Over the last few weeks we have spent a lot of time following the local wild dogs and noticed they have often used abandoned aardvark burrows as dens for the pups. Aardvarks play an important role in creating sleeping shelters for many other animals as well like warthogs, porcupines and hyenas. There is a lot of evidence of Aardvarks being around at Londolozi, but we never ever see an actual Aardvark or even hear of someone else seeing one. They are not endangered, so why is it that the only time they are seen here is with the use of a motion sensor camera trap?
Aardvarks can be found through out Africa, south of the Sahara desert. This makes sense given their distribution is closely tied to the availability of food. Aardvarks are insectivorous, with the majority of their diet being made up of ants and supplemented with termites.
Living a solitary lifestyle, aardvarks are almost exclusively nocturnal. Although some have been documented trying to warm up in the sun after an exceptionally cold winter’s night. Foraging consists of five to nine hours of completely irregular patterns of movement, holding their nose very close to the ground, searching for prey. They will regularly covering distance of about 2-4 kilometres in a night.
Aardvarks are pretty unusual looking animals, with the name being translated from Afrikaans as “earth pig”. A conspicuous long nose that is actually more of a snout, houses an extremely well-developed sense of smell and is the primary means of locating food. Their long rabbit-like ears give rise to an acute sense of hearing. Not necessary for foraging but vital in detecting danger. Their eyesight is of less importance in searching for food. Therefore their eyes are small and beady and lack a reflective membrane at the back of the eye called a Tapetum lucidum. This helps to reflect light back through the cells of the retina, giving the animal a better chance of determining what it is seeing.
Aardvarks move around slowly as this is not only optimal for sniffing out prey but also allows for their hearing to be at its best. If disturbed they immediately freeze, hoping to remain undetected. Running off at high speeds and down into the nearest burrow if needs be, of which there can be as many as 100 in a 1.5 hectare area. They are always incredibly alert as it is pretty risky business living within high populations of lions, leopards and hyenas. Every now and then they are caught by predators. In fact the only time I have heard of anyone seeing an aardvark here was when a leopard caught one and had hoisted it into a tree.
Only revealing themselves after dark, it becomes rather challenging to spot them. The only real chance we would have of spotting one is if it is caught by surprise out in the open. This is highly unlikely as they are shy animals that are ill-equipped to defend themselves against danger and never venture too far from the network of burrows. Hearing the rumble of the vehicle from quite some distance away they will probably flee to the thicker vegetation or down into a burrow. At night, with the help of a spotlight we look for the eyeshine of animals, thanks to the Tapetum lucidum. With the aardvark lacking this there is no reflection from the eye so we will most likely miss one. Additionally, a pale brown, motionless, rounded back could very easily be mistaken for a rock or termite mound in the distance.
So what is all the fuss about? It is probably the elusivness of the aardvark that drives the desire to see one. We know they are around but the odds of seeing one are so slim that we don’t ever expect to.
So want to even more…