Some years ago, I made the mistake of stopping on my way from a restaurant to the car, to take a photograph of a nearby ostrich. Now, the ostrich is a curious fellow and this one decided he wanted a closer look at my camera.
The next several minutes were spent with my husband trying to manouver the car between me and the inquisitive creature, while I trotted furiously around the carpark, trying to reach the open car door. My husband, and the friends who were with us, found the entire incident hysterically funny.
I was just relieved to regain the sanctity of the car with my camera and body, if not dignity, still intact. As we drove from the parking, the ostrich trotted along behind us, seeing his guests off the premises.
This unusual creature is the largest living species of bird. He weighs between 63 and 145 kilograms (139–320 lb), which is as much as two adult humans.
He lives in the dry, hot savannas and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. His diet is mainly vegetarian although he also eats insects, lizards, or other creatures when they are available.
His long neck and legs means his head is a lofty distance of almost 3 metres (9 feet) above the ground.
When under threat, he usually runs away, but he can fight with his feet and can cause serious damage or even death with kicks from his powerful legs. He has even been known to single-footedly kill a lion.
He can run at speeds of up to 70 km (43 miles) per hour, with his strong legs thumping the ground in immense strides. This makes him the world’s fastest two-legged animal. Needless to say, my friend in the parking lot wasn’t all that anxious to catch me, as I certainly can’t reach speeds anything like that!
The ostrich also has the largest eyes of any other land vertebrate: 50 mm (2 inches) in diameter. His eyes are protected by long eyelashes to protect them from the dry sand where he lives.
Between his great height, excellent eyesight and sensitive hearing, he can spot predators such as lions from a good distance. For that reason, other grazing animals, such as zebras, giraffe, and buck (antelopes) like to keep him company.
When courting, the male ostrich uses his magnificent (but flightless) wings to perform a ritual dance to impress the females.
The wings are also used to shade chicks after the eggs hatch.
Ostrich are farmed around the world, particularly for its feathers, but it skin is used to produce beautiful leather goods, while its meat is regarded as a delicacy. Although a red meat, it is high in protein, and low in calories, cholesterol and fat.
The eggs are 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter and can weight up to 1.3 kg (3 lbs). One egg can make an omelet to feed eight people.
The eggs are also used to make exquisite ornaments, but the ostriches keep a very careful guard over them. People literally take their lives in their hands when they try to steal them from the protective parents.
In a small town in South Africa called Oudtshoorn, you can visit one of a number of show ranches where you will be able to interact with these amazing birds at close hand. If you feel brave enough, you can try to ride an ostrich at your own risk, and enjoy petting the babies.