Patrick Brakspear
Australia AU

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: African Wildlife, Animals on Safari

10 Unusual Species Sightings on Safari (and where to find them)

When I say unusual species sightings on safari, I mean that each species is in itself an interesting animal. Each with unusual characteristics – worthy of your attention. I do not mean it is unusual to see them on safari – more like uncommon. Partly because many are nocturnal, but also because most visitors spend far less time seeking them out. Safari-goers usually choose to focus on the big cats, elephant and other ‘flagship’ species. We really are spoiled for choice!

1.    Bat-eared fox

The bat-eared fox (pictured) is a specialized omnivore that uses its dish-sized ears to detect grubs and insects below ground. They inhabit arid areas with sandy soils. You can find them at Etosha NP in Namibia, Central Kalahari in Botswana, Hwange NP in Zimbabwe.

2.    Serval

A beautiful long-limbed cat (they have the longest legs in relation to their body size of all the Africa cats) with prominent ears (used to locate their prey). Servals hunt mice in long grass, preferring dense, well watered grassland and reed beds – always near water. Look for them in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania, Masai Mara in Kenya, Kruger in South Africa, and on occasion in the Okavango region of northern Botswana.

3.    Aardvark (Ant eater) & Aardwolf

Both are specialist termite feeders. The aardvark’s name translates as “earth pig” - a testament to its digging capabilities.  The aardwolf looks more like a hyena than a wolf. Again, both are found in sandier regions like Hwange NP in Zimbabwe and the Linyanti, Selinda, Okavango regions. However, the aardvark is more widely distributed (wherever ants and termites can be found). You will see them in Kruger, the Luangwa Valley, all through northern Botswana and Namibia, and northern Tanzania.

The aardwolf favors open grasslands, and where harvester termites swarm. They are an uncommon sighting on safari. That said, Central Kalahari GR, Hwange NP, and northern Tanzania spring to mind.

4.    Pangolin

Another specialist termite feeder and distinguishable by the armour-like scales that cover the body. Their name is from the Malay word "pengguling", which loosely translates to "something that rolls up". Although occurring in a wide range of habitats, Pangolins are nowhere common and sightings are rare. They certainly fall under the umbrella of "unusual species sightings on safari."

5.    Brown & Striped Hyena

Much less common than its cousin the spotted hyena, both the brown and striped hyena are nevertheless found in a number of safari areas.  You will find brown hyena in Madikwe GR in South Africa, Central Kalahari in Botswana, Namib & Skeleton coasts in Namibia. And see striped hyena in southern Serengeti in Tanzania and Shaba Reserve in Kenya.

6.    Meerkat

Made famous by Meerkat Manor and other documentaries, these are one of the most fascinating creatures imaginable.  You will see them in drier regions, including the Kgalagadi, Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi, Eastern Cape, and southeast Namibia.

7.    Caracal

The largest of Africa’s ‘small’ cats the caracal inhabits arid areas and are characterized by a tawny coat and tufted ears (African lynx). They are notably good jumpers (leaping high into the air or low-lying branches when hunting game birds e.g. guinea fowl). Perhaps the best region to locate them on safari would be the private reserves in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. You can also see them in the Luangwa and Zambezi Valleys on occasion.

8.    African Civet

Found within the tropics wherever there is adequate cover (and usually near water). A very attractive nocturnal omnivore related to mongooses and genets. Seen regularly on safari after dark, but fleetingly.

9.    African wild cat

One of the unusual species sightings on safari, these wild cats live throughout Africa in most habitats except deserts and rainforest. This small cat is the precursor of our domestic cat (domesticated originally in Egypt). Secretive and solitary, they can nevertheless be spotted on safari fairly regularly. So keep an eye out!

10.    Springhare

Sometimes referred to as the Kalahari Ferrari, these nocturnal rodents are more like kangaroos. They have short forearms with long claws and powerful back legs to propel them kangaroo-like across the savannah. They are nocturnal, living in burrows through the day – preferring sandy soils and grasslands (rather than true desert).

11.    Lesser Galago (or bushbaby)

You will see them in woodland, savannah, riverine bush and forest south of the Sahara, and down as far as north-eastern South Africa. Being arboreal (live in trees), they are and you can pinpoint them by spotlight on night drives darting from tree to tree. They feed on insects and plant gum. They move very quickly so you need to pay attention!

12.    Gerunuk

This is a most unique antelope that has evolved to be able to stand vertically on its powerful hind legs, using its extra-long neck to browse acacia leaves. It occurs predominantly in the more arid regions of Kenya and Tanzania.

Put a name to a face

Now that you know some of the peculiarities of these creatures, you may want to experience your own unusual species sightings on safari. If so, contact us as SafariBookings. We'll help plan your African wildlife adventure.

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