It is said that an ostrich egg is the equivalent of 26 hens eggs and that it will feed 18 people at a time. The opportunity to taste one came about while staying at Malewa River Lodge near Naivasha in Kenya. It takes about an hour to boil an ostrich egg, so we opted for an omelette. The verdict: it has a rubbery texture, but otherwise tastes of, well, not surprisingly, egg. In fact it’s not dissimilar to seagull’s egg, which I tried once on a Hebridean island. But, novelty value apart, I still prefer chickens’ eggs.
Ostrich eggs and the San Bushmen
The San (Bushmen) are hunter gatherers who were driven into the harsh regions of the Kalahari Desert. Their desert survival skills have ensured their existence over centuries. They know where to find sources of water, digging through sand and drawing water through reed straws. And ostrich eggs were used as storage containers. The shells are tough and not easily broken. A leather sling was made to carry the egg like a water bottle.
In time, the ostrich eggshells broke; these were then fashioned by the women into bead necklaces. Nowadays, ostrich shell necklaces are made to sell to tourists, bringing in some revenue to impoverished groups in the Kalahari.
Seven facts about the ostrich
- it is the largest living bird, standing at 2metres
- it cannot fly
- there are four recognised subspecies of ostrich in Africa
- it lays its eggs in a hollow in the ground
- it has a vicious kick – it kicks forwards with a force to break a man’s leg
- it is farmed for meat, feathers, skin and eggs
- Ostrich racing is popular in the Western Cape
Ostriches on Safari
Wild ostriches are mostly found in the savannah and desert regions of Africa. The Southern and Masai ostrich are readily seen in Southern and Eastern Africa respectively. With large feathered bodies, resembling big bustles, they are a comical sight when in full sprint, especially when there’s an entourage of chicks in tow. Male ostriches have a black and white plumage, whereas the females are a dowdy brown. Interestingly, both birds sit on the nest – the females during the day and the males at night, when their colouring makes for a perfect camouflage. The chicks look similar to a korhaan. The Somali ostrich is found in northern Kenya, with its distinctly blue/grey (as opposed to red) legs. Among ornithologists, there is debate as to whether this ostrich should be considered a separate species. Most rare is the Red-necked ostrich which is only found in North Africa.
Ostrich farms are predominantly found in South Africa, particularly in the Oudtshoorn area of the Western Cape. Many farms, such as Cango Ostrich Show Farm provide an interesting farm tour – from the rearing pens to riding an ostrich. Fashionable ostrich skin bags and feather boas (and feather dusters which are the main use of ostrich feathers) together with decorated eggs are for are for sale in the shop. While in the restaurant ostrich steaks and paté are on the menu.