Some lesser-known—but utterly fascinating—animals you’ll see on an African safari
As anyone who’s been on safari can attest, spotting Africa’s most famously impressive animal species in the wild is an awe-inspiring experience. Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and Cape buffalo have a singular magnificence in their natural habitat—one not easily conveyed by Nat Geo programs and zoo enclosures. Little wonder, then, that spying “the Big Five” animals are a priority for most travellers on an African safari.
While these wildlife A-listers are deservedly hyped, Africa’s game parks and preserves are actually home to hundreds of animal species that our guests see on safari—many of which are every bit as astonishing as their more-celebrated peers. The expertise of Micato’s Safari Directors—all African born and raised, and deeply knowledgeable about regional wildlife—can help you connect with many such creatures. Here are a few animals you might be lucky enough to see on an African safari, beyond the Big Five, of course!
Seen in Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya
The unusual name of this creature (which means “earth-wolf” in Afrikaans) is a clue about what makes it so unusual. It shares certain physical similarities with its closest relative, the hyena—though it is noticeably prettier and more delicate, with a slender muzzle and a buff-coloured coat marked by dramatic stripes. Unlike its cousins, however, the aardwolf doesn’t prey on other large animals; rather, it feeds like an anteater—lapping up insects and larvae, mainly termites, with a long, sticky tongue. Though mainly nocturnal, aardwolves can often be seen emerging from their burrows at dusk to seek food.
Seen in Kruger National Park, South Africa
At a distance, it’s easy to mistake this slender, spotted cat for a young cheetah—especially if it’s crouched in high grasses, or the reeds alongside a watering hole. But out in the open, it becomes clear just how distinctive the serval is. Its large stippled ears allow the cat to hone in on the smallest scurrying movements of its prey—rodents, birds, frogs and reptiles—while its dainty, pointed snout is suited to eating them. Most striking of all are its extra-long legs (the longest of any wild cat relative to its body size), which provide powerful pouncing ability. It’s quite something to spot a serval leaping suddenly out of a grassy patch to seize upon some unsuspecting creature below.
Seen in Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
The largest rodents in Africa, Cape porcupines can grow to more than 40 pounds, with thatches of bristly spines that can be 20 inches long. Nocturnal and monogamous, they’re mainly seen on safari night drives—in pairs, snuffling and digging for roots and bulbs, their preferred foods. While local famers consider them a nuisance (they can wreak havoc on pumpkin crops), they typically keep to themselves and mind their own business. But any predator that makes the mistake of approaching a porcupine is treated to a formidable display of raised quills, shaken to produce a menacing rattle.
Seen in Ruaha and Tarangire National Parks, Tanzania
Of the dozens of antelope species that roam Africa’s game parks, the kudu, subject of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, is perhaps the most arresting to see. Shaggy, bearded males can weigh well over 500 pounds, and their curling, corkscrew-shaped horns grown longer than any other antelope’s—up to 70 inches. Physically imposing though they are, kudu can actually be hard to spot; they’re mainly shy and solitary, and spend much of the day hidden among trees and munching on leaves (their striped colouring helps camouflage them). But in the late afternoons, it’s not uncommon to see them abruptly leaping from thickets with soaring bounds, especially when a safari vehicle passes.
This is but a short list of the many fascinating animals you will see on an African Safari, in addition to Africa’s Big Five. To learn more, contact at Micato Safari Specialist to get the low-down on safari game drives with our expert Safari Directors and Driver/Guides.