South Africa, whereas the Australian subspecies lives in south-eastern Australian waters, along the coasts of Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, with the largest concentration in the Bass Strait.
The preferred breeding habitats of these seals are rocky islands, or pebble or boulder beaches. The population of the Cape fur seal is approximately 2 million, whereas that of the Australian fur seal is around 120,000. (Source: iucnredlist.org/details/2060/0)
Bull Cape fur seal, surrounded by females and pups, Cape Cross, Namibia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sleeping female Cape fur seal, Cape Cross, Namibia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Eumetopias jubatus Northern sea lion
This animal, also known as Steller’s sea lion, lives in the northern Pacific, from the Kuril Islands in Russia to the Gulf of Alaska in the north, and thence southwards to central California. It is the largest of the eared seals (Otariidae) and the sole member of the genus Eumetopias.
The name Steller’s sea lion commemorates German naturalist, physician, and explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746), who described the species in 1741. He participated in the Second Russian Kamchatka Expedition, led by Danish explorer Vitus Bering (1681-1741).
Female northern sea lion, Oregon, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pongo pygmaeus Bornean orangutan
This fascinating animal is described in depth on the page Animals – Mammals: Monkeys and apes.
In 1985, I visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, where orphaned orangutans are trained to a life in the wild. Lacking a mother, the orphans often become much attached to one another. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hyraxes constitute two genera, Procavia and Dendrohyrax, in Procaviidae, the only living family within the order Hyracoidea. These animals resemble large guinea pigs, but their nearest living relatives are in fact elephants.
Dendrohyrax arboreus Southern tree hyrax
The 3 species of tree hyraxes, genus Dendrohyrax, are distributed in sub-Saharan Africa. The southern tree hyrax is found from eastern Zaire, southern Uganda, and southern Kenya southwards to eastern Angola, Zambia, and northern Mozambique, with two isolated populations in southern Mozambique and south-eastern South Africa. This animal lives in various types of forest, and also in savanna and rocky areas, provided there are trees. It may be encountered from the lowlands up to an elevation of 4,500 m.
Southern tree hyrax, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Procavia capensis Rock hyrax
Divided into at least 5 subspecies, this animal is distributed in most of northern Africa, from southern Algeria, southern Libya, and the Nile Valley southwards to Zaire and northern Tanzania, in the Arabian Peninsula, and in southern Africa. In South Africa, it is known as dassie. It lives in rocky areas, from sea level up to elevations around 4,200 m. Where it is regularly fed, it can become very tame.
Black-necked rock hyrax, subspecies johnstoni, scratching, Gorges Valley, altitude about 4,000 m, Mount Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small family of 5 species in 4 genera, distributed in eastern and southern Africa, northern India, southern Nepal, Indochina, and Indonesia.
Rhino parts have been used as ingredients in traditional Asian medicine for at least 2000 years. Virtually every part of the animal is used: the horn for reducing fever and spasms; the skin for skin diseases; the penis as an aphrodisiac; the bones to treat bone disorders; the blood “as a tonic for women who are suffering from menstrual problems.”
In China, powdered horn is regarded as an aphrodisiac. However, chemical analyses have not revealed any active ingredients to suggest that the remedy could be effective in this respect. (Source: J. Still 2003. Use of animal products in traditional Chinese medicine. In: Complementary Therapies in Medicine)
In fact, western medical experts tend to discount all claims of any curative power in rhino horn. It is well known that aspirin contains similar properties and produces many of the same results as rhino prescriptions in patients.
Formerly, rhino horn was used for adorning dagger sheaths in Yemen – a practice which may still take place.
All five species of rhino are critically endangered due to widespread poaching, the Asian species also due to habitat loss.
Ceratotherium simum White rhinoceros, square-lipped rhinoceros
This is the largest living species of rhino, growing to 4 m long and weighing up to 2.3 tonnes. Females live in small herds, as opposed to other rhinos, which are largely solitary. There are two subspecies, the southern nominate race, which counts about 20,000 individuals, and the northern, subspecies cottoni, which has gone extinct in the wild due to poaching. Only two animals survive in captivity.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek keras (‘horn’) and therion (‘beast’). The specific name is derived from the Greek simos (‘snub-nosed’), alluding to the square mouth of this species, an adaptation for grazing.
It has often been claimed that the most commonly used name, white rhino, is a mistranslation of the Dutch word wijd to the English word white. Wijd means ‘wide’ in English, and it was supposed to refer to the width of the rhinoceros’s mouth. However, this is not the case. In fact, the name white rhino can be traced back to a letter in Dutch, written by the Boer Petrus Borcherds to his father in 1802. In this letter, he mentions two rhinos, both killed in 1801, a male of the ‘black variety’, and a female ‘white’ rhino. Concerning the female, Borcherds stated (still in Dutch): “She was of the type known to us as the white rhinoceros. (…) I expected this animal to be entirely white, according to its name, but found that she was a paler ash-grey than the black male.” (Source: Jim Feely 2007. Black rhino, white rhino: what’s in a name? Pachyderm 43, pp. 111-115)
However, both species are in reality grey, the ‘black’ rhino somewhat darker than the ‘white’ rhino.
White rhino, Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe, wearing a radio collar for easy tracking. Its horn was removed to deter poachers from killing it, but has started growing out again. The number of rhinos in Zimbabwe has plummeted in later years due to poaching, and the present population is only 7-800 individuals. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Diceros bicornis Black rhinoceros, hook-lipped rhinoceros
In former days, this rhino was abundant in sub-Saharan Africa, divided into 7 or 8 subspecies. However, due to poaching it has largely disappeared, today surviving in small populations in reserves in Kenya, Tanzania, and southern African countries.
Both scientific names mean ‘two-horned’, the generic name derived from the Greek dyo (‘two’) and keras (‘horn’), the specific name from the latin bis (‘twice’) and cornu (‘horned’). The common name is explained above, see white rhino.
This bull black rhino is sniffing a tuft of grass, into which a female has urinated, baring its lips in a posture, called flehmen. The inhaled air passes a special sensing organ, which is able to detect whether the female is in heat. – Ngorongoro Crater. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Resting black rhino, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhinoceros unicornis Indian rhinoceros, greater one-horned rhinoceros
Formerly, this animal was widespread and common in grasslands of northern India and southern Nepal, but today only about 3,500 survive in small pockets, with about 70% of the entire population in Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek rhinos (‘nose’) and keras (‘horn’), the specific name from the Latin unus (‘one’) and cornu (‘horned’).
Indian rhino, Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Indian rhino is enjoying a mudbath, near Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A large family of rodents, comprising about 60 genera and c. 300 species worldwide. These animals are found on all continents, except Antarctica. In Australia, however, they have been introduced by humans.
Numerous members of the family are described on the page Animals – Mammals: Squirrels.
Marmots are large, ground-living squirrels, comprising 15 species, which occur in Europe, Asia, and North America. They are the largest and fattest of squirrels, growing up to 60 cm long and weighing up to 7 kg.
Marmots live in burrows up to 2 m underground, digging tunnels up to 10 m long. They often sit on their haunches outside their burrow, and their shrill warning whistles can be heard far away. Marmots are almost exclusively vegetarians. They do not make food deposits, but in autumn they have become extremely fat, and hibernate throughout the winter.
Marmota marmota Alpine marmot
This is a common animal, living in alpine areas at elevations between 800 and 3,200 m, in southern France, the Vosges, the Black Forest, the Alps, the northern Apennines, the Carpathians in Romania, and the Tatras in Poland. In 1948, it was reintroduced with success in the Pyrenees, where it had disappeared at end of the last Ice Age.
Alpine marmot outside its den, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Members of this family, counting 6 genera with 18 or 19 species, are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. New World pigs, called peccaries or javelinas, belong to a different family, Tayassuidae.
Sus (scrofa) domesticus Domestic pig
Some authorities recognize the domestic pig as a separate species, others regard it as a subspecies of the wild boar (Sus scrofa). The domestic pig is dealt with on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Free-running pigs, Fur, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Free-running pigs, wallowing in mud, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Phacochoerus africanus Common warthog
Previously, this animal was thought to be the only member of the subfamily Phacochoerinae, under the name P. aethiopicus, but recently it has been split into two species, the desert warthog, named P. aethiopicus, which lives in arid areas of northern Kenya, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia, and the widespread common warthog, named P. africanus, which lives in grassland and woodland in most of sub-Saharan Africa, only avoiding deserts and rainforest.
From a distance, this animal appears largely naked, seemingly only with a crest along the back, and tufts of hair on the cheeks and tail. At close quarters, however, you notice a cover of short, bristly hairs on the body. The name warthog refers to the facial wattles, larger in the males, which also have prominent tusks that may sometimes reach a length of up to 60 cm, much smaller in the females.
Male common warthog with huge tusks and prominent wattles, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female common warthog with very small tusks and almost no wattles, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kingfishers, comprising about 114 species of small to medium-sized, often brilliantly coloured birds, are characterized by having a large head, a long, sharp, pointed bill, and very short legs. As their name implies, most of these birds eat fish, although many species live away from water, eating mainly small invertebrates.
These birds are divided into 3 subfamilies: river kingfishers (Alcedininae), tree kingfishers (Halcyoninae), and water kingfishers (Cerylinae).
A genus of 11 medium-sized kingfishers, distributed in warmer areas of Africa and Asia.
The generic name is associated with a bird of Greek legend, called Halcyon, generally thought to be the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). The Ancients believed that this bird made a floating nest in the Aegean Sea and had the power to calm the waves while brooding her eggs. Two weeks of calm weather were to be expected when the Halcyon was nesting, which took place around winter solstice. These Halcyon days were generally regarded as beginning on the 14th or 15th of December.
This belief in the bird’s power to calm the sea originated in a myth recorded by Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43 B.C. – c. 17 A.D.), known as Ovid. The story goes that Aeolus, ruler of the winds, had a daughter named Alcyone, who was married to Ceyx, the king of Thessaly. Ceyx drowned at sea, and in her grief, Alcyone threw herself into the waves. However, instead of drowning, she was transformed into a bird and carried to her husband by the wind. (Source: phrases.org.uk)
Halcyon albiventris Brown-hooded kingfisher
This bird is very widely distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa, from Congo eastwards to southern Somalia and thence southwards to Namibia and South Africa. It lives in woodland, shrubberies, grasslands with trees, parks, and gardens, and may also be observed in cultivated areas. It occurs from the lowland up to an elevation of about 1,800 m.
Brown-hooded kingfisher, Msumbugwe Forest, northern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Anatidae Ducks, geese, and swans
At present, this large family contains 43 genera with about 146 species, distributed almost worldwide. The family name is derived from anas, the Classical Latin word for duck.
Anser Grey geese
A genus of 11 species, distributed in arctic and temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name is the classical Latin word for geese.
Anser brachyrhynchus Pink-footed goose
This goose has two separate populations, one breeding in eastern Greenland and Iceland, the other one in Svalbard. The western population spends the winter in the United Kingdom and Ireland, whereas the Svalbard population winters in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.
Over the last 50 years, the population has greatly increased due to protection from shooting on the wintering grounds. Numbers in Ireland and England have risen from about 30,000 in 1950 to about 300,000 today.
The pink-footed goose is closely related to the bean goose (A. fabalis) and was formerly treated as a subspecies of that species. The specific name is derived from Ancient Greek brakhys (‘short’) and rhynkhos (‘snout’, ‘bill’), alluding to the rather short bill of the bird.
Little boy with a gosling of pink-footed goose, Mjoidalur, northern Iceland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A genus of 6 long-necked birds, distributed on all continents except Antarctica. Genetic research indicates that the coscoroba swan (Coscoroba coscoroba) of South America is not a true swan, but more closely related to geese or shelducks.
The generic name is a Latinized form of the Classical Greek word for swans, kyknos.
Cygnus cygnus Whooper swan
A widespread and common bird, breeding from Iceland eastwards across Scandinavia and northern Asia to Kamchatka, southwards to southern Sweden, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and extreme northern China. It is an irregular and scarce breeding bird in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Denmark. It is partly resident in Iceland and Norway, but the vast majority of the population is migratory, spending the winter in western and southern Europe, around the Black, Caspian, and Aral Seas, in eastern China, and in Korea and Japan.
As opposed to the mute swan (C. olor), this swan is very vocal, reflected in its English name, which, incidentally, is pronounced ‘hooper swan’, although the word whooper alone is pronounced ‘wooper’. In his book Ornithologiae libri tres (‘Ornithology, Book Three’), from 1676, English naturalist Francis Willughby (1635-1672) refers to the whooper swan as “the Elk, Hooper, or wild Swan”.
The mute swan is described on the page Animals: Urban animal life.
Whooper swan, grazing on land, Lake Hornborga, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aramus guarauna Limpkin
This bird, the only member of the family, is related to rails and cranes. It lives in marshy areas, eating mainly molluscs, especially apple snails (Pomacea). It is distributed from Florida, the Caribbean, and southern Mexico southwards to northern Argentina.
The generic name refers to a kind of heron, mentioned by Hesychius of Alexandria, a Greek grammarian who, probably in the 5th or 6th Century A.D., compiled a work, titled Alphabetical Collection of All Words, a list of unusual and obscure Greek words. The specific name is the name of a kind of marshbird in the Tupi language, a people who once lived in Brazil. The popular name refers to the fact that the bird seems to limp when it walks.
Limpkin, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These large birds, comprising 6 genera with 19 species, are found in most parts of the world, being absent from the polar regions and the major parts of North America and Australia.
The family name is derived from ciconia, the Classical Latin word for storks.
A genus of 3 large and ungainly birds, found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek leptos (‘thin’ or ‘slender’) and ptilon (‘feather’), alluding to the scarcity of feathers on the head of these birds.
Leptoptilos crumenifer Marabou stork
This huge bird, up to 1.5 m tall and weighing up to 8 kg, is not exactly a beauty, with a naked, red and black head, a naked pink, blue, and red neck which ends in a large gular sac, and a huge bill that may be up to 35 cm long. It is widely distributed and common in Africa south of the Sahara, living in various habitats, often near human habitation. Like most storks, it breeds in colonies.
The specific name is derived from the Latin crumena (a purse carried around the neck), naturally referring to the gular sac. The common name is borrowed from French marabout, which was adapted from Portuguese maraboto, which was again derived from Arabic murabit (a soldier stationed in fortified outpost), presumably alluding to the upright stance of this species.
Marabou stork with inflated gular sack, Virunga National Park, eastern Zaire. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leptoptilos javanicus Lesser adjutant
This smaller relative of the marabou grows to about 1.2 m tall, with a weight up to 5.5 kg. It has a naked white crown, naked pink and bluish skin around he eyes, and a pink neck with a few ‘punky’ tufts of feathers. It is partial to wetlands, and, unlike the marabou and the greater adjutant (L. dubius), it is not often seen near villages. It is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Vietnam, and thence southwards to Indonesia, with the largest population in Cambodia.
This damaged lesser adjutant was taken care of at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Falconidae Falcons and caracaras
This family, counting about 60 species, is divided into 3 subfamilies, Herpetotherinae (laughing falcon and forest falcons), Polyborinae (caracaras and Spiziapteryx), and Falconinae (typical falcons and falconets).
Falco Typical falcons
The largest genus of the family, comprising about 40 species. It is widely distributed on all continents, except Antarctica.
The generic name is derived from the Latin falx, or falcis (‘sickle’), referring to the claws.
Falco rusticolus Gyrfalcon
The largest falcon, females to 65 cm long and weighing up to 2 kg, males smaller, to 60 cm long, weighing up to 1.3 kg. It is a circumpolar breeder, found in Arctic America, Greenland, Iceland, and northern parts of Scandinavia, Finland, Russia, and Siberia, probably southwards to Kamchatka and the Commander Islands. Previously, several races were recognized, but today most authorities regard these as colour morphs.
The specific name is derived from the Latin ruris (‘country’) and colere (‘to dwell’), thus ‘countryside-dweller’. The common name was adapted from French gerfaucon, possibly derived from Old High German gir (‘vulture’), referring to its large size, or from Ancient Greek gyros (‘circle’), alluding to the hunting method of the bird. As opposed to most other falcons, it circles while searching for prey.
An exhausted gyrfalcon, white morph, resting on board an Icelandic research ship, near Kap Brewster, eastern Greenland. From the cook, I got some bits of meat, tossing them up to the falcon, which ate them greedily. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Falco sparverius American kestrel
This is the smallest falcon in America, growing to about 30 cm long. Divided into about 17 subspecies, it is found in the entire Americas, with the exception of the Arctic, rainforest areas, and the very dry deserts in Chile. It lives in a wide variety of open habitats, including grasslands and farmland, and it has also adapted to urban areas.
This male American kestrel had been damaged and was taken care of in Tucson Desert Zoo, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cranes are medium-sized to large birds, comprising 15 species, divided into two subfamilies, Balearicinae with two species of crowned cranes, and Gruinae with 13 species, divided into 4 or 5 genera, depending on authority.
The sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) is described on the page Animals – Birds: Sandhill cranes – a threat to breeding birds.
Balearica regulorum Grey crowned crane
Previously, this crane was regarded as being conspecific with the black crowned crane (B. pavonina), but is now regarded as a separate species with two subspecies, regulorum, which is distributed from Zambia and Angola southwards to South Africa, and gibbericeps, which is found from central Kenya and Uganda southwards to Zambia. It is the national bird of Uganda.
The grey crowned crane lives in savannas and river valleys, and also sometimes in agricultural land, provided there are accessible wetlands. Traditionally, some tribes have regarded this bird as sacred, and in many places it has adapted to living near people. It is mainly sedentary, but moves around in search of areas with recent precipitation. It often spends the night in trees.
During the last 50 years or so, this species has declined drastically, and the total population may now be as low as 25-30,000, with two thirds of this number in East Africa. The decline is caused by draining, conversion of savanna to agricultural lands, and lack of flooding due to construction of dams. East African populations are classified as near-threatened, whereas the South African population is stable.
Feeding grey crowned crane, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grus grus Eurasian or common crane
This is the most widely distributed crane species in the world, found from England eastwards across the entire Siberian taiga to northern Mongolia and China, with small isolated populations in southern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, and Tibet. Subspecies archibaldi from Turkey and the Caucasus was described scientifically as late as 2008. Formerly, eastern Asian populations were regarded as a separate subspecies, lilfordi, but today most authorities consider these birds as belonging to the nominate race.
With a total population of nearly 700,000, the Eurasian crane is one of the most numerous crane species, only surpassed by the sandhill crane (G. canadensis). In western Europe, breeding numbers have increased dramatically in several countries, including Sweden with 15,000 to 20,000 pairs, Germany with about 8.000 pairs, and Denmark with about 500 pairs. In 1998, the total number in Europe was estimated at 45,000 pairs, but this number has since increased significantly.
Eurasian crane, Hornborgasjön, Sweden. This lake is visited by up to 10,000 cranes in March-April, resting here on their way to their breeding grounds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Laridae Gulls, terns and skimmers
This large cosmopolitan family constitutes 22 genera with about 100 species. A number of species are described on the page Animals: Urban animal life.
This genus with 11 species of small to medium-sized gulls is found almost worldwide. Until recently, they were included in the genus Larus. The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek khroizo (‘to colour’) and kephale (‘head’), alluding to the dark head of many of the species in the breeding season.
Chroicocephalus hartlaubii Hartlaub’s gull
This small gull is endemic to the coastline of South Africa and Namibia. Although a coastal species, it rarely ventures far from land. The total population is estimated at about 30,000 birds.
The specific and common names commemorate German physician and ornithologist Karel Johan Gustav Hartlaub (1814-1900), one of the founders of Journal für Ornithologie, in 1852.
Hartlaub’s gull, Swakopmund, Namibia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, most gulls were placed in this genus, but genetic research has lead to the resurrection of the genera Ichthyaetus, Chroicocephalus, Leucophaeus, and Hydrocoloeus. The systematics of the larger species is very complicated, and a number of former subspecies have recently been elevated to separate species. Today, the genus may contain about 30 species.
Larus occidentalis Western gull
This species is common along the Pacific Coast, breeding from Washington southwards to central Baja California, Mexico. Outside the breeding season, it strays to British Columbia and southern Baja California. The largest colony is on the Farallon Islands, west of San Francisco. In the entire San Francisco Bay area, the population is estimated at 30,000 individuals.
It is a large bird, to 68 cm long and weighing up to 1.4 kg. It is divided into two subspecies. The northern nominate race has paler wing colour and darker eye colour than the southern subspecies wymani.
Incubating western gull, ssp. occidentalis, Yaquina Head, Oregon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cormorants and shags are a cosmopolitan family of about 42 species of small to medium-sized, fish-eating birds. Today, most taxonomists divide these birds into three genera: 22 species of mainly larger birds in the genus Phalacrocorax, 15 species of mainly medium-sized birds in the genus Leucocarbo, and 5 species of small birds in the genus Microcarbo. However, the number of genera is disputed, and several new genera have recently been proposed.
Numerous cormorant species are presented on the pages Fishing and Silhouettes.
At present, this genus contains 22 species, including the spectacled cormorant (P. perspicillatus), which became extinct in the 19th Century. Several taxonomists propose that many of the species should be transferred to other genera.
The generic name is derived from the Greek phalakros (‘bald’) and korax (‘raven’), where ‘bald’ refers to the white (but feathered) crown of the great cormorant (below) during the breeding season, whereas ‘raven’ presumably alludes to its otherwise black plumage.
Phalacrocorax carbo Great cormorant
This bird has an extremely wide, but rather patchy, distribution, found all over Europe and most of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in north-eastern North America and Greenland.
In the 1800s, this species was persecuted all over Europe, partly because it was competing with fishermen, partly because its guano destroyed the trees, in which it was breeding. The complete contrast to this persecution is seen in the Far East, where fishermen, for thousands of years, have been using tamed great cormorants for fishing. Pictures, depicting this practice, are found on the page Fishing.
Great cormorant, ssp. sinensis, Nature Reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Phasianidae Game birds
This family, containing about 190 species, includes pheasants, partridges, junglefowl, Old World quails, peafowl, grouse, and many others. These birds are found worldwide, except in Antarctica.
According to the latest genetic research, guineafowl and New World quails are treated as separate families, Numididae and Odontophoridae, respectively.
Gallus gallus Domestic chicken
Recent studies indicate that chickens, or simply fowl, were first domesticated in China about 8000 B.C., descended from the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which is still found in the wild in India and Southeast Asia. Later, about 6000 B.C., domestication of the red junglefowl also took place several places in Southeast Asia and in India, where some hybridization with the grey junglefowl (G. sonneratii), living in the southern part of India, may have occurred.
The chicken is described in depth on the page Animals – Animals as servants of Man: Poultry.
Chick of an old Danish breed, a few days old, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gallus lafayettii Sri Lankan junglefowl
As its name implies, this bird is restricted to Sri Lanka, where it is widely distributed, living in a wide variety of forested habitats, from sea-level up to an elevation of 2,300 m. It is the national bird of Sri Lanka.
The specific name was given in honour of a French aristocrat, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, also known as Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834). He participated in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French revolutions in 1789 and 1830.
This gorgeous male Sri Lankan junglefowl was encountered in Sinharaja Forest Reserve. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Members of this family, comprising about 240 species in 35 genera, are found worldwide, except for Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Madagascar, and polar regions. Most species are known for their characteristic way of foraging, pecking on tree trunks and branches. In the breeding season, many species communicate by drumming with their beak on a tree trunk.
A widespread genus, found in Eurasia and North Africa. Formerly, it contained about 25 species, but many have been moved to other genera, leaving 12 species in Dendrocopos.
The generic name is derived from the Greek dendron (‘tree’) and kopos (‘hard work’), of course alluding to their way of feeding.
Dendrocopos major Great spotted woodpecker
Divided into at least 14 subspecies, this bird is very widely distributed, found almost all over Europe, in North Africa and the Middle East, eastwards to the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran, and in a broad belt across the Siberian taiga to Kamchatka, and thence southwards through China, Korea, and Japan to north-eastern India, northern Indochina, and the Island of Hainan. It is mostly resident, although some northern populations spend the winter further south. Mingling with the local population.
This great spotted woodpecker, which was caught in a mistnet on the island of Rømø, Denmark, had been ringed in Norway. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small genus of only two species, the Eurasian wryneck (below) and the red-throated wryneck (J. ruficollis), which lives in sub-Saharan Africa. They got their English name from their ability to turn the head from side to side, and back and forth, writhing in the manner of a snake. This behaviour is thought to imitate a snake, to deter predators from their nest.
The generic name is the Ancient Greek word for wryneck.
Jynx torquilla Eurasian wryneck
This small relative of woodpeckers is very widely distributed, found in the major part of Europe, in North Africa, Turkey, and the Caucasus, and in a broad belt across the Siberian taiga to Ussuriland, Sakhalin, northern Japan, and central China. There is also a small isolated population in Kashmir. With the exception of the North African population, it is migratory, spending the winter in the African Sahel zone, in India, Indochina, southern China, and southern Japan. It lives in open areas with scattered trees, including orchards.
Wryneck, Nature Reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Scolopacidae Sandpipers and allies
A large family with about 15 genera and c. 95 species of waders, found across the globe.
Gallinago gallinago Common snipe
The common snipe is the most widespread among 17 members of the genus, found in wetlands in subarctic and temperate regions of Eurasia, eastwards to the Pacific Ocean, southwards to France, Romania, Kashmir, north-eastern China, and Kamchatka. It also breeds on the Azores and the Aleutian Islands. It is found all-year round in western Europe, but the vast majority of the population is migratory, spending the winter in southern Europe, Tropical Africa, the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, and Tropical Asia.
There are two subspecies, faeroeensis in Iceland, the Faroes, and the Shetland and Orkney islands, and the nominate gallinago in the rest of the distribution area. Previously, Wilson’s snipe (G. delicata) of North America was also regarded as a subspecies of the common snipe.
The generic and specific names are the Latin word for snipe, derived from gallina (‘hen’) and the suffix –ago (‘resembling’).
Common snipe, subspecies faeroeensis, Aðaldal, northern Iceland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These unique flightless seabirds, comprising 6 genera with about 20 species, are breeding along coasts in Antarctica, New Zealand, southern Australia, southern Africa, southern and western South America, and the Galapagos Islands.
Spheniscus demersus Jackass penguin
This bird, named for its donkey-like braying, is confined to coasts of South Africa and Namibia. Its numbers have declined drastically since 1800, when the population was estimated at 4 million. Today, there are proably as few as 20,000 – a result of overfishing as well as climate change.
Jackass penguins in their breeding colony at Boulders, Simonstown, Cape Town, South Africa. The bird in the lower picture is braying. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Strigidae Typical owls
A large cosmopolitan family, comprising 25 genera with about 220 species. These birds are found on all continents, except Antarctica.
Bubo Eagle owls
This genus contains about 20 species of large owls, distributed on all continents, except Australia and Antarctica. In America, they are known as horned owls. The generic name is the classical Latin name of the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo).
Bubo africanus Spotted eagle-owl
One of the smaller members of the genus, widely distributed in the southern half of Africa, from Zaire and Kenya southwards to South Africa, and also in the southernmost parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Spotted eagle-owl, Cape Town Zoo, South Africa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bubo virginianus American great horned owl
This large owl has an enormous distribution, found from Alaska and northern Canada southwards through the entire United States to southern Mexico and Guatemala, and also in two separate areas of South America, from Columbia eastwards to north-eastern Brazil, and south of the Amazon Basin, from eastern Peru eastwards to the Atlantic Ocean, and thence southwards to north-eastern Argentina.
Captive American great horned owl, Oregon, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This family contains a single genus with one or two species, found in sub-Saharan Africa.
Struthio camelus Ostrich
The ostrich is the largest existing bird, some individuals measuring up to 2.7 m in height and weighing up to 150 kg. Today, it is restricted to open areas of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Sahel zone southwards to South Africa. There are 4 subspecies.
The North African ostrich (ssp. camelus) was once widespread in northern Africa, but has disappeared from large parts of its former range. It is today considered critically endangered.
The Somali ostrich (ssp. molybdophanes), which has a bluish neck and thighs, lives in southern Ethiopia, north-eastern Kenya, and Somalia. Some authorities regard it as a separate species, S. molybdophanes. To me, its seem rather odd that a population of a species, in an area with an otherwise continuous distribution, should constitute a separate species.
The Masai ostrich (ssp. massaicus) has pink neck and thighs. It is found from southern Ethiopia and southern Somalia southwards to southern Tanzania.
The South African ostrich (ssp. australis), is widely distributed south of the rivers Zambezi and Cunene. In some places, it is farmed for meat, leather, and feathers.
A fifth subspecies, the Arabian ostrich (ssp. syriacus), which was formerly very common in the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, and Iraq, became extinct around 1966 due to overhunting.
Attempts to reintroduce the species to Israel have failed. In Australia, escaped ostriches have established feral populations.
South African ostrich, ssp. australis, in captivity, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sulidae Gannets, boobies
A family of 10 species of medium-sized to large seabirds, the smaller boobies (Sula and Papasula) living in tropical or subtropical waters, the larger gannets (below) in temperate seas.
Gannets are large seabirds, comprising 3 species, the northern (M. bassanus), the Cape (below), and the Australian (below). They are all very similar, but are generally regarded as separate species, although some authorities consider the latter two to be subspecies of M. bassanus.
Gannets hunt fish by diving into the sea from heights of up to 30 m, achieving speeds of almost 100 km/h, which enables them to catch fish at a much greater depth than most other airborne birds.
The generic name is derived from the Greek moros (‘foolish’), given due to the lack of fear shown by these birds at the breeding ground, allowing them to be easily killed. The common name comes from Old English ganot, ultimately from Proto-Germanic ganzo (‘gander’), which, in German, means ‘a male goose’, but in English it may also mean a ‘fool’.
Morus capensis Cape gannet
This bird nests in large and dense colonies on islands near the coasts of Namibia and South Africa. In 1996, the total population was estimated at about 340,000 birds. Outside the breeding season, they stray far from the breeding area, often observed as far away as the Gulf of Guinea and Mozambique.
Cape gannets in courtship display, Lambert’s Bay, South Africa. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Morus serrator Australian gannet
This bird was first known to scientists during Captain James Cook’s first great voyage on board the Endeavor (1768-1771), when English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) shot three specimens on 24th December 1769, off Three Kings Islands, New Zealand.
In his journal, Banks noted: “Calm most of the day: myself in a boat shooting, in which I had good success, killing cheifly several Gannets or Solan Geese, so like European ones they are hardly distinguishable from them. As it was the humour of the ship to keep Christmas in the old fashiond way, it was resolved of them to make a Goose pye for tomorrows dinner.”
On Christmas Day, Banks recorded that “our goose pye was eaten with great approbation.” – Therefore, it is hardly surprising that none of these specimens found their way to England, considering that a goose is best when fried with the skin on!
This species breeds along the coastlines of Australia (Victoria and Tasmania), and New Zealand, mainly on offshore islands, but also in mainland colonies. Outside the breeding season, it may be observed along coasts from western Australia to Queensland, and around New Zealand, Lord Howe Islands, and Norfolk Islands.
Preening Australian gannet, Muriwai Beach, New Zealand. Another picture of this species is found at the top of this page. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many members of this family, including the one below, are presented in depth on the page Animals – Birds: Thrushes.
Geokichla guttata Spotted ground-thrush
This spotted ground-thrush has been caught in a mist-net to be ringed, Rondo Forest, southern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Reptiles and amphibians
Agamas are a large group of lizards, comprising 6 subfamilies with about 64 genera and more than 300 species, distributed in Asia, Australia, Africa, and southern Europe.
Calotes Forest lizards, garden lizards
This genus of the subfamily Draconinae contains 28 species, native to the Indian Subcontinent and from southern China southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia, with most species in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
Calotes calotes Southern green forest lizard
This large agamid lives in forests of Sri Lanka and in montane areas of South India. It may measure up to 65 cm in length and is largely of a bright green colour. In the breeding season, however, the male develops a bright red head and throat.
A close relative, Calotes versicolor, is described on the page Animals: Himalayan animals.
Southern green forest lizard, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Otocryptis wiegmanni Brown-patched kangaroo lizard
This small agamid is endemic to Sri Lanka, living in forests of the wet zone and lower mountains, up to an altitude of 1,300 m. The specific name was given in honour of German herpetologist Arend Friedrich August Wiegmann (1802-1841), who described numerous species of reptiles, 55 of which are still considered valid, and he also described several new species of amphibians.
Brown-patched kangaroo lizard, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, south-western Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Stellagama stellio Starred agama
Also known by a number of other names, including rough-tailed rock agama, hardun, and painted dragon, the starred agama is found from western and southern Turkey southwards through Syria and north-western Iraq to southern Jordan, north-western Saudi Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula, on a number of islands along the west coast of Turkey, on Cyprus, in an area of Greek Macedonia, and on the island of Corfu. It has also been introduced to Malta.
This animal, which may attain a length of up to 35 cm, used to be included in the large genus Agama, but is now the single species in the genus Stellagama. However, it may constitute a species complex and may be split into several species in the future. The generic name is from the Latin stella (‘star’), referring to its many spots.
Male starred agama, Pergamon, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Alligatoridae Alligators and caimans
This family contains 8 species of crocodile-like animals, 2 alligators in a single genus and 6 caimans in 3 genera. Alligators live in the United States and China, whereas caimans are restricted to Central America and northern South America.
Alligator mississippiensis American alligator
This large animal, males growing to 4.6 m long and weighing up to 450 kg, lives in swamps in south-eastern United States, from Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and eastern Texas northwards to Tennessee and North Carolina.
In the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, hunting and habitat depleted its numbers seriously, and it was feared that it would not survive. In 1967, it was listed as an endangered species and was legally protected. Since then, conservation efforts have been successful, and today it is again common, and has even expanded its range to Tennessee.
American alligator, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small family of amphibians with 5 genera and about 34 species, distributed in eastern and southern Africa.
Breviceps Rain frogs
These frogs, comprising about 20 species, mainly live in southern Africa, with a few species in eastern Africa. Many of the species spend long periods underground, mainly emerging after rain – hence the common name. They are also known as short-headed frogs, reflected in the generic name, from the Latin brevis (‘short’) and ceps (‘headed’), the latter derived from Ancient Greek kephale (‘head’).
Males of these frogs are very much smaller than the females, and their limbs are so short that they are unable to cling with their legs to the female during mating. Instead, they emit a gluey secretion from the skin that allows them to ‘stick’ to the female. (Source: amphibiaweb.org)
Breviceps adspersus Common rain frog
The most widespread species of the genus is the common rainfrog, often called bushveld rain frog, found in Angola, northern Namibia, Botswana, south-western Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini (Swaziland), and parts of eastern South Africa.
Common rain frog, Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bufonidae True toads
This large family, comprising about 35 genera, is found worldwide, with the exception of Australia, Madagascar, and the polar regions.
The family name is derived from bufo, the Latin word for toads.
Bufo bankorensis Taiwan toad
Also known as Bankor toad, this large toad is endemic to Taiwan, widely distributed from sea level up to an altitude of about 3,000 m. Females, which are larger than males, can reach a length of 20 cm from snout to vent. Genetic research indicates that this species originated from Bufo gargarizans of China. It then dispersed to almost the entire island, resulting in highly diverse western and eastern populations.
This large Taiwan toad in Malabang National Forest, near Hsinshu, is swallowing a one-foot-long earth worm. Note the poison gland behind the eye. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bufo bufo Common toad
A common species throughout Europe, except the High Arctic, Iceland, Ireland, and most Mediterranean islands, and thence distributed in a broad belt across temperate Asia, eastwards to Lake Baikal, and also in North Africa, Turkey, and the Caucasus.
A pair of common toads on their way to a pond to lay eggs, Nature Reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This family of unique reptiles, comprising 12 genera with about 200 species, is distributed in Africa, Madagascar, southern Spain, Corsica, Sardinia, southern Italy, southern Greece, the Near East, the Arabian Peninsula, south-western India, and Sri Lanka. The absolute stronghold of the family is Madagascar, with about 100 species.
The family name is derived from the Greek khamai (‘on the ground’) and leon (‘lion’), thus ‘earth-lion’, presumably alluding to the hunting method and voracious appetite of these animals.
Chamaeleo africanus African chameleon
Also known as the Sahel chameleon, this animal is found in the Sahel zone, living in savannas from Mauritania eastwards to Sudan, and thence northwards along the Nile to Egypt. It is a large species, growing to 34 cm long, including the tail. It is often green with many black spots and lateral yellow stripes along the side of the body. It has a large bony casque on its head.
At some stage, it was brought from Egypt to Peloponnese, Greece, which today has a small population of about 350 individuals.
African chameleon, north of Malbaza, Niger. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chamaeleo dilepis Flap-necked chameleon
Divided into 8 subspecies, this chameleon is widespread and common in sub-Saharan Africa, from Cameroun eastwards to Ethiopia and Somalia, and thence southwards to northern South Africa. It lives in a variety of habitats, including savannah, woodland, shrubberies, and bushy grasslands, and it is also often encountered in villages and suburbs.
The flap-necked chameleon is a large species, up to 35 cm long, including tail. It may be green, yellowish, or brownish, but there is usually pale stripes on the flanks and underside. It was named after two flaps on the neck, similar to those of the African chameleon (above).
The flap-necked chameleon may be of a uniform green colour. This one was encountered in Sao Hill, western Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Excited flap-necked chameleon, with expanded gular sack, and displaying numerous black spots, Masasi, southern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These huge reptiles, altogether 17 species in 3 genera, are widely distributed in tropical areas, with 3 species in Africa and western Madagascar, 9 species in Asia, New Guinea, and northern Australia, and 5 in the Americas.
Crocodylus niloticus Nile crocodile
This formidable predator, some specimens growing more than 5 m long and weighing over 400 kg, is able to bring down large animals like zebras and wildebeest. It is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the arid areas of the south-western part of the continent, and is also found along the west coast of Madagascar. In historic times, it was living all along the Nile River (hence its name), northwards to the river delta. In Egypt, it is now restricted to the southernmost parts, around Lake Nasser.
The largest specimens occasionally turn into dangerous man-eaters.
Nile crocodile in morning light, Lake Baringo, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nile crocodile in a breeding centre, Zambezi River, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Crocodylus palustris Marsh crocodile, mugger crocodile
This crocodile occurs in the Indian Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka, and also in southern Iran, living in freshwater habitats, preferring slow-moving, shallow waters.
The largest known specimen measured 5.63 m, but on average males reach a length of 3-3.5 m, females 2-2.5 m, males weighing up to 200 kg. Its numbers have decreased alarmingly during the last 50 years due to habitat destruction (dam building and conversion of wetlands to farmland). They occasionally get entangled in fishing nets and drown, and some are killed by fishermen who regard them as competitors. In 2013, it was estimated that less than 8,700 individuals were living in the wild.
The word mugger is in fact pronounced ‘magar’, the Hindi name of this animal, derived from the Sanskrit makara, referring to a mythical crocodile-like creature.
Marsh crocodile, Kasara Crocodile Breeding Centre, Chitwan National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Crocodylus porosus Saltwater crocodile
As its name implies, this species is living in coastal areas, from south-eastern India and Sri Lanka eastwards to the Philippines and thence southwards to New Guinea and surrounding islands, and northern Australia.
It is the largest living reptile, males sometimes growing more than 6 m long and weighing up to 1,300 kg. Females are much smaller, rarely exceeding 3 m in length. The largest specimens occasionally turn into dangerous man-eaters.
Saltwater crocodiles in captivity, a sub-adult (top), and a juvenile, Port Blair Zoo, Andaman Islands, India. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Crocodylus siamensis Siamese crocodile
This is a fairly small freshwater crocodile, the largest specimens growing to 3.2 m long and weighing 150 kg. It is native to Indochina, Borneo, and possibly Java, but is critically endangered and has already been extirpated from most of its former distribution area. However, it is kept in captivity in several countries for the skin trade, and is not in imminent danger of going extinct.
Siamese crocodiles in a commercial breeding centre, Singapore. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A huge and diverse family of snakes, comprising 55 genera with about 360 species, including highly venomous groups like mambas, cobras, kraits, and sea snakes. They are characterized by their permanently erect fangs at the front of the mouth. They live in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, with terrestrial forms in Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Americas, and marine forms in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They vary greatly in size, from the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), which may sometimes grow almost 6 m long, to the white-lipped snake (Drysdalia coronoides), which is a mere 18-20 cm long.
Dendroaspis angusticeps Eastern green mamba
This species, one out of 4 in the genus, may grow to about 2 m long. It is a highly venomous, arboreal snake, native to south-eastern Africa, mainly coastal areas, found in Kenya and coastal Tanzania, and from Zimbabwe southwards to the east coast of South Africa.
During field work in 1989 in Tanzanian coastal forests, my companions and I encountered green mambas on several occasions, as they lay draped over thin branches in the trees. However, they were not at all aggressive, and we could admire their beautiful colour from a distance.
Eastern green mamba in captivity, Nairobi Snake Park, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A small family of crocodile-like reptiles, comprising only two members, the gharial (below) and the false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii), both living in Asia.
Gavialis gangeticus Gharial
This animal resembles a crocodile, but its snout is long and slender, with 110 sharp, interlocking teeth – a perfect adaptation for catching fish. Males may grow very large, to 6 m long, whereas females are smaller, to 4.5 m long. It lives in rivers in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, only leaving the water to bask in the sun, or to dig a nest in a sandy shore.
The generic and common names both refer to a distinct lump that the adult male has at the end of the snout, which resembles a clay pot, known as a ghara. This lump is hollow, amplifying a hissing sound that the male emits, which can then be heard far away. The specific name means ‘of the Ganges (River)’.
The gharial population has declined drastically since the 1930s, and the current number may be less than 1,000 individuals. It is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Captive gharial, showing its long rows of formidable teeth, Kasara Crocodile Breeding Centre, Chitwan National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male gharial, basking in the sun, Ramganga River, Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. The lump on the tip of the snout gave rise to its name (see text). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gerrhosauridae Plated lizards
This family, comprising 7 genera with about 37 species, is native to Africa and Madagascar. They are named for the rectangular scales of many of the species.
Matobosaurus validus Giant plated lizard
Previously, this large lizard, growing to 60 cm long, was included in the genus Gerrhosaurus, but was moved to a new genus, Matobosaurus, in 2013. Furthermore, the populations in Namibia and extreme southern Angola were split to form a separate species, M. maltzahni. Today, M. validus is found from extreme southern Zambia, north-eastern Botswana, and Zimbabwe southwards to north-eastern South Africa, living in rocky areas.
The generic name is derived from the Ndebele word matobo, meaning ‘bald head’, referring to the Matobo Hills in southern Zimbabwe, which are characterized by rather smooth granite hills. This area is prime habitat for plated lizards.
Giant plated lizard, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A huge, almost worldwide family, counting about 1,500 species of small to medium-sized lizards, many with smooth and shiny scales.
Trachylepis Striped skinks
A large genus of about 90 species, primarily distributed in Africa. One species, T. atlantica, is found on the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. Its ancestors presumably drifted across the Atlantic on a floating tree, sometime during the last 9 million years. Two other species of the genus may also occur on mainland South America, but they are poorly known.
Members of the genus were formerly included in the genera Mabuya and Euprepis.
The generic name is derived from Ancient Greek trakhys (‘rough’) and lepis (‘scale’), alluding to 3 or more slight longitudinal keels on the dorsal scales.
Trachylepis wahlbergii Wahlberg’s striped skink
This species, previously regarded as a subspecies of T. striata, is distributed in Namibia, extreme southern Angola, northern Botswana, north-western Zimbabwe, and extreme southern Zambia.
The specific name was applied in honour of Swedish naturalist and explorer Johan August Wahlberg (1810-1856), who travelled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, sending thousands of specimens back to Sweden. He was exploring the Okavango area in Botswana, when he was killed by a wounded elephant.
Wahlberg’s striped skink, Zambezi River, southern Zambia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tortoises, comprising about 18 genera with around 50 living species, are distributed on all continents, except Australia and Antarctica. They vary greatly in size, from giants growing to more than 1.2 m long, to dwarves with a length of less than 10 cm.
Aldabrachelys gigantea Aldabra giant tortoise
This gigantic tortoise is just as large as the famous Galapagos giant tortoise, males growing to about 1.2 m long and weighing about 250 kg, females generally smaller, about 90 cm long, weighing about 160 kg. It is endemic to the Aldabra Atolls in the Seychelles, but is kept several places in captivity.
In historic times, giant tortoises were found on many of the western Indian Ocean islands, as well as in Madagascar, and fossil records indicate that giant tortoises once occurred on all continents, except Australia and Antarctica. Many of the Indian Ocean species were driven to extinction by European sailors, for whom they were a source of food, and they seemed to be all extinct by 1840, except the Aldabra giant tortoise.
Captive Aldabra giant tortoise, eating grass, Lake Baringo, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Testudo graeca Greek tortoise
This species, also called spur-thighed tortoise, is widely distributed in southern Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, found in southern Spain, eastern Romania and Bulgaria, Greece, northern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, and from Turkey southwards to northern Israel and Jordan, and eastwards to the Caucasus, Iran, and Turkmenistan. No less than c. 20 subspecies have been described.
The Greek tortoise may be distinguished from the quite similar Hermann’s tortoise (T. hermanni) by having large symmetrical markings on the top of the head, large scales on the front legs, and a spur on each thigh.
Greek tortoise, subspecies ibera, Pergamon, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Greek tortoise, subspecies buxtoni, Mian Kaleh, Caspian Sea, Iran. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Varanidae Monitor lizards
This family is a group of about 80 species of large, carnivorous and frugivorous lizards of the genus Varanus, native to Africa, Asia, and Australia.
The family name is of Semitic origin, meaning ‘dragon’ or ‘lizard beast’. The English name is explained in various ways. Some say it has its origin due to the occasional habit of these animals to stand on their two hind legs, seemingly ‘monitoring’ something. Others say that it arose from an old superstitious belief that they would warn people of the approach of venomous animals.
Some authorities include the earless monitor lizard (Lanthanotus borneensis) in the family, others place it in a separate family, Lanthanotidae.
Varanus komodoensis Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard, growing to 3.5 m long and weighing up to 135 kilograms. This giant monitor lizard has a very limited distribution, found only on the small Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rintja, and Padar. It is described in depth on the page Travel episodes – Indonesia 1985: Difficult journey to Komodo.
Komodo dragon, Komodo Island. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Viperidae Vipers, adders, rattlesnakes
A huge, worldwide family of poisonous snakes, comprising 3 subfamilies, the true or pitless vipers (Viperinae) with 13 genera and about 90 species, the pit vipers (Crotalinae) with 22 genera and about 250 species, and Fea’s vipers (Azemiopinae) with 1 genus and 2 species.
The Latin name of the pit vipers, Crotalinae, is derived from Ancient Greek krotalon (‘castanet’), alluding to the rattle on a rattlesnake’s tail. This subfamily is found in Asia and the Americas. The members, which include rattlesnakes, lanceheads, and Asian pit vipers, are distinguished by the presence of a heat-sensing pit organ, located between the eye and the nostril on both sides of the head.
Agkistrodon contortrix Eastern copperhead
This strikingly coloured snake is endemic to south-eastern North America, from Massachusetts southwards to north-eastern Mexico. The generic name is derived from the Greek ankistron (a kind of curved chisel) and odon (‘tooth’), alluding to the curved fangs of this species.
Previously, it was assumed that only one species of copperhead existed in the United States, but it has recently been split into 2 species.
Eastern copperhead in captivity, Nairobi Snake Park, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tropidolaemus wagleri Wagler’s pit viper
This viper is endemic to Southeast Asia, found from southern Thailand eastwards to southern Vietnam, southwards through the Malaccan Peninsula to Singapore and Sumatra with surrounding islands.
This species is sometimes referred to as the temple viper, because of its abundance around the Temple of the Azure Cloud, a Chinese temple in Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia, in daily speech called the Snake Temple.
The specific name was applied in honour of German herpetologist Johann Georg Wagler (1800-1832). He died young of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound while out collecting near Munich.
Wagler’s pit viper in captivity, Temple of the Azure Cloud, Penang, Malaysia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Orthoptera Grasshoppers and allies
The order Orthoptera is divided into to suborders, Caelifera (grasshoppers) and Ensifera (crickets, katydids, and others). Both groups are characterized by mouthparts adapted for biting and chewing, hind legs modified for jumping, and organs to produce their characteristic sounds. Ensiferans have much longer, threadlike antennae than the grasshoppers, often longer than their bodies.
These animals are plant-eaters, and some species at times become serious pests, forming huge swarms that consume crops over wide areas. Most species protect themselves from predators by camouflage. If detected, they suddenly jump into the air, many species displaying brilliantly coloured wings to startle the predator. Other species have strong colours as a warning to predators that they are ill-tasting.
Grasshopper, Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded October 2019)
(Latest update November 2021)