There is nothing like a safari for wildlife spotting, and southern Africa in particular is blessed with the best – from the Big Five to everything in between!
And sometimes, on safari, you chance to see a new creature, which really makes you stop and stare or ask aloud in wonder, “What was that?”
This post is dedicated to those lesser-known – but no less amazing – African animals.
Africa’s Wild Dogs
Photo Source: cuatrok77
While many of us have no doubt heard the distinct call of an African wild dog when in the bush or on safari, not everyone is lucky enough to have actually caught sight of them.
Sadly, African wild dogs are Africa’s most endangered carnivore. This means that, despite their fierce spirits and keen hunting ways, many of them are now under tight protection or are being bred in animal sanctuaries, like the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre.
Yet, even with these trying life circumstances, this beautifully marked dog species is particularly prevalent in South Africa’s Kruger National Park… So if you are likely to spot them anywhere in Southern Africa, it’s going to be in the Kruger.
Africa’s oh-so-adorable Lesser Bushbabies
Photo Source: pelican
The Lesser Bushbaby – found predominantly in South Africa’s Mpumalanga and Northern Cape provinces, as well as in Botswana – is an adorable, tree-dwelling primate, which, above all else, is cute as pie and most active at night.
So, if you hear something like a child crying (although slightly more unnerving, it must be said) while out on safari… It’s actually good news because it means you might be close to a bushbaby. This is because they emit somewhat eerie, childlike cries!
Capable of remarkable leaps from tree to tree (although they sometimes take to the ground too), these adorable nocturnal creatures are a nice, unexpected sighting on any safari experience… if only because of their wide-eyed fluffiness. You’ll have to be quick though because they don’t hang around for long!
Spikey African Porcupines
Photo Source: Joshua Smith
Quilled – and generally, rather grumpy – African porcupines are easily identifiable thanks to their impressive black and white quills, which they raise upright if they are exhausted or angry. What’s more, these beautifully marked quills are often left behind on the ground after them, helping to let you know where a porcupine has been.
African porcupines (which are Africa’s largest rodent… who’d have thought?) may be found in North, South and East Africa. However, they do tend to favour rocky outcrops and vegetated or hilly areas, where they can seek out shelter and perhaps above all, seclusion.
Also, they are not too frequently sighted, but porcupines are most active at night (although, if you’re lucky, you can sometimes spot them moving about during the day) …
So, when you head out on a night safari drive, be sure to keep an eye out for them just in case!
The elusive and endangered Cape Pangolin
A bonus, lesser-known animal on this list is sadly also one that is gravely endangered… In fact, the shy and elusive pangolin is one of the most heavily trafficked animals in the world – with the Asian varieties particularly facing rapid extinction.
Despite its reptilian appearance, the Pangolin is actually a mammal and when they roll themselves up into a ball, their suit of scales (which is also, sadly, why they are hunted) makes them almost impenetrable to outward dangers.
While it is extremely rare to sight one of these unusual looking fellows in Southern Africa because of their elusiveness as a species, it is still possible to. This is because one of the four African varieties, the Cape, or Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, calls this part of the world home.
They might not be the most adorable animal to look at (let’s admit) – the Cape Pangolin is nevertheless a worthy sighting on any safari – and you can count yourself very lucky indeed if you chance to see one out in the bush!
Photo Source: www.independent.co.uk
The leopard tortoise is a large tortoise found in the most varied habitats of any African tortoise including grasslands, thorn-scrub, mesic brushland, and savannas. They occupy savannahs of eastern and southern Africa, from South Sudan and Somalia to South Africa’s North West Province, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. It is one of the Small 5, along with the rhino beetle, the red-billed buffalo weaver, the elephant shrew and the antlion. They can live for up to 75 years. In extreme cold and extreme heat, they dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes.
Photo Source: Michael Seeley
As they are herbivores, the diet of the Leopard Tortoise includes plants including grasses, annuals and succulents. They also gnaw bones and hyaena faeces. The high calcium content in this provides essential minerals to aid eggshell production and to keep the tortoise’s shell in good condition. During the dry winter months, leopard tortoises store water in a bursa sac. This reserve is used to moisten baked ground to make it easier for the female to dig a nest for her eggs, as well as hydration. Do not pick up a leopard tortoise during the winter months, as they will eject their stored urine and water as a deterrent. This could dehydrate the tortoise and they could die. So if you ever come across one of these magical creatures in winter, look but don’t touch!
The bat-eared fox lives in the short-grass savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. Their favourite food is the harvester termite, although they also eat insects, small rodents, lizards, small snakes and wild fruit. When they are fully grown they can reach a shoulder height of 30 centimetres, with a length of 75 centimetres and weighing less than 5 kilograms.
Photo Source: Jason Matthews
Much unlike other dog species, bat-eared foxes do not mind sharing their territory. Their cubs are born after a 2-month gestation period. Bat-eared foxes also pair-bond for life. They do not make much noise in general, but they do bark, growl and whine. They communicate with each other using shrill ‘who-who who’ calls.Unfortunately, the survival of the beautiful Bat-eared Fox is threatened by a loss of their natural habitat and by the trade in their skins. Next time you see one in the wild, know that it is a great privilege.
So, next time you are on safari, don’t just focus your camera and eyes on the Big Five… keep a conscious look out for these unique creatures too, for they are just as photogenic and interesting to see!