Patrick Brakspear
Australia AU
Jul 7, 2015 July 7, 2015

Patrick has been an Africa travel specialist, based in Australia, for over 10 years and prior to that was a safari operator in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.

Categories: Safari Tours, Travel Tips

10 Safari Myths

You will likely hear a number of safari myths that circulate amongst safari goers. Some have been repeated for so long that they take on a life of their own (and are considered ‘fact’). Others are genuine misconceptions. But all are worth challenging.

Here are some safari myths that may surprise you:

1.    That giraffe perform romantic ‘necking’ displays

In fact, these are young males mock fighting – by striking each other using their ‘horns’ in a sequence of blows countered by an exaggerated jump. They appear to take turns, as a giraffe cannot strike and jump at the same time! You will notice that one of the distinguishing features of giraffe males is that the ends of their horns are bare from these mock fights, whereas in the females the horns have tufts. In older males the fighting gets more serious and you will hear resounding body blows as the two opponents swings their calcified heads at one another in an attempt to dominate.

2.    That hyenas are purely scavengers

In many areas hyena are solitary scavengers, relying on misappropriating the kills of smaller predators including leopard, cheetah or waiting for the leftovers from lion. But where game is more numerous hyenas are perfectly capable hunters and will regularly band together to make their own kills – they are a genuine hunting force.

3.    That male lions do not hunt

Female lions are both leaner and faster than males and thus more suited to the task of hunting, so as a rule the males will leave the hunting to the females. But when some extra muscle is needed, it is the big males that step in to lend a hand.

And don’t forget that male lions, before becoming pride males, may spend a number of years as nomads, hunting for themselves or with their coalition brothers. They are extremely capable hunters – no question. So don't believe any of the safari myths.

4.    That hippo kill more people than any other animal in Africa

This is a statement of ‘fact’ so generally accepted that you will find it quoted in many prominent reference books and documentaries on Africa. But it has little basis in fact. Attacks on humans are quite rare, and usually as a result of being startled or when attempting to return to the safety of water. Yes, males can be territorial and they can react aggressively when surprised or pressured, but a killer – not really. After all, hippos, despite their large size, are a nocturnal vegetarian asking only to be left in peace to snooze the day away in its favorite spot in the river! Now a crocodile – that’s another matter?

5.    That hyenas are hermaphrodites

Female hyenas have essentially the same outward-looking genitalia as males. They urinate, mate and give birth through a fully erectile clitoris that is the same size and shape as a penis. Internally, the female is a perfectly normal female, with ovaries and a uterus. So how then can you tell them apart? Firstly, female hyenas are much larger than their male counterparts. A mature female will also have prominent nipples and the genitalia will be partly pink. She may also be noticeably pregnant. Also noticeable is that the belly profile of males curves upward at the hind legs, whereas the female’s belly is flat due to the presence of a small udder at the rear of her abdomen.

6.    That porcupines shoot their quills at their attackers

A porcupine’s quills usually lie flat against its body, but if danger threatens, the porcupine raises and spreads them, reversing towards the danger. Lions and other attackers risk getting quills embedded in their face or paw – not because it ‘shoots’ its quills!

7.    That crocodiles store their prey under water

This is merely a fanciful tale to send shivers down your spine! In reality, other crocodiles and fish would soon steal any food ‘stashed’ under water. They probably would if they could, but in reality, they don’t.

8.    That ostriches ‘bury their heads in the sand’

Ostriches pick up and chew on (or even swallow) small stones (to aid digestion). But bury their heads in the sand – absolutely not!

9.    That ‘petting’ or ‘walking with’ animals is somehow contributing to conservation

This is perhaps a controversial topic, but it is an issue worth raising. Before signing up to ‘pet’ a wild animal, know that – some people believe that there is ZERO conservation value in the humanization of wild animals. Any tourist ‘attraction’ that purports to offer the petting/playing with wild animals for payment under the guise of conservation (or for any reason) is simply wrong. Wild animals are not entertainment.

10.    That cheetah cannot retract their claws (and are more like dogs than cats)

In fact, cheetah possess the same physical apparatus to retract their claws as other cats - precisely the same arrangement of muscles and ligaments that allows any cat to extend or retract its claws. So they really are not like dogs at all.

See for yourself

Now that you know that these safari myths are, in fact, untruths... what next? As the saying goes, 'seeing is believing', and perhaps you're at the point where you want to see for yourself. At SafariBookings, we can certainly get you started on a journey that you will never forget. It's one thing to read about it, but when you see African wildlife up close... well, you will be awestruck. So let's chat.


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You will likely hear a number of safari untruths that circulate amongst safari goers. Some have been repeated for so long that they take on a life of their own (and are considered ‘fact’). Others are genuine misconceptions. But all are worth challenging. Click through to read more!