The Yellow Zebra Mysterious Five

By Julian 21 September 2015

Ever since the days of the first hunting safaris, the ‘Big Five’ have captured people’s imaginations. These animals were famous for being the five most dangerous to hunt and they became the stars of every safari. The elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo are certainly immense and powerful, and the lion and leopard are undoubtedly fearsome, but they are usually all quite easy to find. Once you have been on a few safaris, the challenge seems to fade and you begin to search for some of the more elusive creatures, lurking in the shadows. Cue the ‘Mysterious Five’…

1. The Aardvark

I suppose it is only fitting that we begin with the animal whose name is the first word in the English dictionary. This name itself is not English, though – it actually comes from the Dutch words for ‘earth pig’. However, this bizarre creature is not related to pigs at all, or even, despite a similar diet, to anteaters for that matter! Aardvarks feed on ants and termites (mostly at night) and can polish off around 50,000 at one sitting. They are accomplished diggers and very important architects of the landscape. Their disused burrows are very useful and are taken over by all manner of other animals, such as warthogs, porcupines, jackals and snakes.

2. The Aardwolf

This is another name derived from Dutch, meaning ‘earth wolf’. The aardwolf is actually more closely related to cats than it is to wolves and it is truly a part of the hyaenidae, the hyena family. It is probably the most specialised carnivore in the world and feeds almost exclusively on one family of harvester termites. Aardwolves don’t dig very much for their food and tend to lap most termites off the surface, aided by an abnormally wide and sticky tongue. As they don’t need sharp teeth for feeding, they have evolved to have tiny pegs. To make up for their lack of bite, they have a very convincing bark and can raise their manes to make themselves look much bigger to predators.

3. The Porcupine

Africa’s largest rodent is covered in a recognisable coat of black and white quills, which keeps it safe from predators. These quills are laid flat against the body when the animal is relaxed, but they can be raised and rattled loudly when there is danger nearby. The porcupine cannot actually shoot its quills, but it can jump backwards to stab them into its attacker. I have seen porcupines being attacked by both lions and leopards – and they have lived to tell the tale many times. Their teeth grow constantly and they are forced to gnaw on bark and even bones to prevent them from becoming too long!

4. The Caracal

This is the largest of Africa’s small cats and is quite similar in size and appearance to the lynx. The caracal’s most distinctive features include its brick-red coat and the black tassels on its ears – from the latter, the animal gets its Turkish name, ‘karakulak’, meaning ‘black ear’. An extremely powerful and agile predator, the caracal has been known to take down prey two or three times its own size and even leap up to three metres in the air to catch birds on the wing. It will sometimes climb trees like a leopard, but it spends most of its time hunting on the ground.

5. The Pangolin

Surely one of the most bizarre looking animals on the planet, the pangolin looks like a dusty pine cone when rolled up into a ball. Pangolins have very strong abdominal muscles, which allow them to roll up tightly and protect themselves from the attention of lions and leopards. The name comes from the Malay word ‘pengguling’, meaning ‘something that rolls up’. Pangolins’ bodies are covered in a coat of overlapping scales, which are made of keratin and are similar in structure to our fingernails. They feed almost exclusively on ants and their long, sticky tongue can be unfurled from deep within their bodies to capture their prey. They also possess very powerful claws on their front feet, which are handy for tearing up ant nests.

If you'd like more information on planning a safari that incorporates any of the YZ 'Mysterious Five', feel free to call us on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected]