The ground squirrels at Mata-Mata Rest Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa provided endless hours of amusement with their antics – from acrobatics, to wrestling to rugby moves! Maureen Gibson managed to catch some of their wrestling-like moves to share with us. Enjoy the photographs as we provide some facts about these ground-dwelling mammals.
The squirrels found in the Kgalagadi are Cape ground squirrels (Xerus inauris), and are found in most of the drier parts of southern Africa from South Africa, through to Botswana, and into Namibia.
Cape ground squirrels have black skin, and are covered in coarse, short hair. You will notice that on the side of their body they have a white stripe that runs from their shoulders down to their thighs.
Fortunately these squirrels are diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day, so you stand a pretty good chance of seeing them going about their daily foraging. Their diet mainly consists of bulbs, fruits, grasses, herbs, insects and shrubs.
Ground squirrels can be quite noisy, using vocalisations to communicate with one another. Depending on the situation (be it mothers with their babies, or males competing against each other), you will hear growls, chirps, squeaks, and a range of pitched alarm calls to warn each other of a threat (the greater the threat, the higher the pitch; the lesser the threat, the lower the pitch).
In terms of living arrangements, female ground squirrels live in social groups that consist of 1-4 adult females with their offspring (along with a maximum of nine sub-adults of either sex). The adult males, however, live separately from the females in groups of up to 19 individuals and have a strict hierarchy according to age (the females have no social hierarchy). Physical fights do happen between the males, and these involve leaping displays that cause no injuries.