The African wilderness is full of amazing creatures roaming free through the flatlands, savannah and bush. Wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes and many people are preoccupied with seeing the bigger animals, particularly the Big 5. But there are an entire plethora of adorable, little creatures which are often overlooked in search of the bigger mammals. Two of these little critters are the bat-eared fox and the meerkat.
The bat-eared fox takes its name from the large ears perched atop its head. The little things are active at night and live in monogamous pairs. A kit of bat-eared pups usually can be made up of anything from one to five little ones. The couple will raise the pups together. The foxes’ diet includes grasshoppers, termites, small birds, eggs, lizards and fruit. They search for food in groups. The group keeps its ears to the ground while they hunt so that they can pick up the underground movement of insects.
The foxes have excellent hearing and are good at digging out prey. They make their own dens to live in, but will normally just take up an old den that has been abandoned by animals like the aardvark. It has a peculiar mannerism of turning quickly on the spot and for this reason it has also been given the Afrikaans name “draaijakkals” (turn jackal). Their predators in the wild are hyenas and big birds of prey. As can be expected, human beings are enemies too. Dogs on farms sometimes mistake them for jackals. The latter invade farms and consequently harm livestock.
Another cute little critter is the meerkat. It is also known as a suricate and forms part of the mongoose family. It is a funny-looking creature and people will be quite familiar with it, as it was part of the comic relief in the Disney movie The Lion King, namely: Timon. Meerkats are gregarious and the groups they live in are called mobs. A collection of mobs is known as a community. Hawks and eagles are some of their main predators. To avoid capture from these large birds, meerkats assign lookouts which give out shrieks to warn the others of danger.
Once the rest of the group has taken shelter, a few will stay behind to protect the rest of the group. Mobs consist of alpha and beta meerkats. The alphas are the leaders and the rest of the group, along with the young, are known as the betas. Infant meerkats are called pups, just like little bat-eared foxes. Meerkats are matriarchal animals and the alpha female picks the alpha male. Unlike bat-eared foxes, they are active during the day and they mainly eat lizards, birds, insects, fruit and scorpions. Meerkats are immune to the poison in the latter. Their burrows, where they live, form a complex underground system of tunnels which serve as protection from predators and the hot sun.
Safaris offer a diverse range of experiences encompassing various forms of African wildlife. There are so many animals to see and the foxes and meerkats are not the last of them. Other smaller creatures includes mongooses and jackals. Then of course there are the big mammals which everyone talks about the most – not only the Big 5, but also hippos, giraffes and zebras. Needless to say, no matter what your preferences are there will be something to delight everyone.