Aardvark

Aardvark (2).jpg

The strange looking and almost mythical Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most interesting animals. It plays a significant part in African folklore and mythology, and is believed to bring good luck to anyone that is lucky enough to see one. It is also a symbol of strength and resilience in various African cultures.

The name Aardvark is actually Afrikaans, and means “earth pig” or “ground pig”, probably because of its habit of burrowing into the soil for a home. Aardvarks are also known as ‘antbears’, ‘anteaters’, ‘Cape anteater’ and ‘earth hogs’. The name Orycteropus means burrowing foot, and the name afer refers to Africa. Aardvarks belong to the genetic group of mammals called afrotheres, along with elephants, golden moles, hyraxes, tenrecs and other related mammals. Scientists actually classify the Aardvark genetically as a living fossil!

The Aardvark is vaguely pig-like in appearance, typically between 100 and 130 centimetres (3 to 4 ft) long (without its tail) and weighing about 40 to 80 kilograms (90 to 180 lbs). Its body is stout with a prominently arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse bristle-like hairs. Normally an Aardvark will be of a colour similar to the soil in the area in which it lives. It has strong legs equipped with spade-like claws. The kangaroo-like tapered tail can be up to 70 cm (28 in) long. The greatly elongated head is set on a short, thick neck, and the end of the snout bears a disc, which houses the nostrils, boasting super sensitive smell organs. The mouth is small, with a thin, snakelike, protruding tongue (as much as 30 centimetres (12 in) long). Lastly, its tubular ears are disproportionately large and very effective, whereas its eyes are very small. A strange creature indeed!

Aardvarks are found all over sub-Saharan Africa in suitable habitats, like grassland savannah and open woodland. They avoid swamps, very rocky areas and coastal forests. These solitary animals spend the daylight hours in dark underground burrows to avoid the heat of the day, and almost exclusively come out at night to walk around in search of food. They feed almost exclusively on ants and termites. They may walk several kilometres to feeding grounds each night, walking around seemingly aimlessly, with their noses to the ground. Once they locate an ant or termite colony they rip into it with their claws and feed away, consuming up to 50,000 in one night! They will occasionally snack on a plant called the Aardvark Cucumber, a plant completely reliant on the Aardvark to uncover their fruit and propagate the seeds.

Aardvarks pair only during the breeding season; after a gestation period of seven months, one cub weighing around 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lbs) is born during May to July. The little one is able to leave the burrow to accompany its mother after only two weeks and eats termites at 9 weeks, and is weaned between three months and 16 weeks.

Luckily these incredible mammals are classified as least concern from the IUCN. However, they are not easily seen on safari in Africa, due to their nocturnal habits and shy, skulking behaviour. They are in a precarious position, as they are so dependent on such specific food, that if a problem arises with declining termites numbers, the species as a whole could be in trouble. Other potential threats include the bushmeat trade, subsistence hunting and habitat loss due to agriculture.

For your chance to encounter this fascinating mammal, join us on safari in Africa! Go to www.naturetravelafrica.com for more information or enquire directly at info@naturetravelafrica.com

Pangolin

Pangolin 4

A fascinating, rare and unique animal, the pangolin is the source of many folklores, myths and superstitions. From people believing they fall from the sky instead of being born, to being bestowed the honour of bringing rain and good hope to all that sees one, the pangolin has forever held a special place in human hearts.

The order Philodota comprises eight species of pangolin. Of the eight, four occur in Africa, namely:

•  White-bellied Pangolin of Equatorial Africa from Senegal to western Kenya, south to northwestern Zambia and southwestern Angola, as well as northeastern Mozambique

•  Giant Ground Pangolin in Senegal to western Kenya, south to Rwanda, central DRC and southwestern Angola

•  Temminck’s Ground Pangolin of northern South Africa, north and eastern Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, southern Angola, southern Zambia, southeastern DRC, southern Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania, eastern Uganda and western Kenya

•  Black-bellied Pangolin of Equatorial Africa from Senegal and Gambia to western Uganda, south to southwestern Angola

The name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning “one who rolls up”.

Pangolins have powerful claws (with super strong nails), elongated snout and long tongue seen in the other unrelated anteater species of the world. In fact, another name for the pangolin is the “scaly anteater”. They typically weigh between 1.8 and 2.1 kg (4 to 7 lbs) and range in length from 30 to 100cm (12 to 40 inches).

Pangolin 5

Their diet consists of ants and termites, which they capture with that 40 cm (16 in) long tongue. One pangolin is estimated to eat about 70 million ants and termites every year! They very poor eyesight but use their supreme sense of smell and excellent hearing to hunt out termite mounds and ant hills.

Pangolin are easily identified by their tough scaly bodies and small heads. The large overlapping scales, resembling a pine cone, are made of keratin (like in human nails and hair) and they are the only mammals with this feature. The scales account for up to 20% of a pangolin’s weight!

These skittish animals are easily spooked and will roll up into a Lion-proof ball if they feel threatened. On top of that, they can emit a noxious-smelling chemical from glands near the anus, similar to the spray of a skunk. They are mostly nocturnal and are only rarely seen during daylight hours.

They live in hollow trees or deep burrows in the ground, depending on the specific species. Some of the species can walk on their hind legs, and others are even good swimmers!

Pangolin 2.jpg

Pangolins are solitary and meet only to mate, usually once during summer or autumn. The gestation period ranges from 70 to 140 days, depending on the species. African pangolins give birth to one offspring only, and when born their scales are white and soft. The young will stay in the burrow for the first two to four weeks of their lives, and weaning takes place at around 3 months.

They are unfortunately being hunted in alarming numbers for their scales and other body parts; in fact, pangolins are the most trafficked animal on the planet! They also face the threat of habitat destruction (heavy deforestation) in their natural habitat. All eight species of pangolin are classified by the IUCN as threatened with extinction, while two are classified as critically endangered. All pangolin species are currently listed under Appendix I of CITES which prohibits international trade.

Here at Nature Travel Africa, we support the protection of this magnificent species.

World Rhino Day

World Rhino Day is today, September 22, and it celebrates all five species of rhinoceros: Black, White, Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinos.

Black Rhinoceros

In 2010 it was apparent that the plight of the rhinoceros wasn’t known to people around the world, and most people didn’t know just how close we were coming to total extinction of this majestic species. So it was that the WWF-South Africa announced World Rhino Day in an effort to save the world’s remaining rhinos, an effort that grew to be an unprecedented success. World Rhino Day has since grown to become a global phenomenon, uniting NGOs, zoos, cause-related organisations, businesses, and concerned individuals from nearly every corner of the world!

World Rhino Day celebrates Rhinoceroses and generates awareness of issues regarding their well-being. In recent years, rhinos have been threatened by poaching, urbanisation and pollution, which have left certain rhino species on the brink of extinction while leaving other species severely endangered.

Visit Matobo

World Rhino Day activities vary from one participant to the next. Donors and partners are able to contribute to the organisations and initiatives of their choosing. Peaceful demonstrations, classroom projects, fundraising dinners, social media awareness (#WorldRhinoDay and #RhinoDay), auctions and poster displays are just a few examples of what we all can do. There is even a World Rhino music playlist on Spotify!

We here at the Nature Travel group have a special love for the Black Rhinoceros.

Let’s all stand together and save these magnificent beasts for generations to come! For more information browse to Nature Travel Conservation or visit https://www.worldrhinoday.org/  for more information on World Rhino Day.

 

The Spotted Hyaena

Hyena.jpg
Some people refer to Hyaenas as one of the “ugly 5” and vicious, but they are rather amazing carnivores and unique in a special way.
Most people will describe them as a dog-like creature adapted to cranking bones! Evolution does not support this statement because ancient forms of Hyaenas were more like modern mongooses with no specialised teeth. Taxonomically, Hyaenas belong to the sub-Order Feliformis (Cat-like) and family Hyaeninidae. This implies they are more closely related to cats than dogs! Four species are recognised: Spotted, Brown, Striped and the Aardwolf. Spotted Hyaenas are the most abundant carnivores in Africa and exhibit a wide habitat tolerance.

They are known to have very large home ranges and being superpredators, a breeding clan will have adverse effects on the prey base and consequently on other predators like Leopards and Cheetahs. Inter-specific (different species) competition is more likely to be tense in the presence of a breeding clan in a closed ecosystem.
N5A_6795-2.jpg
They are mainly nocturnal animals as they spend most of the warm days sleeping in thick bushes. They are distinguished from other mammalian carnivores by having a suite of cranio-dental features (heavy skull weighing up to 3 kgs), bone elements in the middle ear and specific characteristics of the deciduous teeth that are slender and not specialised. When hungry, Spotted Hyaenas can consume up to 18 kgs of meat quickly and females do not regurgitate meat for the young ones, like the Brown Hyaena. Spotted Hyaenas’ social organisation is based on a matriarchal system in which females are dominant over males; even the lowest ranking female is higher than the highest ranking male.

Hyaenas are misunderstood by most cultures, but unless we start to view them as cute, they will be soon gone! Some of the myths and contentions about Hyaenas include being hermaphrodites. Various true hermaphrodites like the Giant African Land Snail, and various invertebrates, are well known but the Hyaena is not one of them. Female vaginal labia look like scrotum and they have a pseudopenis.

Some believe they only eat carrion. Yes, Brown Hyaenas eat more carrion whereas Spotted Hyaenas hunt quite often and usually kill by disembowelling. Hyaenas are believed to commonly prey on livestock. Spotted Hyaenas will from time to time, but Brown and Striped Hyaenas usually feed on carrion, fruits, insects, eggs etc. They are usually accused of stock-raiding and hence persecuted. In northern parts of Africa, some people believe Hyaenas can make good pets whereas being seen with a Hyaena in the south means witchcraft. Either way these beliefs do not save them. Where they are potential pets, they are muzzled to avoid bites, implying an unhappy animal. Where they are associated with witchcraft, they are often persecuted.

The IUCN categorises Spotted Hyaenas as Least Concern, world populations being between 27 000- 47 000 (2008), but decreasing rapidly. Populations in protected areas are stable but outside, the main threats include persecution for livestock raiding, beliefs and at times fear or shooting for fun and target practice. Numbers shot for sport hunting are very low because they are not considered to be an attractive species.
It is time we do something to save these fascinating creatures. Get involved in local projects to conserve them and their habitat, or join us on one of our safaris in Southern Africa to learn more about these animals and see them in their natural habitat.

Get in touch with us at info@naturetravelafrica.com or visit www.naturetravelafrica.com for more information.

African Wild Dog

P1110833.JPG

African Wild Dogs (Lyacon pictus) are roughly the size of a domestic German Shepard with long legs and a bushy tail. Their bodies are irregularly blotched black, white, brown and yellowish-brown with no two individuals marked the same. They are highly social living in packs of between 10 and 15 Dogs on average with a pack consisting of several related adult males and one or more related adult female. Only the dominant female will raise a litter of pups with the rest of the pack assisting with protection and feeding her and the pups with regurgitated meat. Hunting is done by several members of the pack and after the prey animal is selected a long distance chase will follow that can last for several kilometres. The prey animals range from small Steenbok to larger Antelopes like Kudu and Blue Wildebeest and are killed by being disembowelled and ripped apart. They are considered to be one of the most efficient and successful hunters on the continent with a hunting success rate of more than 70%.

It is because of this killing method that they have a really bad reputation of being savage killers that causes a lot of suffering to prey animals before dying. However it has been proven that most prey animals die quicker than being suffocated by the other big cats like Lion and Leopard. Most of the hunting is done during the early morning or late afternoon hours. They are also one of the truly nomadic carnivores with huge home ranges of several hundred km2 but this means that they need massive areas to roam. They also have a tendency to hunt domestic animals when the opportunity arise which led to them being heavily hunted in the past. The result was their becoming endangered with only the Ethiopian Wolf surviving in smaller numbers in Africa.

Currently there are viable populations left only in:

— Botswana

— Namibia

— South Africa

— Zambia

— Zimbabwe

— Mozambique

— Kenya and

— Tanzania

African Wild Dogs are mostly in the larger wildlife conservation areas. Programs like the Painted Dog Conservation Project based in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and N/a’ankusê in Namibia are key to relocation projects and educational campaigns to try and save this incredible animal.

On our safaris over the last few months we had some wonderful sightings across Southern Africa.

While on a breakfast boat cruise on the Okavango River we came across a pack with a fresh warthog kill. We got to spend about an hour with a pack of 18 dogs in Chobe National Park, Botswana on two consecutive days. In Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana we discovered a den site and spend a full afternoon with the dogs until they left to hunt. Join Nature Travel Africa on safari to see these spectacular animals!

DSC02535.JPG

Coming face to face with a Mountain Gorilla in Uganda

On our recent Nature Travel Birding and Primate safari in August 2018 we spent some time trekking the Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The excitement of seeing these amazing creatures had built up through the tour and on the morning we gathered at Ruhija for a briefing and headed into the forest of Bwindi to find the Mukiza Gorilla Group. This was a bucket list animal sighting that our clients have wanted to see for many years.  Walking through this primary forest is in itself a breathtaking experience. The distant call of a Black-billed Turaco and the L’Hoest’s Monkeys looking at us as we trekked through the forest added to our excitement. About 35 minutes into our trekking our guide turns around and says to us that we are 3 minutes away from the Gorilla group. The words from his mouth were not even cold and we could see the scrubs and bracken shaking.

Adrenalin pumping I crouch down and get the camera ready and as I look up, I look straight into the eyes of a pregnant female Gorilla standing about 5 meters away from us. As I turn to our one guest, I just see pure joy and emotion on her face, and before I can say anything one of the other guests points behind me and a mother and baby Gorilla walk out on the path in front of us. The trekkers and guides tell us the baby is about 4 months old. WOW, WOW, WOW what an experience, having a family of gorillas a mere 5 meters away from you in the wild!Gorillias Bwindi. Ruhija Sector. 13Just as we think things can’t get any better, we have the huge adult male silverback Gorilla come by and join his family feeding while we just all watch in silence.  Our hour spent with these large apes was an experience of a lifetime and ranks as one of my ultimate wildlife experiences!Gorillias  Bwindi. Ruhija Sector. 08.jpgIt is a real privilege to see these endangered great apes in the wild. This Mountain race of Gorilla: Gorilla beringei beringei is restricted to a part of the Virunga range, straddling the DR Congo/Uganda and Rwandan borders. The Mountain race is marginally larger than the three lowland forms and the coat is longer. We enjoyed this experience as part of our Birding and Primate Safari in Uganda: https://naturetravelafrica.com/uganda/ and https://naturetravelbirding.com/uganda-birding-safari/

The Gorilla experience was summed up by my guests as one of the best things they have seen in their lives and the slogan of “We came, we trekked, we saw and we conquered” was cheered when we received our Gorilla trekking certificates at our Gorilla graduation after the trekking. Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide) 

The Aardvark

The Aardvark is easily recognised by its long snout, tubular ears ad muscled tail. They have short legs with spade-like nails that is perfect for digging for food. The body is sparsely covered with hair wit the legs often darker than the rest of the body. They are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara except for the equatorial forest belt.
Their diet consists mainly of ants and termites. Once they have opened up the termite mound or nest they use their long, sticky tongues to get to the insects. They are very busy and can open up several mounds or nests each evening. They are excellent diggers and excavate burrows used for sleeping which is other animals that include Wild Dog, Hyena, Jackal, Warthog, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Foxes etc.

They are nocturnal, occasionally crepuscular especially in times of drought when food is scares. They are very shy and one of the more elusive mammals in the African Bush. Although sightings are rare we are fortunate to see them regularly especially in northern Namibia where our night drives have been very successful. They are one of the main attractions or animals that we focus on our Nocturnal Mammal safari we plan to run between June and August each year.

Duke – A true legend of our time

Duke was one of a kind. He had an incredible set of tusks that was as big as some of the biggest “tuskers” that roamed the African savannahs. And on top of that he was very relaxed and approachable which is not common as most of the Elephant Bulls with big tusks keeping a low profile and in areas away from tourists and people in general.

He roamed a very big area in the southern part of the massive Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa and was often seen in the area north of Lower Sabie. Most of the other big tuskers of Kruger Park were found in the more popular, in Elephant terms, northern part of the park with Mopane Woodland the dominant vegetation type.

He died of natural causes a couple of years ago and it is great that an Elephant with such incredible tusks survived until old age in an area where Elephant poaching is constant threat. It was a true privilege to have seen him on two separate safaris to this great park. We can only hope that his genes were passed on that there will be many great tuskers to come.