In part one of Londolozi Nightlife we encountered the scrub hare, civet and ended off with the bush baby. We leap now from this adorable, acrobatic animal to the prickliness of a porcupine.

A guest recently asked me an interesting question regarding porcupines; “how do they mate?”. A great question, considering the positioning of the quills (see image below). I found my reference book’s answer quite amusing: “Very carefully”.
So they do mate in the conventional manner, the quills not seeming to pose any obstruction. Interestingly enough, along with dolphins, pygmy chimps and humans, porcupines are known to mate for reasons other than just breeding (enjoyment). It is thought that this non-reproductive mating ritual strengthens the monogamous bonds this rodent forms with its partner.

The first glimpse of the porcupine as it darted out of the hole in a hurry to seek shelter in a thicket nearby

This photograph by ranger Alistair Smith shows a porcupine disappearing out of frame to the right as it came rocketing out of a burrow. The hairs protruding from the nape turn into rigid quills toward the posterior end but are comprised of the same fibrous protein, keratin.

The quills – which are essentially modified hairs – are an excellent defence. When threatened the porcupine begins stamping its feet like a teenager at a trance-party, causing the non-hollow quills to shake and rattle against one another, creating a loud rattling noise which usually deters predators, even lions and leopards. The quills cannot be shot out as is commonly believed, but rather are jabbed into the predator as the porcupine lunges backwards toward it.

The porcupine is tough, but the Honey Badger may be the toughest animal about, and as some of you may have heard on the famous YouTube clip, he really doesn’t care. There are many, many clips online of the fights this brawling badger seems to get itself into. Be they with lions, hyenas, jackals or leopards, this fearless little mammal will defend itself so vigorously that most of the time the predators end up leaving it alone.

This photograph, not taken at Londolozi, shows the aggression and courage these badgers have.

A honey badger enjoying a piece of honeycomb, probably receiving its 900th sting in the process.

The genus name Mellivora literally means honey eater, and along with its common name, honey badger, one can infer that this animal is a big honey fan. It will tear into a bee hive, taking thousands of stings in the process, to get its sweet fix. If you didn’t think it was hardcore enough, the badger hunts and kills extremely venomous snakes, sometimes being bitten in the process. It is known to sleep off the effects of the venom only to wake and then finish off the meal! How the badger manages to survive this injection of venom is the fascinating part and perhaps needs to be covered in another post. But in short, like the mongoose, the honey badger has developed resistance by altering its chemical receptors, essentially blocking the toxins of the snake venom.

Yes, we are moving in order of rare sightings on Londolozi.

Pangolins, with their scaly exterior, look like armadillos but are more closely related to sloths and anteaters.

A pangolin; one of the holy grails of African wildlife sightings. Notice the incredibly well developed claws on the front feet for digging for ants or termites. The pangolin can walk along on its hind legs, bending low to the ground, ready to lick up potential prey.

Their plated shell, like a porcupine’s quills, is made up of keratin and is so hard that when they roll up into a ball in defence, the jaws of lions or even hyenas cannot penetrate it. This usually turns into what might seem like a soccer game, ending with the predator losing interest eventually. Amazingly, when a young pangolin is threatened in the presence of the parent, it will be scooped up by the guardian and encased in this impenetrable “ball”.

We come now to the final and least often seen: the Aardvark (directly translated from Afrikaans as earth-pig, although no relation to the pig). Hiding out during the day in excavated holes made in termite mounds or in destroyed ant nests where they may have been feeding, they are very seldom encountered. In fact some of the most experienced trackers at Londolozi, when asked if they had ever seen one, confidently replied “YES… dead and hoisted into a tree by a leopard“.

When I searched the Londolozi photographic archives this was one of the only Aardvark photographs to come up. A track of onek – about all most of us will ever see of this secretive animal.

As the aardvark forages for ants, termites and other insects it closes its pig-like nose to keep dust and insects out. Its skin is also incredibly tough to deter an nasty bites from its prey.

In that long proboscis it harbours an impressive 12 inch (30 cm) adhesive tongue that it uses to lick up an estimated 50 000 insects (mostly ants and termites) every night. It is also this unusual proboscis that has generated the theory that the African elephant may be the aardvark’s closet relative. In a study comparing amino acids of the aardvark – a genetic oddity as it is the only member of its order – to species from 15 other mammalian orders, it was found that its closest relatives are not only the African elephant, but also hyraxes (dassies) and sea cows (all of these families belong to a general group of primitive ungulates called uranotherians)

What is crazy is that these rarely seen nocturnal animals, like the pangolin and aardvark, are around everyday, just hidden underground.

Just to see even one would be a dream, but given that some rangers here have taken 5 years to see their first pangolin (some have still never) and Aardvarks are about as common as unicorns, I may never get my chance…!

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

Rob Jeffery

Field Guide

Rob joined the Londolozi team at the start of 2017. Having grown up on a farm in the Cape and spending many holidays traveling Southern Africa he developed a love for the outdoors and an appreciation for the natural world. After completing a ...

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12 Comments

on Londolozi Nightlife: Part 2

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Dina Petridis

I’m still waiting to see an aardvark after 24 safari!
But it is a reason to go back and hope..

Marinda Drake

These night life blogs are so interesting. We have seen many honeybadgers and had many encounters with them coming into our caravan tent. Stealing campers food. We have never seen a pangolin, aardvark or porcupine. Definitely on our bucket list. Just came back from the bush and it being very dry we hoped for a pangolin as you can see the smaller animals better. It was not meant to be. Maybe next time.

Lucie Easley

Thanks for including these very seldom seen animals with interesting facts about them. It is truly horrific that especially the pangolin is so threatened by the black wildlife market. Wishing humans would one day evolve into creatures that can love and respect all of wildlife without wishing to own or abuse. Such marvelous animals of Africa. Good to know they are there, even if they don’t like to show themselves.

Rob Jeffery

Good point Lucie! And the pangolin are definitely around as you may have seen in Alex’s blog that came out yesterday (14 Feb). What an amazing encounter he had.

Joanne Wadsworth

What a wonderful way to learn new information about the smaller and sometimes unusual wildlife at Londolozi. Very interesting info and wonderfully written …great job Rob! I honestly learned a lot.

Carolyn Whitaker

Great article, Rob! I enjoyed learning about these unique and obscure creatures. The video and photos were excellent, also. Thank you!

Sarah Lambert

We once saw a honey badger when we were coming back from a night drive and he wouldn’t get out of the way of our landy . We nudged it forward to try and scare him into moving out of the road and he turned and tried to attack the vehicle. Very tough little guys . We had to back down to him 🙂

Rob Jeffery

That’s amazing! Thanks for sharing. When I have encountered them they seemed very sure of themselves and didn’t pay too much attention to us.

Callum Evans

Out of those four, the honey badger is the only one I have ever seen (twice)! Are there really no pictures of aardvarks in the Londolozi archives?! I guess they are ‘easier’ to spot in the Kalahari!

Rob Jeffery

None that I could find of an alive aardvark! The only picture was of one hoisted into a tree by a leopard. I have heard that they are more often seen in the Kalahari, especially in winter.

Mauricia Neeley

I feel extremely lucky to have briefly seen an Aardvark on our 1st trip to the Sabi Sands. Our guide had been guiding 15yrs and the sighting was only his 3rd sighting of an aardvark.

Michael & Terri Klauber

Tanks for Part 2 Rob! We are desperate to see a Pangolin someday on our Londolozi visits. So far, no luck! We were riding with James a few years ago and got to see the Aardvark in the tree… Not the same as seeing one alive for sure. 😉

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