African Safari Wildlife – Interesting Animal Facts to Take on Safari

At certain times of the year during winter, sparse vegetation or drought, a leopard tortoise will eat calcified dung to help with shell development or egg laying; giraffe will suck on large bones, using their tongue to manipulate the bone in and out of their mouth to obtain trace elements such as calcium and phosphorous.

Wild dogs are not a feral species. They are naturally occurring, evolved in Africa and have maintained their current form for a few hundred thousand years. Wild dogs grab small prey and give the “death shake”, violently shaking the small animal with rapid side to side movements of their head which usually breaks the preys neck or back. Wild Dogs usually run larger prey to exhaustion and pack members grab at the softer rear areas of the anus, belly and groin with perhaps one dog holding onto the snout or lips forcing the preys head down. In this manner the prey is quickly disemboweled and dies

from blood loss and shock. Wild dogs regurgitate food to feed members of the pack that cannot hunt (pups and adults).This specialized mechanism ensures the survival of all members. Survival for wild dogs depends on pack strength.

Honey badgers are short tempered, aggressive and very dangerous when harassed or annoyed. They have thick loose skin which allows them to turn on attackers when being held. Combined with powerful jaws equipped with broad crushing teeth they are a formidable opponent, even lions and leopard tending to avoid them.

Lions are the only true social cats with a matriarchal social structure. Groups are formed and based on close bonds among females, not necessarily closely related. Males fight for the right to rule a territory and have access to its females but may form coalitions with brothers, half-brothers or strangers. This improves their chances of maintaining a home range and does not necessarily impede mating opportunities. Lion will defend their territory against members of the same sex. Cats kill by suffocation, or severing arteries and the spinal cord.

Black-backed and side-striped jackals form a monogamous bond for life and only find another mate if one partner dies. The male also assists with parenting and supplying food.

Animals like cheetah and leopard use disruptive discolouration camouflage. These mammals use spots, stripes or other patterns on the coat to disrupt their body outline so that it blends into the background; effectively disguising its overall shape.

Most male mammals have scrotum in a thin layer of tissue away from the body to ensure sperm remains at the most viable temperature for production and viability. In cold weather the muscle surrounding the scrotum contract, pulling closer to the body for heat.

Certain mammals have a 3rd eyelid called a haw or nictating membrane, usually situated inside the eye. It moves sideways across the eye and is normally completely or partially translucent. Its purpose is added protection for the delicate eye, and/or to remove dust and debris. Snakes and bird species that are plunge divers have this membrane which sweeps across to protect the eye before impact with water.

Leopard, cheetah and wild dogs have dark bodies with a highly visible and contrasting white patch at the end of the tail. This is used as an easily visible “follow beacon” for young and other members of the pride/pack through long grass or thick bush. Lions have a black tip on their tail, contrasting with a light tan body. Observe the comical warthog who, when alarmed, runs off with tail extended straight up towards the sky so as to be easily followed into the bush.

The aardwolf is a termite-eater with ridges on its palate that help catch termites during the five licks per second. They have papillae on the tongue to prevent abrasion from sand as it licks its prey from the soil surface. Their stomachs grind the food that their cheek teeth can’t, and vast amounts of saliva neutralise any toxic secretions from prey. When threatened, an aardwolf consciously erects the mane of long hairs along the neck, back and tail, making themselves look a lot bigger in the hopes of deterring an attack.

Spotted hyena cubs have a black coat for the first three months of life. When twin females are born, one usually kills the other. This is because hyenas are a matriarchal society. Spotted hyaena females are bigger than males, and because they dominate food sources, stay that way. Hyena generally dominate all other predators except for lion. In numbers they can intimidate and drive lions off a kill particularly because of superior teamwork. Female genitalia have changed in appearance to mimic those of males, possibly linked to when the species evolved into a matriarchal society. The clitoris has become enlarged to look like a penis which still encloses the vagina and urethra, which has become a common tract. The labia mimic a scrotum and the “testes” are fatty deposits which shrink with age.

Suricates, more commonly known as the mongoose or meerkats, are easily identifiable by the “sentry position” in which they stand up straight, tails down, front paws together to scan for birds of prey or threats on the ground.

Horn development in antelope is mainly based on male reproductive competition, defense playing a secondary role. Certain females such as impala and nyala do not have horns. Horns that are broken do not regrow with the exception of kudu and nyala whose horns grow throughout their lifetime. Other species horns reach full size at maturity.

The hind legs of a red lechwe (antelope) are longer and more powerful than the front legs, helping them to make huge leaps through the watery or marshy terrain they prefer to inhabit. They have widely splayed hooves so as not to sink into the soft substrate.

Kudu and eland can clear a 3 metre obstacle from a standing position, and the faster they are moving the lower they jump but the further they reach. This is used when trying to escape predators.

Impala have big black tufts of hair near their hind feet that enclose a glandular patch of skin called the metatarsal gland which contains a slightly sweet smelling substance, may be used in communicating a scent signal to other members of the herd for social and defensive reasons.

Dark coloured antelope usually have light coloured babies. This is a survival strategy allowing the babies to take on the colour of the long grass in which they are hidden until old enough to follow their mother. Young buffalo are not light coloured as they are not hidden.

Giraffe have seven neck vertebrae, as is common with most mammals; however, one vertebra can be over 25cm long. The forelegs of a giraffe are longer than its neck, therefore the giraffe must bend or splay it legs to drink or feed on the ground. A giraffe’s heart, weighing up to 12kg needs to be large and

powerful to pump blood through the large body and against the force of gravity up that long neck to the head. Its lungs can hold 55 litres of air. A newborn giraffe is about two metres tall with a weight of 100kg. The baby falls about 2 metres to the ground at birth, the female bending her legs slightly to lessen the height. The slight impact when hitting the ground helps start the lungs breathing.

Hippos are not good swimmers. They are bottom dwellers, keeping slow-moving water ways open by acting as dredgers against siltation and vegetation growth. They wear pathways along the bottom, can push their way to the surface in deep water and slowly return to the bottom. This is not swimming as they cannot control their buoyancy. Hippos can only stay under water for about 5 minutes and will drown in water too deep to reach the surface for air and therefore require a habitat of slow moving water that is deep enough from them to submerge, but not too deep to make surfacing for air impossible. Hippos can sleep under water, subconsciously raising their head to the surface for air. Baby hippos can suckle under water.

Warthog drop to their knees when rooting. Rooting is when the animal uses the hard cartilaginous disc on the end of its nose as well as its tusks to dig for food. They live in groups called sounders and most often utilize burrows dug by others in termite mounds. Warthogs enter their burrows backwards, protecting their heads from what might be inside the burrow, and being in position to defend the burrow entrance quickly.

A white rhino male can reach up to 2 300kg whereas a large black rhino weighs around 1 100kg. A white rhino has pointed ears, a flattish back with a bump near the middle, and elongated head, a square upper lip for grazing. The young usually runs ahead of the mother and the tail curls back when alarmed. The black rhino has rounded ears, a concave back, a rounded head, a pointed prehensile upper lip for browsing. The young usually runs behind the mother and the tail is held straight out when alarmed.

All zebras have individual striped patterns, as well as their left and right side patterns differing. There is a greater concentration of capillaries under the black stripes than white stripes which is thought to help with dissipating heat which the black draws more of.

Elephants can swim well, not needing to stay in contact with the bottom. The trunk will be used as a snorkel when crossing deep water. Dust or mud bathing after a swim helps protect the skin from sunburn. Suckling calves do not use the trunk to suckle but use the mouth directly.

Pangolins have no relation to armadillos even though they have a superficial resemble and dietary similarities. They are largely free from predation, even from prides of lion and spotted hyaena. This is because the pangolin when harassed wraps itself into a ball and is protected by scales made of keratin. These scales are hard with small ridges and have a sharp leading edge. When curled up they lie still, but if harassed further they scythe their tail from side to side which can inflict a nasty cut or even an amputation.

Caracal are one of the most ferocious of all the local cats. Skilled, secretive hunters adept at climbing trees, these smaller cats will not hesitate to defend themselves. Caracal are the only local cats that have ear tufts.

On cooler days bat-eared foxes will sun themselves close to a bolt hole by lying on the ground, with ears flat to remain inconspicuous. Dens have more than one hole to help them escape from predators.

The central horn protuberance on a mature African buffalo is called a “boss”. Old buffalo bulls often remain in bachelor groups or become solitary. One of their favourite pastimes is wallowing in the mud which has given them the nickname “daggaboys” meaning mud boys. This is likely done because there is a good supply of soft green grass in marshy areas for their worn down teeth, and because as they lose hair on their backs and rumps they need protection from the sun.

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By: Marcelle Trethewey

About the Author:

Marcelle was born and raised on an African Safari Wildlife farm. She has successfully hand raised white faced owls, impala and gemsbok. Marcelle runs an African Lion Safari company at http://www.wildafricasafarico.com or view her Wild Africa blog at
http://www.wildafricasafari.blogspot.com

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