Erdvark (Orycteropus afer)
Size: Length (including tail) 1,6m; weight 52kg.
Colour: Pinkish or yellowish grey skin sparsely covered in coarse reddish brown hairs. The skin is apt to be stained darker, depending on the colour of the earth in which the animal burrows.
Habitat: Wherever termites and ants are available as food, and where the earth is soft enough for burrowing. The aardvark avoids stony or rocky terrain and high forest, but occurs in open woodland and grassland areas.
The biologically unique aardvark (‘earth-pig’) is strictly nocturnal and therefore is seldom seen a pity because it must be seen to be believed. The fleshy, elongated muzzle and sparsely haired torso are certainly pig like; there is also perhaps a touch of bear in its general appearance (hence its alternative name ‘ant bear’). But it has long, rabbit like ears, a thick, tapering tail, a sticky ribbon of a tongue between 20 and 30cm long, and sharp claws on the digits of its feet (four digits on the front feet, five on the back ones). The feet are webbed.
The aardvark is well equipped to forage for its staple diet of ants and termites. Claws burrow into the ant hill, the muzzle is inserted (thick hairs at the end of the muzzle acting as a dust filter), the ears are folded back to exclude dirt, and then the tongue is projected into the maze of passages that make up the ants’ home. The ants, their larvae and eggs adhere to the tongue’s saliva-laden surface. Virtually the only other food eaten by the aardvark is wild melons whose hard pips survive the digestive process and germinate in the droppings.
The aardvark is extremely strong and can burrow a shelter in minutes, the entrance being sealed with earth when the animal is in residence. An unoccupied burrow may provide shelter for other fauna, including birds, snakes, pangolin and warthogs.
The young are born, usually singly, inside the burrow.
Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus)
Size: Shoulder height 50cm; weight 9 kg.
Colour: Sandy to yellow-brown body with four to eight dark brown, vertical stripes. Black feet and tail tip. Thick, distinctive dorsal mane from back of head to base of tail, which is tipped with black.
Habitat: Open sandy plains and scrubland.
Shy and solitary, the aardwolf keeps such a low profile that it can remain undetected in a particular area for a long time. It is so timid that it will hardly give you a chance to look at it – trotting away with the bushy tail streaming straight out behind. But when it most needs to move out of the way, it doesn’t: caught in the bright beam of car headlights at night, the aardwolf is confused rather than frightened away, and many are killed accidentally by cars.
Although it has a similar frame to the hyaena, with high, muscular forequarters, the aardwolf’s facial muscles andjaws are not nearly as powerful. In fact, its tiny teeth are weak and set wide apart, unsuitable for crunching bones and hooves, but adequate for consuming insects.
Termites are the aardwolf’s main dish, and it is guided to them by its sharp hearing and keen nose. Using incisor teeth in the lower jaw for excavation, the aardwolf then laps up the termites with a large, relentless tongue covered with sticky saliva.
The aardwolf secretes a musky fluid from two glands just above the anus; it applies this sweet-smelling substance to objects within its home range as a form of communication with other aardwolves. An angry or frightened aardwolf is quite a spectacle – it lets out an explosively loud roar, and raises its long dorsal mane into a menacing crest.
Young are born in adopted burrows, usually skilfully enlarged by the parents.
Bakoorjakkals (Otocyon megalotis)
Size: Shoulder height 30cm; weight 4kg.
Colour: A brindled greyish brown, with underpartsa little paler. Both the upper side and the end oj bushy tail are black, as are the feet andlegs. Muzzle dark brown to black; chin and area around the mouth black; backs of ears brown, and insides of ears white.
Habitat: Open country with low rainfall: semidesert scrub, grassland, bushveld.
The huge ears of the bat-eared fox – measuring up to 13cm in length – are so sensitive that they can pick up the sounds of a beetle in its burrow. Having detected the sound of a subterranean insect, it will approach more closely with head lowered and ears outspread almost parallel to the ground, like a treasure hunter’s metal detector. Not until the exact position of the prey has been pinpointed will the animal start digging.
The bat-eared fox is partly diurnal, partly nocturnal. It takes cover in the heat of the day. Like the Cape fox, it is happy to take over the burrow of some other species but is also adept at digging its own. The burrow system may be elaborate – on more than one level, and with several entrances.
Pair bonding in this species is very strong – possibly for life. The offspring of the constant couple are born in the burrow.
Bat-eared foxes have a genus (Otocyon) all to themselves, being neither true foxes nor true jackals � although in build they do resemble a more delicate, scaled-down version of the former. The colloquial Afrikaans name for this species, draaijakkals, alludes to the remarkable way in which, even when travelling at speed, the bat-eared fox can suddenly twist and turn, dodging aside to confuse and shake off a pursuer.
Rooijakkals (Canis mesomelas)
Size: Shoulder height 38cm; weight (m) 8 kg, (f) 7kg.
Colour: A predominantly black ‘saddle’, shot through with silver, runs from neck to root of the tail. The long bushy tail is mostly blackish; head, flanks and legs reddish brown. Throat, chest and belly whitish. In the west of the distribu-tionarea, male’s winter
Habitat: A wide range of habitats (excluding forests), particularly drier areas and open terrain.
The black-backed jackal is a wonderfully resourceful scavenger. On the cheerless beaches of the Namibian coast it will follow fishermen, patiently waiting as they clean the day’s catch, then make off with the offal. Better known, however, is the jackal’s habit of trailing lions and other large carnivores when a kill is made. Trotting backwards and forwards in slavering anticipation, a temporary aggregation of up to 10 jackals will keep a discreet distance until the big predators have had their fill of the carcass -then the jackals dart in to clean up.
They kill for themselves too, as sheep farmers of the Karoo have found to their cost.
It is invariably the defenceless young that the black-backed jackal preys on: lambs, young goats and, in the wild, the helpless newborn offspring of buck. For the rest, this species of jackal dines on such smaller fry as spring-hares, mongooses, mice, rats, lizards and insects.
Where they have a free run – as in national parks – black- backed jackals forage by day; but under pressure they are night animals.
The silver-black saddle gives this jackal a sinister appearance, and its call is spine-chilling: along, drawn-out howl, interrupted by a few sharp barks, heard from sundown till late at night.
Silwerjakkals (Vulpes chama)
Size: Shoulder height 35cm; weight 3 kg.
Colour: A speckled silvery grey, the underparts being whitish with a huff or reddish tinge to the chest. The hairs of the long,’bushy tail are huff-white at their bases, hut dark brown or black towards the tip. The head is reddish, hut with much white hair on the
Habitat: Open country, whether semi-desert scrub, grassland orfynhos – often in the vicinity of a rocky outcrop.
The Cape fox is the only true fox in southern Africa. Shy and nocturnal, this attractive little animal has taken the blame for the slaughter of young lambs and, as a result, some 20000 were systematically hunted and destroyed in the Orange Free State alone in the 1960s and 1970s. But today experts believe the Cape fox to be largely innocent of the charge. Its staple food consists of much smaller prey – mice, gerbils, lizards, insects and spiders. And in the few cases in which sheep remains have been found in its stomach, the meal could have been taken as carrion, with a black-backed jackal as predator. Case not proven!
During the day the Cape fox’s shelter may be of two kinds. Ground-surface cover is provided by thickets, rock crevices and rocky overhangs. Or the fox may choose to rest up in an underground hole, either digging one itself or ‘borrowing’ one from a springhare or other species. Keen sight and hearing help it during its nightly foraging.
Its contact call with other members of the species is a high- pitched, drawn-out howl – ending in two or three yaps. Sometimes these sounds are sustained between two foxes in duet.
Rooikat (Felis caracal)
Size: Shoulder height 45cm; weight (m) 15kg, (f)11 kg.
Colour: Coat reddish, varying from pale sandy to brick-red along back with paler, usually spotted, abdomen. The face has black and white markings. The pointed ears end in long black tufts.
Habitat: Open, dry country from semi-desert to savanna. Sleeps in crevices among rocks, stones or fallen trees, dense cover, trees or appropriated burrows.
The caracal’s lynx like head, with its distinctive pointed ears, should be a dead giveaway. But because it is particularly skilled at bush camouflage – lying frozen against the earth and holding its head down when in danger -the caracal is scarcely discernible, even on bare ground.
This savage, graceful cat has all the attributes of a great hunter: speed, lightning reflexes, agility and remarkable stealth that make it capable of even snatching a flying bird out of the air.
Traveling about on short, heavy limbs, the caracal is a fierce killer, with a rasping leopard like bark. The combination of powerful jaws, long, sharp teeth, and paws with curved, heavy claws make it a fearsome predator -and a dangerous quarry when cornered or wounded.
It has a strong appetite for the meat of sheep and goats, and its nightly raids on stock farms have not endeared it to farmers. In the wild, caracals prey mainly on dassies, birds, lizards and small buck, and are competent tree climbers. Prey might be carried into a tree to be eaten, with the caracal preferring to remove fur and feathers from the carcass before tucking in.
Except for brief mating sessions, caracals tend to be largely solitary, moving about silently and secretively on their hunting expeditions at night.
The female produces a litter of one to three in a hollowed tree or disused aardvark hole.
Kaapse Bobbejaan (Papio ursinus)
Size: Length (including tail)(m) 1,5m, ( f ) 1,2m; weight (m)32kg,(f)16kg.
Colour: Dark yellowish brown, sometimes greyish, coat. Pale chest; dark hair along crown and spine. ‘Shepherd’s crook’ tail dark brown. Pink patches around female rump become scarlet and swollen when she is in season.
Habitat: Rocky country, savanna (usually with abundant trees) and mountainous areas. Nearby water essential.
Engagingly human like, the chacma baboon wends through forests and rocky hillsides in troops of 15 to 100, with several large males in charge. These males lead the troop movements, initiate mating and defend the troop.
Males also perform guard duty, and at the first sign of danger a sentinel will let out a bisyllabic u’aa-hoo bark, which may send the rest of the troop scurrying for safety. The sight of their arch enemy, the leopard, causes an uproar, and the troop lashes out with a barrage of hysterical shrieks, threatening barks and anxious grunts, often frightening enough to send the leopard slinking away.
Although a showdown with another troop involves more noise and spectacle than anything else, don’t write off chacma males as all bombast and show. With their powerful build and large canines, they can fight viciously to the death, and old males can become treacherously bad- tempered.
The males’ dominance is drilled into the baboons from an early age, and although chacma babies are reared with unswerving devotion, any disobedience or disrespect will often earn the culprit a swift cuff from an admonishing male. Chacma baboons usually forage in the veld for grass, insects, roots and eggs.
Female baboons produce a single infant at a time. The newborn chacma can cling to the underside of its mother soon afterbirth.
Gewone duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia)
Size: Shoulder height (m) 50cm, (f) 52cm; weight (m) 18 kg, (f) 21 kg.
Colour: A greyish buff throughout, except for white underparts. Front of forelegs dark brown; dark line runs from forehead down to the nostrils.
Habitat: Bush country, although it happily adapts to other types of habitat, with the exception of thick forests and vegetation-less desert.
The common, or grey, duiker is a sturdy little survivor, browsing – sometimes on its hindlegs – on an abundant variety of leaves, seeds, flowers, fruits and twigs; digging for roots and tubers; nibbling on bark; and (to the annoyance of farmers) invading crops and even gardens.
That is not all: the common duiker has been known to capture and eat a variety of young birds, from guineafowl to chickens and ducklings. In its turn, however, it is preyed on by numerous enemies, from lions to large owls.
Its name is derived from its habit, when evading pursuit, of disappearing into the bush in a series of plunging jumps (Afrikaans duik = to dive). It shares the common compulsion among small buck to stop in order to glance back at the enemy, and this may be its undoing.
The common duiker is most active in the late afternoon or after dark. It roams singly or in pairs, whisking its little tail as it proceeds. The territory staked out by the male, and marked by a scent-laden secretion from the glands below the front corners of the eyes, is fiercely defended.
Although this duiker is docile in captivity, the pointed horns of the ram may nevertheless cause injury.
Vaalribbok (Pelea capreolus)
Size: Shoulder height(m) 0,8m, (f) 0,7 m; weight 20 kg
Colour: Grey-brown or grey above, but slightly yellowish brown on face and legs. Underparts, including underside of tail, white. Whitish patches around eyes, and on muzzle and chin.
Habitat: Rocky hills or mountain slopes, and rocky plains with grass cover.
Watch for the stiff-legged, rocking horse motion of the rhebok as it streaks upwards on the upper slopes of mountains. Its strong, bounding leaps and prodigious speed have sent many pursuing predators skulking off empty-handed. You can pick out this mountain sprinter at a distance by looking for the white underside of its tail, which it holds above its rump in flight.
Constantly on the alert for carnivores such as caracals, jackals and eagles, grey rhebok have acquired a reputation in the farming community for attacking and killing small domestic animals. Often greatly exaggerated, this unfortunate belief has led to their being hunted in some areas while, in others, their habitat as well as their allegedly unpalatable flesh have contributed to their survival. The grey rhebok is mostly a grazer, but unlike the mountain reedbuck, it has little need for water.
It usually lives in family groups of up to 12 animals, headed by a dominant male. The male is strongly territorial, establishing its ownership of land and females by uttering clicking sounds, staging threatening displays and urinating. Although they fight fiercely during the mating season, grey rhebok rarely injure one another.
Klipspringer (Oreotmgus oreotragus)
Size: Shoulder height (m) 60cm, (f) 65cm; weight (m)
Colour: From yellow to grey, speckled with brown; the top
Habitat: Rocky locations, including mountains and gorges.
Like a ballet dancer on points, the klipspringer walks on the tips of its hooves – and is often seen poised gracefully like this as it stands sentinel on a high, projecting rock.
Natural adaptation has equipped it superbly for its habitat: the narrow cylindrical, blunt-tipped hooves are the consistency of hard rubber, absorbing the shock of its leaps from rock to rock and enabling it to balance on the narrowest ledge. The hairs of its coat are coarse, hollow and springy, cushioning buffets to its body from rock projections. (In times past these hairs were prized for stuffing saddles.) And its pepper-and-salt colouring offers excellent camouflage.
When it senses danger, the klipspringer emits a shrill snort; this warning is often initiated by the male and echoed by the female in a duet. The sounds carry for up to 700 m, alerting any predator to the fact that it has been seen. If need be, the klipspringers will then make their getaway to some inaccessible eyrie. Their enemies include leopards, hyaenas, baboons and large birds of prey.
The klipspringer browses on a wide variety of shrubs and other plants – mostly within the range of its mountainous territory, although occasionally it forages on adjacent flat ground.
Koedoe (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
Size: Shoulder height (m) 1,45m, (f) 1,25m; weight(m) 250 kg, (f) 200 kg.
Colour: Greyish fawn, with narrow, vertical white stripes on sides and rump, a short ridge of white hair along the centre of the hack, and a white chevron between the eyes. Males have a brown and white fringe from throat to base of neck.
Habitat: Savanna woodland or scrub, especially close to water and rocky terrain.
Here is the high-jump champion of the animal world – a graceful leaper capable of clearing a 2,5m fence from standstill. You can immediately recognise this elegant antelope by the two magnificent spiral horns on the male.
Despite this awesome armament, known to reach a length of 1,8 m, the kudu is a gentle animal, preferring flight to fight. However, enraged kudu bulls do engage in fierce combat, sometimes accidentally killing each other by locking their horns together inextricably.
The call of the kudu, the loudest of any antelope, is a penetrating, hoarse bark: bogh. Listen for this call at night – it often signals the presence of lions, leopards or other predators nearby. When alarmed, kudu run away, lifting their tails over their rumps and fanning out the white un-dersurface as a warning signal to others.
The long, arcing leaps of kudu across roads in rural areas pose a real hazard to motorists – especially at night, and their appetite for almost any vegetation, including tobacco and grain crops, tomatoes and lettuce has made them widely hunted by farmers.
Kudu form herds of up to 25, which decrease during the mating season when a bull will run with the females. In summer a cow bears a single calf which it hides in tall grass until it is strong enough to follow its mother.
Luiperd (Panthem pardus)
Size: Shoulder height 75cm; weight (m) 60 kg, (f)32kg.
Colour: Ground colour is off-white to golden, with black spots on the legs, shoulders, head and hindquarters, and irregular, light-centred ‘rosettes’ scattered profusely over the back and sides.
Habitat: Wide range of habitats includes open savanna, forested terrain, mountains and rocky hills.
Although smaller than a lion, the sleuth like leopard is often more feared. It is fiercer, braver and very intelligent: a perfectly streamlined killing machine with exceptional hearing, good eyesight and sensitive, extra-long whiskers which help it avoid obstacles in the dark.
The leopard is also a remarkable athlete, capable not only of swimming across rivers, but also of leaping on to rocks up to 3 m high, carrying prey as heavy as itself. Its spotted hide is such a perfect camouflage that it has been copied by armed forces for bush warfare.
In ‘safe’ areas, leopards are active night and day but are otherwise reclusive, nocturnal and solitary. They might be seen basking in early morning sun, and resting places such as caves, trees and rocks double as vantage points over hunting terrain. They retreat from heat, and in semi-desert areas will crawl into disused aardvark burrows for shade.
Males and females mark their territory by spraying urine and by leaving warning claw marks on tree trunks. Males don’t mind sharing their space with females, but will fight off other males. Leopard cubs stay with their mothers for almost two years, going on their first hunt at the age of four months.
Leopards will prey on anything from mouse size to a mammal twice their own weight including wildebeest and young giraffes.
Rooiribbok (Redunca fulvorufula)
Size: Shoulder height (m) 0,8m, (f) 0,7m; weight (m) 30 kg, (f) 28 kg. Only males carry the short, ridged, forward-curving horns.
Colour: The soft, woolly coat is reddish grey or grey fawn. Undersides, including underside of short brown bushy tail, are white. Black gland patches under ears.
Habitat: Dry, grassy hill- slopes and lower mountain-slopes, usually near water.
Unlike its somewhat antisocial cousin, the reedbuck, the mountain reedbuck is often seen in herds numbering up to a few dozen, sunning itself on the slopes of mountains.
Normally, however, you will see it in smaller family parties of three to five individuals. If alarmed, the mountain reedbuck, like the grey rhebok, will bound away with its tail fanned out. But while the grey rhebok tends to escape upwards to the mountain’s higher slopes, the mountain reedbuck, with the same rocking horse motion, runs across the slope, or obliquely downhill.
Nervous and timid, mountain reedbuck lie up closely together when resting, and if danger threatens, one or more of them will utter a shrill whistle of alarm which sends the herd bolting for safety. Mountain reedbuck have their own answer to bad weather: they merely turn their hindquarters to the direction of heavy wind and rain; alternatively, they lie down on a sheltered slope until the bad weather is over.
Some males occupy the same territory throughout the year, and are particularly on edge when they stray outside its limits. Almost exclusively grazers, mountain reedbuck like to drink regularly. To protect themselves, newborn calves instinctively hide in a different place between suckling, until they are strong enough to follow her.
Ystervark (Hystrix africaeaustralis)
Size: Length 84cm; weight 17kg.
Colour: White, black-ringed quilb and spines cover flanks, tail and upper part of body, while the head carries a crest of flexible black spines with white tips. Remainder of body has coarse black hair, fading to brown in older animals.
Habitat: A wide variety of habitats including mountains, though not forests or dry desert.
This spiky fortress of the wild is a rodent, the largest in southern Africa. When alarmed it becomes the prickliest of customers, erecting its bristling armor of quills and sabre-rattling with its tail: the quills at the end of the tail are hollow and make a loud noise when shaken.
The porcupine fights a tough rearguard action, moving backwards at speed to embed the sharp quills into a soft and vulnerable part of its enemy’s anatomy – causing painful, suppurating wounds. Sometimes, fleeing from a predator, it will stop so suddenly that the enemy will be impaled.
Its preferred shelter is a cave or rock crevice, but failing these the porcupine will settle for a hole in the ground such as the disused burrow of an aardvark. Although it is mostly nocturnal, you may be lucky to encounter it by day, sunning itself outside its shelter; but it is very shy and will disappear quickly if disturbed.
It can gnaw through maize stalks with ease, and cause wholesale destruction to root crops and vegetables under cultivation. Bulbs, tubers and wild fruits also form part of its vegetarian diet, and to counteract phosphorus deficiency it gnaws on bones, taking a supply to its shelter.
How do porcupines mate? Very carefully, of course: the female backs up to the expectant male with her spiny tail raised vertically and thus neutralised, she and her mate enjoy the pangs of passion.
Dassie (Procavia capensis)
Size: Length 55cm; weight(m)3,75kg, (f) 3,55kg.
Colour: Various shades of brown, from dark brown to yellow-grey, with brindling. Neck and flanks lighter than back. Throat and belly lighter brown, but not whitish. A patch of long black hair covers dorsal gland in centre of back.
Habitat: Rocky outcrops in the form of koppies, krantzes and mountain slopes.
To the Dutch the dassie, or Cape classic, looked like a small badger (dasje). This comparison is less far-fetched than the somewhat misleading description ‘rock-rabbit’, for the dassie is more badger-like than rabbit-like with its very tiny, head-hugging ears and no tail. Oddly enough, it is more closely related to the dugongs and elephants than to either badgers or rabbits.
Thickly padded feet, kept moist by a glandular secretion, help to give dassies remarkable mobility even on steep and smooth rock surfaces. Sociable animals, they congregate in colonies of up to 50. They enjoy basking in the sun and seem to spend much of their time idly conserving their energy; in the colder parts of the day and at night they go into a tightly packed huddle together in their dark shelters in order to minimise loss of body heat.
In the open, a female dassie acts as sentinel; her high-pitched warning cry sends the colony scurrying to the shelter of rocky crevices. Lions and jackals relish the taste of rock dassies; so do eagles, whose favourite plan of attack is to swoop down out of the morning sun. To combat this blinding attack, nature has equipped the dassie’s eyes with a thin, movable membrane that shields the pupil and allows vision directly into the sun.
Cornered, the dassie is an aggressive little animal, with sharp incisors bared and gnashing. At such times the hair over the dorsal gland rises, in the same way as a dog’s hackles. When submitting, the dassie turns his side or rump to the victor.
SMALL GREY MONGOOSE
Kleingrysmuishond (Galerella pulverulenta)
Size: Length (including extended tail) 64 cm; weight (m)900g,(f)680g.
Colour: Speckled dark grey (but lighter grey in dry regions). Underparts occasionally lighter and less speckled.
Habitat: Wide range of habitats, from dry bush country to rocky slopes and forested areas, and from coast to Karoo.
You will often see this small, usually solitary, daytime forager crossing a track or country road before it darts into the undergrowth. It trots along briskly on short legs, its long tail fully extended close to the ground behind and its head held low, pausing now and then to sniff for insects which it scratches for in the soil. Like other mongoose species, it also eats rats, mice, lizards, snakes, birds’ eggs and undefended chicks.
The small grey mongoose, in the manner of all its kind, stalks larger prey rather like a cat, crouching at first, and then dashing out to inflict a bite wherever possible. The victim is then ‘worried’ before the coup de grace a head bite – is delivered.
Sometimes these little animals climb trees, either to search for food or to escape predators, but the claws of their front feet are not particularly well equipped either for climbing or for digging. They may shelter in another animal’s burrow (which they adjust to their own use), or else among a pile of rocks or some other natural refuge. Here the young are weaned, emerging only when they can fend for themselves.
The small grey mongoose – also called the Cape grey mongoose because it is largely confined to the Cape Province – has grown so accustomed to the presence of man that it may settle on the outskirts of a town or village; while on farms it may make a home under the floorboards of an outbuilding or in some other man-made structure such as a barn or shed.
Springhaas (Pedetes capensis)
Size: Length (including tail) 80cm; weight 3 kg.
Colour: Varies from pale reddish brown to yellowish grey, and with a slightly darker tail broadly black at the tip. The underparts (including tail) and insides of legs white or whitish yellow. Large, dark eyes which shine bright yellow-orange in torchlight.
Habitat: Sandy ground covered with scrub, low bush or low grass; this includes the fringes of cultivated land and vleis.
The springhare’s long tail, long and powerful hindlegs and greatly foreshortened forelegs (held together under the chin as if in prayer) give it a kangaroo-like appearance. At speed, moving only on its hindlegs, it can cover about two metres at a bound.
It is a rodent, not a hare, and is the only species in its own unique family. In the wild it feeds on grasses, roots and the leaves of low bushes – and, on land under cultivation, on such crops as maize, beans, sweet potatoes and groundnuts. Its many enemies include snakes and owls as well as weasels, mongooses andjackals; man is also a major predator.
In Zimbabwe and Botswana springhares are sought after as a source of protein; and the San are so fond of them that they eat virtually every part of the anatomy.
Being a night-time wanderer, the springhare is frequently caught on the road in the glare of a car’s headlamps, one eye reflecting the dazzle as the animal sits apparently mesmerised.
It shelters in a hole in the ground which, with the strong digging claws of its forelegs, it excavates very quickly. Burrows invariably have more than one exit, providing for a quick getaway from prowling predators, and neighbouring burrows may be linked with one another.
The female springhare gives birth to her single young inside the burrow, where it remains for the first seven weeks of its life, before being weaned on to grass.
Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris)
Size: Shoulder height 52cm; weight 11 kg. Only the ram has horns – usually about 9cm long.
Colour: Varies above from a rich reddish brown to a lighter reddish fawn. There is a dark patch above the nose, and a dark marking on the forehead. Throat, eyebrows, abdomen, underside of tail and insides of legs are white. Upperside of tail reddish fawn.
Habitat: Prefers flat, open country, grassy or lightly wooded, and avoids mountain slopes. Cover is essential.
With its large ears, long slender legs and merest tuft of a tail, the steenbok is unmatched for grace and beauty among the smaller buck. It is usually encountered singly, except when a mother is with her young or when a male and female are courting.
In the morning and evening you may see it demurely feeding at the side of a newly constructed road, where fresh vegetation has sprung, or at some clearing in the grassland – a firebreak, an airstrip, a patch of cultivated land.
A frightened steenbok lies down quietly in the grass, but if flushed from its hideout darts away, with head pressed forward, in an evasive zigzag flight, before stopping to glance back at the danger. It may occasionally go to ground, hiding in an old aardvark hole.
Such tactics are often used, for the steenbok has many natural enemies, ranging from jackals, wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs to martial eagles and pythons. In distress the steenbok emits pitiful screams, but in normal circumstances its conversation is limited to the occasional snort. It marks its territory carefully with glands between the hooves on the front and back feet, a gland between the two halves of the lower jaw, and possibly with glands just in front of the eyes.
Witkwasmuishond (Cynictis penicillata)
Size: Length (including tail) 50cm; weight 590 g.
Colour: A varied spectrum, from brindled grey in the north of the distribution area (Botswana) to reddish yellow or yellowish brown in the south (Cape) – with intermediate gradations of colour. Southern specimens have a white- tipped tail; Botswana specimens have uniformly grey tails. The eyes are yellow.
Habitat: Open country, from semi-desert scrubland to grassland in the vicinity of vleis. The species avoids deserts, thick bush and forests.
Share and share alike would seem to be the motto of this gregarious, quick-witted creature. Not only is it an extremely sociable animal – living in colonies of up to 20 – but it also happily coexists in underground warrens with ground squirrels and suricates, often taking up residence in their burrows. In this case all the inhabitants will contribute to the housekeeping, helping to maintain the warren, digging extensions to it and adapting it for their particular purposes. It may end up by having as many as 100 entrances.
Insects, for which the yellow mongoose digs, form the bulk of its diet, but it also enjoys mice and thus helps to limit the rodent population. Less admirable from the farmer’s point of view, however, is its habit of stealing poultry. Predators most likely to turn the tables on the yellow mongoose are birds of prey, snakes and jackals.
Members of this species don’t all look alike: in the warmer north, ‘yellow’ mongooses are grey and have shorter hair and shorter tails than their southern counterparts, as well as being somewhat smaller. The northern form also usually lacks the conspicuous white tip to the tail that makes it easy to identify its brother in the south.
Stokstertmeerkat (Suricata suricatta)
Size: Length (including tail) 50cm; weight 730g.
Colour: Varies from silver-grey to greyish brown, with irregular, often indistinct brown or black bands across the back, from shoulders to base of tail. Head and throat often whitish, with dark nose, ears and circles around eyes. The tip of the tail is also dark.
Habitat: Arid, open country, including scrub, grassland and fynbos in the southwestern Cape.
This attractive little member of the mongoose family is easily distinguishable, and can often be seen in typical pose, perched upright on its haunches in front of its burrow, or on a rock or ant hill. Several suncates may sit together like this, sunning themselves and keeping a watchful eye open for predators. One sharp bark – the alarm call – from any of the pack, and they will all scuttle away to the safety of their cosy burrows.
There’s a nuance to that alarm call: to warn of ground predators it is a staccato call, but for an airborne attack the call is long and drawn out. Like ground observers in the Battle of Britain, suricates must constantly survey the sky, and they can distinguish harmless birds from lethal ones.
They are gregarious animals, living in colonies and sheltering together in rock crevices or underground burrows. Suricates will often share their burrows with yellow mongooses and ground squirrels, although the suricates may drive the others away. Their favourite food is insects, but they also dig for scorpions, and will take lizards and small snakes.