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Did you know? Fascinating Facts about African Animals!

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Did you know? Fascinating Facts about African Animals! by Kenyans247(1): Tue 12, May, 2020 07:49am
Prepare to discover loads of interesting facts about African animals of all shapes and sizes! These are some of the many intriguing things I learnt as a safari guide in Kruger and on my past travels.

As a child growing up in South Africa, I heard and read a lot about animals. There are some lovely African Tales about most of these animals. As I share animals facts below, I will also list the names of African Tales for you to look out for. These tales are great for children so look them up!

Most people go on wildlife safaris with the aim of spotting the Big 5 of Africa. Thus, I'll start off with some interesting facts about the Big 5 safari animals.

Facts About the Big 5 Animals of Africa
First, let's get the facts straight about the term "Big Five". Contrary to popular belief, the term Big Five does not indicate that these are the 5 biggest animals in Africa. These are, in fact, the 5 most dangerous animals a person can encounter in the bush when on foot. This was originally a hunting term which was later adopted by the tourism industry. Now spotting the Big 5 of Africa has become the main aim of going on an African safari for many.

Interesting Lion Facts - about the king of the beasts
1. Possibly the most social of the cat family, lions typically live in large families. They do everything as a group (called a pride), except for the males who regularly patrol their territories to fend against other lions.


Male lion -

2. A lion's roar can be heard over 8km away. Lions are able to roar so loudly due to a ligament in their voice box. This ligament is stretched to enable more air to pass across the vocal cords, making the incredibly deep and loud sounds. This is also the same for other large cats like leopards, tigers and jaguars.

3. Lions have a white line right underneath their eyes which assists them with night vision. There is a reflective coating behind the eye which helps to amplify the light emitted by stars and the moon. With this help, a lion’s eyesight is 8 times better than that of humans at night.


Lion eyes -

4. Lions can sleep, or at least rest for up to 20 hours per day. A big part of why they sleep so much is to conserve energy for when it is needed - for hunting and defending territories.


Lion sleeping -

African Tale with Lions: The story of lion and jackal
Interesting Leopard Facts – about the elusive predator
1. The leopard is probably the most adaptable of the big cats when it comes to human interference. This is the main reason why leopards are spotted close to urban areas. Their adaptability also makes them the most widely distributed wild cat on the planet.

2. Leopards have strong necks, which allow them to drag prey (that weighs more than themselves) into trees. They do this in order to hide it from other predators.

3. Leopards scavenge regularly but are brilliant hunters.

4. Leopard cubs are born blind and are therefore completely dependent on their mothers. Their eyes start opening about 10 days after birth. Cubs typically stay with their mothers for up to about 2 years.


Leopard and cub -

5. A leopard’s tail is almost the same length as its body. Their long tails mainly assist them with balance when climbing, as well as serving as a rudder when they are chasing prey and have to turn sharply.


Leopard hunting -

African Tale about Leopards: How the leopard got his spots
Interesting Elephant Facts – about the gentle giants
1. Elephants are the largest land-based mammal in the world and are found in Africa and Asia.

2. Elephants are highly social animals. They live in herds which are led by an older female matriarch. These herds are usually family herds made up of elephants of all different ages.


Amboseli elephants -

3. Adult male elephants, or bulls, normally move freely between different family herds.

4. African elephants' ears are shaped like the continent of Africa and play an important role in cooling elephants down. On very hot days, elephants like to spray water or put mud behind their ears where there are lots of small veins. This cools the veins helping the elephants to cool down. In the heat, elephants tend to constantly flap their ears which in turn cools down their bodies. So their ears and the veins work like an air conditioning unit.


Elephant in the savannah, in namibia -

5. Did you know that elephants are either right-handed or left-handed? One can see this when looking at their tusks. They normally have one tusk which is broken or more worn than the other. This indicates that they prefer using that specific tusk making them either left or right-handed.

6. Elephants have very complex and intricate ways of communicating. These include using vibrations to make sounds. Some of which are audible to humans and some of which are not. These sounds can travel for several kilometres. They also communicate through visual signals and touch.


Elephants in namibia -

7. The average daily food intake of an elephant is between 150 kg to 300 kg per day, and when drinking they can consume between 100 and 200 litres of water. This is why having too many elephants in a game park that isn't large enough can wreak havoc on the vegetation and ecosystem as a whole.

African Tale about Elephants: Why elephant has a trunk
Interesting Rhino Facts – about nature's real-life unicorns

1. A group of rhinos is actually called a crash.


Rhino (2) -

2. In Africa, we have the white (square-lipped rhinoceros) and the black rhinoceros (hook- lipped rhinoceros) however, their actual colours are very similar. In my life as a guide, I heard numerous reasons for these names. I guess the one that makes the most sense is that the names originated from when the Dutch settlers in Africa called the white rhinos “wijd”. This actually means wide – referring to the wide jaw of the white rhino – but it sounded like “white” to English speakers, and was therefore translated incorrectly.

3. Rhinos are very fast for their size. White rhino males can weigh more than 2 tons and can run at a speed of 40km per hour.

4. Their horns are made from keratin, which is the same material human nails are made of. Rhinos are primarily hunted for their horns despite the fact that their horns do not have any proven medicinal properties.


Rhino horns -

5. Like elephants, rhinoceroses communicate using infrasonic frequencies that are below the human threshold of hearing.

6. Like humans, the skin of a rhino is very sensitive to the sun. Thus they love taking mud baths to cover their skin. This also helps to trap ticks and other parasites - once the mud dries up, they scratch against a tree which then removes these parasites.


Rhino mud bath -

African Tale about Rhinos: How the rhinoceros got his skin
Interesting Buffalo Facts – teamwork at its best

1. The buffalo is oddly-enough seen as one of the most dangerous of the Big 5. This has a lot to do with the fact that other animals usually show some warning signs before they attack. This is not so with the buffalo. They rarely give any warning signals and can surround you without being noticed.

2. Buffalo are usually found in large herds, sometimes hundreds of animals in one herd. These huge herds are often closely followed by lions. So much so that you are almost certain to find lion when you see a large herd of buffalos. When these herds get attacked by lions, they form a circle around their young, facing outward towards the threat to form a barricade of horns.


Buffalo herd -

3. Buffalo are actually very good swimmers, as they often cross large rivers to find good grazing fields. One also often sees lonely buffalo bulls (also known as dagga boys) lying in water and mud. The name dagga boy comes from the word “dagga” which refers to a cement mixture used in building houses. These solitary buffalo bulls usually look like they have cement patches on their bodies from the mud.

4. Buffalos have a good symbiotic relationship with many bird species, like the oxpecker and also egrets. You are sure to find a variety of birds when looking at a herd of buffalo.


Buffalo and bird -

African Tale about Buffalos: The tale of oxpecker and buffalo
Facts About the Little 5 Animals of Africa

A lesser-known grouping of smaller animals that we have in Africa, is the Little 5. These are in fact 5 smaller animals that share their names with the animals of the Big 5 grouping. Here are the Little 5 animals...

1. Antlion:
The largest of the lacewing family. They look very similar to dragonflies.


Antlion - Bernard DUPONT

Their larvae are found all over Southern Africa in soft sand and they stay in funnel-shaped pits, used to catch their prey. They sit at the bottom of the pit hidden in the sand, and when they detect an insect entering the pit, they throw sand towards them to make the prey fall to the bottom. Here they grab their prey with their large jaws.

2. Leopard tortoise:
The largest tortoise found in Southern Africa.


Leopard Tortoise - Bernard Dupont

They have unique markings on their shells. They are mostly plant eaters, however, they often gnaw on bones and also eat hyena droppings. They do this to get calcium and other minerals which assist in eggshell production and keep their own shells in good condition.

3. Elephant shrew:
So-called because of their rather long and flexible noses which look similar to the elephant’s trunk.


Elephant shrew - Javier Abalos

They eat invertebrates and also fruit, seeds and leaves. The females usually carry food to their young in their cheek pouches.

4. Rhinoceros beetle:
These beetles can reach up to 60 millimetres in size and their name originates from the horns on their head.


Rhino beetle - Bernard Dupont

The males use these horns to fight each other for territory and for possession of females. They are part of the scarab family. There are over 300 types of rhino beetles worldwide. It is known to be the strongest animal as it can carry up to 850 times its own body weight

5. Buffalo weaver:
Known as 'buffalo' weavers for following buffalo herds to feed on the insects disturbed by the buffalos' movements.


Red-billed buffalo weaver - Derek Keats

These weavers are communal and live in large colonies. They use thorny twigs to make large nests which are divided into different compartments to create egg chambers.

Interesting Facts about other African Animals
Pangolin or scaly anteater:
The only animal in the world that is completely covered in scales.


Pangolin - Adam Tusk

These scales are made from keratin (like rhino horns) and these scales contribute to 20% of the animal's overall weight.

Pangolins have a long sticky tongue that grows from deep inside their chest cavity and can extend to over 40cm, which is longer than its own body!

They are able to close their nose and ears when feeding in order to keep ants from entering.

African Tale on Pangolins: How the Pangolin got its scales
These funny looking birds are somewhat prehistoric in appearance.


Ostrich - Bernard Dupont

Even though they have a wingspan of up to 2 meters, they are completely flightless. They mainly use their wings for a mating display, and to help counterbalance when running away from predators.

They can run up to 70 km per hour, which makes them the fastest living animal and bird on two legs.

They have three stomachs, and regularly swallow stones and pebbles. The pebbles help ostriches to grind-up food in their first stomach, as they do not have teeth to chew.

The brain of an ostrich weighs around 40 grams, compared to one of their eyes that weighs around 60 grams. They, therefore, have fabulous eyesight and can see up to 3 and a half kilometres.

An ostrich egg is equivalent to 24 hen eggs and takes about one and a half hours to hard boil.

They do not stick their heads in the sand or the ground – this is an urban myth. When in danger, ostriches normally run away, but they also have powerful legs and can kick potential predators.

The male ostrich is called a rooster, and a female is called a hen. A group of ostriches is called a flock.

Males and females both roost on their eggs. With the black colour of the male feathers, they are well camouflaged for roosting during the night, and then females roost during the day.

African Tale on Ostriches: How the ostrich got its long neck
Black-Backed Jackal:
People who have been into the bushveld know all about the distinctive sounds these animals make around sunset.


Black-backed jackal -

They are monogamous, which means that they mate for life, and only hold one partner.

They are omnivorous as their diets regularly include berries and grass. They scavenge a lot, but they are known to catch small prey like rodents and birds. One usually sees them following lions as they hunt, at a distance. They regularly creep up to lions' prey in order to steal a bit of meat.

African Tale about Jackal: Clever Jackal gets away
Marabou Stork:
In my view, this is possibly the ugliest bird around, a real thing out of nightmares.


Marabou Stork - John Cooke

Marabou storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with a long, bare pink gular sac.

They are large birds and can reach an average size of about 152cm, and have a wingspan of around 3.7m. On average they weigh around 9kg.

They are not very vocal but indulges in bill-rattling courtship displays. The throat sac is also used to make various noises during mating time.

They have tall legs that are often white in colour however, their legs are not white at all – the whiteness is due to them defecating on their own legs, which is known as urohydrosis. This is mainly to regulate their body temperatures as it cools down the body.

The birds are known to build their nests in trees and sometimes even in tall buildings. The female usually lay between three to five eggs. Both the parents are equally involved in taking care of the young, however, only one out of four reaches adulthood.

Their diets mainly consist of carrion, fish, insects, frogs, snakes, lizards, mice and other rodents, even other birds.

I am going to end off with some interesting facts on my personal favourite animal, the African wild dog. Also known as the painted dog or painted wolf.

African Wild Dog:


African wild dogs - Derek Keats

They have distinctive patterns on their fur, and no two wild dogs have the same patterns.

They usually live in large packs, which are dominated by the matriarch. They have an alpha pair (almost like a king and a queen) and these are usually the only ones in the pack who mate. Once the pups are born, the whole pack looks after them and they take priority. Pups that are old enough to eat solid food are given priority at a kill – even over the dominant pair.

They have massively large roaming areas and are known to roam around 50km in a day.

When hunting, they have about an 80% success rate and hunt in groups which are well coordinated. Their main hunting strategy is to outrun an animal tiring it out over a very long distance. Like with cycling races, when the front runners get tired, then the dogs right behind them pick up speed and the front runners fall back a bit. Usually, after a few kilometres of running, the prey gets very tired and weak, which makes it easier to take down.

It has been documented that they have similar social and hunting habits to wolves.


Wild dogs - Chris du Preez

They are sadly an endangered species – they used to range across 39 countries in Africa, with population numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Currently, there are fewer than 6,000 individuals left in the wild, forming fewer than 700 packs.

I was not able to get African tales for all of the animals mentioned, however, for the little ones, there are a few books published on African tales. I recommend looking out for some of these, as they are lovely stories. Some recommended books:

Stories of Africa by Gcina Mhlope
African Animal Tales by Jay P.W. Heale
Numerous short stories and books by Mwenye Hadithi
With all these interesting African animal facts, I'm sure your next wildlife safari will be even more fun and interesting!

For help planning your next African Safari on a budget contact our travel experts.


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