The Aardvark is considered by many to be one of the holy grails when it comes to wildlife sightings in Africa.
These incredibly strange looking nocturnal animals are rarely seen on safari. So rare in fact that very few people coming on safari have even heard about an Aardvark.
Here is some information to introduce you to these incredibly special creatures...
Aardvarks live throughout Africa, south of the Sahara. Their name comes from South Africa's Afrikaans language and quote literally translates to “earth pig.” A glimpse of the aardvark's body and long snout brings the pig to mind. On closer inspection, the aardvark appears to include other animal features as well. It boasts rabbitlike ears and a kangaroo tail—yet the aardvark is related to none of these animals.
They have a body length of 110 cm and a shoulder height of 60 cm, and the tail is 60-70 cm long. The skin is pinkish-gray or grayish-brown with coarse, yellowish hair. The hide is very thick in order to protect it from insects. The small, stocky body of the Aardvark has a high arch in its back. The powerful legs are covered with dark fur and the forefeet have four digits and the hind feet have five digits, and all are equipped with long claw-like nails.
The thick claws on the forefeet are used as digging tools. The aardvark also uses its claws to walk on. The head is long and slender and ends with a tubular, pig-like snout, which is covered in white hairs that are 25-50 mm. The ears are large, and they taper to a point at the tips. The tail is muscular and also tapers at the end. The most unique feature of the Aardvark is its teeth, which are fewer than other mammals and in adults are only found in the back of the jaw. The teeth are not attached to the jaw and grow continuously throughout the Aardvark's lifetime. Also they do not grow simultaneously. The teeth are columnar in shape, and have no roots. The teeth are not covered in enamel like other mammals but instead are covered with a layer of cement.
The diet of the Aardvark consists of termites and other insects. They feed at night and follow a pathway among the termite nests. They feed by sweeping the ground with their noses and walking in a zigzag fashion. They travel up to as far as 16km in search of food a night. They eat by taking apart termite hills with their powerful claws. With its protractile tongue (300 mm), which is covered with thick, sticky saliva it traps the insects and then digests them. They also favour melons. As a consequence of this specialised diet the cheek teeth are reduced to flat-crowned, peg-like structures adapted to crush the hard outer shells of insects. During the cooler winter months Aardvark can often be seen foraging during the day (once again when the termites are at their most active).
The solitary Aardvark is primarily nocturnal, though they occasionally sun themselves at the mouth of its burrow. During the day, they sleep curled up in a tight ball. Being diggers who burrow, the forefeet are used as excavating tools, which loosen and push back the dirt while the hind feet push the dirt backwards and to the sides. The Aardvark creates a burrow for several reasons, to find food, shelter, and to provide a safe place in which to rear the young.
The burrows are up to 13 m long and have several different chambers and several entrances, and once abandoned they are often used by other animals such as Warthogs and Jackals. Aardvarks have excellent hearing but poor eyesight. Surprisingly enough the Aardvark is a good swimmer. When frightened the Aardvark grunts and bleats.
Although it is virtually almost impossible to look for these rare creatures (one usually stumbles across them if you're very lucky), Tswalu Kalahari is without a doubt one of the best reserves to find them, and in the past I have had some incredible sightings of Aardvark whilst hosting private guided safari's here. With their very poor eye sight, one can get quite close to them, and if you're very quiet and keep the wind direction in your favour, even more so.
So next time when you are on safari, make sure that you add Aardvark to your list of things to see. You never know, with a great deal of luck you might come across these incredibly special creatures.
Till next time...