Aardvark [Orycteropus afer]
The aardvark is a small pig-like animal that stands 60cm at shoulder height and has a body length of 110cm. The aardvark’s skin varies between greyish-pink and brownish-grey with yellow hair that has a very coarse texture. The hide of the aardvark is very thick in order to protect the aardvark from insects. A notable feature of the aardvark is that its small, stocky body has a naturally high arch in its back.
The aardvark is equipped with two very powerful sets of legs that are covered in dark fur. The front feet of the aardvark have long claw-like nails on its front four digits and slightly shorter claws on the hind feet. The thick fore claws of the aardvark are used for digging open termite and ant hills.
The thick muscular tail of the aardvark goes to a point at the end. An interesting feature of the aardvark is its teeth. The teeth of an aardvark are much fewer than most mammals and are found at the back of the jaw, but only in adults. Like rats, aardvarks’ teeth never stop growing. Their teeth, unlike most mammals, aren’t attached to their jaw and have evolved to be very flat, peg-like objects that have no roots and unlike other mammals, their teeth are covered in cement, not enamel.
The aardvarks main diet consists of ants, termites and other insects. They are nocturnal feeders that travel between various and nests to find food. Aardvarks can travel an average of 16km in search of food. Its long protrusible tongue is covered in a thick and sticky saliva that it uses to catch ants and termites in small openings and also sweeps its tongue along the ground. Interestingly, aardvarks also have a liking in melons.
Aardvarks have no mating season and their gestation period lasts about 6 to 7 months and only one offspring is born. When born, aardvark young are pinkish in skin colour and completely hairless. The young remain in the safety of the burrow for about 2 months where after they accompany their mother outside. The young are able to eat solid food from the age of 3 months and are slowly weaned in 7 months. Aardvarks reach sexual maturity at about 2 or so years old. Aardvarks are rare finds on Kruger Park Safaris.
The aardvark is a nocturnal animal that primarily lives a solitary life. They enjoy sunbathing near the safety of their burrows. As mentioned, aardvarks are burrowing animals. They use their thick front claws to break and loosen the earth and their back claws to scoop out the ground and move it out of the way. The creation of burrows gives a few benefits to the aardvark, namely safety against predator and weather, shelter and a place to raise their young. Like the prey they eat, aardvarks’ burrows can be long and have multiple chambers and entrances. When an aardvark deserts its burrow, other animals like jackals and warthogs use it for shelter. Though aardvarks have bad eyesight they have very good hearing and are excellent swimmers. When an aardvark gets threatened it makes bleating and grunting sounds.
Aardvarks can be found in areas that have a good source of food and that have soft soil like open forests, Savannah and grassland areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, which are places people can go on a Kruger safari. Aardvarks tend to avoid areas that are dry and that are very rocky for reasons that their bad eyesight can lead them to dangerous areas.