The Ostrich (Struthio Camelus) is the largest living bird in the world and belongs to the small order of birds known as Ratitae, or running birds. Ostriches are true dinosaurs – fossils and ostrich skeletons have been discovered, dating back to over 120 million years ago.
Other Ratites include the Cassowary and Emu from Australia, the Rhea from South America and the Kiwi from New Zealand. All the birds originate in the southern hemisphere, and only in the case of the ostrich have they spread northwards throughout Africa. Many thousands of years ago ostriches also occurred in the Arabian desert and Persia – now Iran.
The family of “running birds” differs from all other bird families in that they do not use their wings for flight or movement through water. The ostrich is so unique, in the sense that they are the only bird in the world with two toes. Flying birds have four toes and the other flightless birds have three toes. The large toe supports the weight of the bird, which presumably results in as little contact with the ground as possible, thus ensuring great speed. The ostrich is known as the faster creature on two legs, with a fully grown bird capable of reaching speeds of up to 80 km per hour, what is amazing about ostriches is the fact that they can maintain that incredible speed for 10 to 20 minutes.
The mature ostrich averages 2 to 3 metres in height and weighs up to 15o kilograms – sometimes even more. Ostriches have a life-span of 30 to 70 years with one recorded case in Oudtshoorn of a ostrich that lived to the ripe old age of 81 years!