Written by Trevor Myburgh
Learn about the mysterious lives of the seven most secretive and enigmatic animals of the South African bushveld: the serval, African wildcat, aardvark, pangolin, large-spotted genet, African civet and porcupine.
A medium sized tawny-coloured cat with black spots and stripes, the serval is identified by its relatively short tail and strong slender body. Known to have the longest legs relative to their body size, the serval’s toes are elongated and very flexible, which helps it to capture small and partially hidden prey. They usual hunting at night, and during the day they prefer to take cover in the thick bush.
With an appearance similar to a domestic cat, an African wildcat is a shy, nocturnal animal that hides during the day and hunts at night – mainly in dense bush and long grass making it difficult to spot. It feeds mainly on small rodents, hares, lizards and insects, though it has been known to occasionally kill a small antelope.
Capable of walking long distances at night in search of food, the aardvark is usually found in open savannah landscape near to termite mounds. Using its long 30cm tongue, the aardvark survives off a diet of mainly termites and ants. Seldom seen during the day, this mysterious creature hides itself away, sleeping in burrows, only to emerge at night to begin its foraging.
A fascinating, rare and unique animal, the pangolin is easily identified by their tough scaly bodies and small eyes. These skittish animals are easily spooked and will roll up into a ball if they feel threatened. Nocturnal by nature, pangolins have long sticky tongues which they use to delve into ant and termite mounds when foraging for food.
The large-spotted genet is a small cat-like creature that belongs to the family Viverridae, the same as the civet. A small agile creature, large-spotted genets are nocturnal in nature, hunting for birds, lizards, rodents, snakes and insects. They are agile tree climbers, and are usually found in mixed woodland areas where they can scramble along tree branches.
A solitary nocturnal animal, the African civet is a small, agile mammal found mostly in forested woodland areas. They have perineal glands that produce a fluid known as civet, used to mark territories – this is also used in the perfume industry to create the aromatic base, musk. Civets survive on a diet of rodents, reptiles, insects, eggs, fruit, berries and birds.
The largest rodent found in Africa, the porcupine is well-known for its beautiful black and white quills which they use for protection against predators. The spend most of the day sleeping in communal burrows, and as they are herbivores, they eat the bulbs and roots of plants, as well as berries, fruit and tree bark.
It is on a rare occasion that Bushwise students count themselves lucky to see these secretive animals during a game drive. Hopefully in their career as field guides they may have many more opportunities to see the secret seven!
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