The Antbear and the Anteater

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Do you know your Antbear from your Anteater? Aardvark from your Pangolin? Read about more weird and wonderful creatures from the the Kalahari, all seen in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, in a second post from professional safari field guide Brett Horley
Image credits: Brett Horley and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.

Another epic time in the Kalahari is coming to a close. Again I have had a very special time here, just highlighted by the extremely unusual mammals which one has the chance to get a glimpse of in this area. As always the sunsets have been breathtaking, the night skies extraordinary, and with a lot of storms around (but only one actually producing some rain for the parched landscape) we have had amazing lightning shows.

In this blog I just want to talk about two extremely special sightings we have had during my time here. The Pangolin (Scaly Anteater) and the Aardvark (Antbear). These are two creatures which are nocturnal, shy and generally practically impossible to see on a safari. But at Tswalu one does have the chance to actually see them. Although you still need a whole lot of luck. In my previous nine years of guiding and 28 years of being in the “bush” I had seen Aardvark only a handful of times, but have been privileged to double this tally since guiding out here in the Kalahari.

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Last week though we were extremely fortunate, to not only get a glimpse of this odd looking creature but actually view him going about his evenings activity totally undisturbed by our presence. Which was awesome! As we were nearing camp on our night drive tracker “BT” suddenly waved his spotlight around and I knew it had to be something good. There in the light I saw the behind of an Aardvark and motioned the guests to quickly get the binoculars onto it as often they will rush off. This guy though continued slowly ambling away from us, the wind direction was perfect and so seeing him not too bothered by us, we decided to follow him off-road.

As we approached he merely continued in his circling round about way sniffing the ground searching for some termites for dinner. We watched him for over 15 minutes as he searched around a very open area, so we could see him perfectly, admiring his long snout, huge tubular ears, even his claws and hairy nostrils. What a great sighting! We watched him digging exploratory holes searching for a spot with loads of termites. This was an amazing experience to watch this elusive animal going about his business, without so much as even looking at us. As he passed very near our vehicle for the last time, we left him to continue on his way. High-fives all round we continued on our way for our own dinner.

So that was the first of the two huge ticks on the safari checklist. The Pangolin, or Scaly Anteater, was an animal which evaded me for seven years of guiding and I started to think that I would never actually see one and that maybe the creature was actually just a myth. I will never forget the first time I ever saw one, certainly a highlight in my guiding career. I did manage to see another one in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve a year later.During my time here at Tswalu, we have twice found the tracks of the pangolin (this was my first time to actually see the tracks for sure). We had tracked these two individuals but with no luck.

So late last Saturday evening on a night drive, the call came over the radio of a Pangolin having been found. We could see the lights of the other vehicle where they had found it and so raced over (a Kalahari Ferrari Safari!) to have a look. There were only three of us out as it was after 9pm, so we congregated around the little guy who had now rolled up in a ball, his extremely useful defensive mechanism, obviously because of all the attention around him. We admired this odd little creature, his hard protective scales, also long powerful claws for digging and his funny little feet.

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At this time we also alerted the conservation team even though it was now after 10 o’clock at night, who immediately gathered their equipment and headed over to where we were. As we stood around quietly, in order to try as little to disturb him as possible, the little guy (it was a young female, we would later find out) started to uncurl herself. It was extraordinary to see this animal for only my third time ever, as she slowly stuck her head and snout out. We could see the hairs around the eyes and ears to keep sand out. She then steadied herself and began strolling about. Extraordinary to see how these things walk. On the two hind legs, body weight balanced out by the long tail. Front feet retracted up to the chest almost in a praying manner. Everyone was on a high!!

If you would like to visit the Kalahari to see these unusual creatures, then try our Tswalu 4 Night Safari promotion. Includes free return flights from Cape Town or Joburg and various other amazing value adds.

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