We love seeing all kinds of animals in the wild, from the ‘common’ impala (sometimes called the McDonald’s of the bush: a snack on every corner) to majestic lions and elephants. But there are some animals that are extremely special to spot on safari; even experienced guides will be fortunate to spot these. Here are five of the creatures you should count yourself very lucky to catch sight of on your next safari.
Pangolins may seem unassuming, but they happen to be the world’s most illegally trafficked animal. Why? Because of the scales that cover their bodies. These are made of the same material of rhino horn – keratin – which is used in Chinese medicine. It’s worth noting that keratin is also what makes up our fingernails and hair. Fortunately, there are groups dedicated to protecting the African pangolins (of which there are four kinds) and although they are nocturnal and very elusive, it is still possible to spot these special creatures on a safari.
You will need a lot of luck, but certain places are better for seeing them than others. Tswalu Kalahari, in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, is known for its pangolins and guests who are determined to see one can spend an evening tracking them.
Another nocturnal animal, the aardvark lives all over sub-Saharan Africa, but is solitary and hard to spot in the wild. These animals are unusual looking, with snouts, a long tail and big, rabbit-like ears. They live in burrows and eat ants and termites, which they dig up with their sizable claws.
Head to Samara Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Karoo region for a rare chance to see aardvarks in the daytime during winter.
The aardwolf is in the hyena family, but, unlike its more famous relatives, it only eats insects. The name means ‘earth wolf’ in Afrikaans and it lives in sub-Saharan shrublands. Like the aardvark, aardwolves live in burrows and are nocturnal, which is largely what makes them a challenge to spot. However, they are not solitary, living instead in monogamous pairs.
Open bushland presents the most opportunities for seeing an aardwolf in the wild; for such an environment, head to Etosha National Park in Namibia.
Don’t be fooled by their appearance: honey badgers are incredibly vicious and have been known to attack anything from lions to game vehicles. Their skin is super thick, which helps protect them when taking on predators, as does a serious bite and large claws. Their name comes from their love of honey and they will use tools such as sticks to access hives. Though they are not exactly shrinking violets, honey badgers are hard to spot because they are solitary and have large ranges. As such, sparse areas, such as the Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans, offer the best chances to see them.
The serval or ‘bush cat’ is one of many elusive, little-known cats of Africa (others include African wild cats, caracals and the black-footed cat). With long legs for leaping, the serval grows to about three metres and feasts on birds and insects. They also have the largest ears of any cat. It’s possible to spot them in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, though – as with all the rare animals on this list – you’ll need a lot of luck.
Have you seen any of these rare animals on your travels?