Everyone has their own must-sees when they go to Africa, and the Big 5 are normally at the top. But did you know about some of these rare or lesser known species such as the fastest antelope in Africa, the largest rodent in Africa and Africa’s most endangered predator?
1 # The Tsessebe
The tsessebe is the one of the funniest looking of the African antelopes, and also the fastest. The story goes that when God was handing out adornments for the animals the tsessebe arrived far too late and missed out. He pestered God continuously until God, exasperated, picked up two sticks and plonked them on his head. All the other animals laughed and teased the tsessebe which may God feel sorry for him. So God gave the tsessebe one wish, and the tsessebe wished to be the fastest antelope on the plains. He doesn’t get teased anymore as he reaches a phenomenal speed of 80 kph! To see this peculiar looking animal you will need to visit either Zambia, Zimbabwe, north-east Namibia, northern Botswana, Kruger area of South Africa and Swaziland. They are also found in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The easiest place to these animals would be in either Kruger or in Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland. In Mkhaya it is very easy to get up close and personal with these animals, and also to check out their stick horns!
2# The Narina Trojan
You would be surprised to hear that this common species of bird is so elusive. With its striking red breast and metallic blue green tail feathers it is often high on avid birders’ lists. But with its habit of being a rather unobtrusive and shy bird which often sits very still in an upright position, it is very easy to miss. Only with its sudden movement with a flash of red and vibrant green will give away its position. You have to be quick if you want to take a photograph! It is found in south east Africa in coastal, montane and riverine forests and sightings are possible in Swaziland in Mantenga along the river bank and in Mkhaya near Stone Camp. Good luck with this one! To see this peculiar looking animal you will need to visit either Zambia, Zimbabwe, north-east Namibia, northern Botswana, Kruger area of South Africa and Swaziland. They are also found in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The easiest place to these animals would be in either Kruger or in Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland. In Mkhaya it is very easy to get up close and personal with these animals, and also to check out their stick horns!
3# The Nyala
Nyala are beautiful antelope that are rather shy and elusive as they spend a lot of time in dense riverine vegetation and thickets in dry savanna woodlands. They are very cautious animals and prefer drinking from waterholes rather than open spaces. Old males will often live alone but you can see single sex or mixed family groups of up to 10 individuals. The male and females are completely different, so much so that they were initially thought to be different species. (See the featured image for an example of the male nyala). Having said that they are pretty hard to see, the best place without a doubt, is Swaziland. Here they seem to have thrown the rulebook out about being shy and elusive and wander around in open spaces as well as past your front door of your accommodation. So if you want to get a close-up photograph of the nyala, then visit the game reserves of Swaziland. Practically guaranteed sightings!
4# The Aardwolf
The aardwolf is another peculiar looking animal with a dog-like appearance and characterised by the sloping back of a hyena. It is part of the hyena family although it feeds exclusively on harvest termites, some nights consuming up to 3,000 termites. Being nocturnal makes it very difficult to see them, although they are highly territorial and often have home ranges of just 4 km². The aardwolf is part of the Shy Five which also include the meerkat, the aardvark, the porcupine and the bat-eared fox. Aardwolf’s can be found in two distinct populations: the southern population in southern Africa and the northern population covering Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopian and even Egypt. The best place to see Aardwolf are Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and Samara Game Reserve although sightings have been seen by self drives through Etosha.
5# The Aardvark
The aardvark sits at that top of the list of Africa’s most the bizarre animals. With the body of a dwarf pig, a thick cone shaped tail like a kangaroo, ears like a rabbits and a long sticky tongue, you could be looking at an animal that is not from this earth. Aardvarks are sometimes called “Cape anteater” or “earth pig” as it burrows underground to avoid the heat of the day. Having said this, it is not related to the pig or the anteater and its closest living relatives are shrews. It is found in sub-Saharan Africa in sandier areas such as the Kalahari and being nocturnal; they are renowned for being difficult to see. There are a couple of places which are renowned for their aardvark and these include Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, Samara Game Reserve and the Karoo Gariep Conservancy. Consider yourself lucky if you see an aardvark.
6# The Porcupine
The porcupine is the largest rodent in Africa, it is so large that you wouldn’t think of associating it with the common mouse. It is famous for the myth that it can shoot its quills at predators in order to avoid escape. It is true that predators such as lions have been seen with porcupine quills sticking out of their mouths but, this is due to the fact that the quills fall off rather than that them being used as a means of defence. Porcupine are nocturnal, herbivorous creatures and consequently can be quite hard to see. A lot of game parks do not allow night drives so the likelihood of seeing a porcupine is dramatically reduced. However, if you stay at Okonjima Bush Camp, Namibia, take the opportunity to visit the night hide as porcupines are frequently seen along with the elusive honey badger. A real treat.
7# The Blue Crane
The blue Crane is South Africa’s national bird and is practically endemic to the country. These birds are pretty rare because they have a blind spot in their vision and tend to collide with power lines and are often found entangled by their long dangling legs. Consequently they have a status of vulnerable on the IUCN red list. They are found across the country and there is a high density of them in Karoo. However, there is also a really good breeding programme for them in Mlilwane, Swaziland. Here you are practically guaranteed to seeing them as they wander around their enclosure near Reilly’s Rock (and you can certainly hear them by their distinctive loud guttural trill).
8# The Black Rhino
Black rhinos are majestic beasts and one of the oldest groups of mammals, they are practically living fossils as they have been around for so long. Black rhino are one of the Big 5 and often on people’s list to see when they visit Africa. However, the critically endangered black rhino is a very rare mammal, numbering only around 5,000 in the world and the population is diminishing due to large-scale poaching for their horns to be used medicinally in Asia. To see this fascinating mammal you really do need to know where to look. Black rhino can be found in southern Africa in certain game reserves, often specifically created to protect the demise of this species. In northwest Namibia, in Damaraland, there are large wilderness areas which have a number of desert adapted black rhino. Desert Rhino Camp gives guests an exclusive experience in tracking these animals and it is certainly an experience not to be missed. Alternatively Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland also has a number of black rhino for day visitors to try and see as well as overnight guests. Be warned, they are a challenge to spot, despite being so large.
9# The African Wilddog
The African wild dog, often referred to as the “painted wolf” due to its splatter gun colours. Each dog has its own unique markings making identifying individuals relatively easy. They have an IUCN red list status of endangered and there are only 4,000 to 5,000 individuals left in the wild making them Africa’s most endangered predator. The reason for their demise is that they are widely regarded as a pest and are therefore poisoned, snared, shot or trapped. A pack of wild dogs has an enormous home range, covering approx 1,500 km2 and they are also susceptible to habitat destruction. Having said all of this, for those of you who are patient it is possible to see these amazing carnivores. Botswana has a number of lodges on the outskirts of the Okavango which are renowned for their populations of wild dogs. Some of these lodgers even have denning sites very nearby so it certainly increases your chances. We would recommend Lebala Camp and Lagoon Camp to up your chances of seeing the African Wild Dog.
10# The Pangolin
The pangolin is a scaly covered creature with a rather long disproportionate tail, small head and very beady eyes. The scales are made of keratin, the same substance that hair, fingernails and rhino horn is made from. When threatened, this scaly anteater eat curls up into an impenetrable armour plated ball and the sharp scales could inflict serious wounds. All in all it is a very weird looking creature. It is also very rare as it is threatened to the point of extinction due to the demand for its meat from the Asian market. Again, as in many of these species, pangolin are nocturnal so you will need to be somewhere where there is the opportunity to go on a night drive in the African bush. Alternatively you could try visiting REST, the Rare and Endangered Species Trust based in Namibia. One of the pangolins here are used to humans and you can watch her walk at your feet. It is an extraordinary spectacle. Not only might you see a pangolin here but also the Cape Griffon Vulture, other species of vulture in care and also the dwarf python. Please remember to make a donation to REST as they really need the support.
Jenny has been organising tailor-made safari holidays for 15 years through her business: Sense Africa. She is a qualified ecologist, and enjoys writing about the many once-in-a-lifetime experiences of Africa. Follow my blog, Sense Africa Blog, for more African Safari stories and information, and keep up-to-date on the wonders of Africa by following my Twitter (@senseafrica) and Facebook.