The Night of the Aardvark

Roy John travelled on our 'South Africa's Rare Mammals' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Aardvark, South Africa (John Davies)

We were travelling with Naturetrek in northern South Africa. We had driven from Johannesburg to Kimberley and settled in to a converted farmstead; a very comfortable B&B with a charming hostess. The previous night we had driven to a private farm to look for nocturnal creatures (no activity is allowed in many of the national parks after sunset so Naturetrek had organised our evening drives on private land). We were happy to see some night animals – Bat-eared Fox, Scrub Hare and Wildcat, but it had been very windy and, as it poured with rain, it was not as successful as we had wished.

Our Naturetrek brochure described that we had a ‘chance to see’ Aardwolf, Aardvark and ‘if very lucky’ a South African Hedgehog. We had already learned the previous night that our trip leaders, Toby and Jason, were really competent and professional. From them we knew these species were tough to find especially when Toby told us he had only seen one Hedgehog in his life. As we set off we had high hopes as the second night was warm, dry and almost windless.

This evening we travelled in two safari vehicles. When we arrived on the savannah we were surprised to see the other vehicle parked and its passengers were on foot with flashlights in hand. The national parks do not permit you to leave your vehicle, but this was private land so that restriction did not apply here. However, I questioned the prudence of wandering in a land famed for its ‘Big Five’. Our truck pulled up alongside the group and saw they had found a grapefruit-sized black and grey ball of prickles in their beam of lights – a Hedgehog. After they turned most of their lights off this tiny bundle unrolled and revealed his handsome black face framed in white. After photographing the little creature we resumed our drive and within minutes the driver spotted another Hedgehog. Later we saw a third! Amazingly, three sightings of Hedgehogs in one night! I think we were indeed very fortunate.

A little later I heard the diver say very quietly: ‘Aardvark’. Did he say Aardvark? The passengers behind me said it was in front of the truck and I stood up and saw a strange creature that looked like one of Steven Spielberg’s creations from another planet. In the spotlight it was pinkish colour, and sported big vertical ears and a long, pig-like, blunt nose. This mammal, having the build of a mid-sized dog, ran with unexpected speed. The driver kept pace and allowed us to watch this bizarre-looking mammal for several minutes. Finally it swerved to the right and ran off into the darkness.

The driver muttered ‘Aardvark' again and there was a second animal. I looked back and saw the rear of the first Aardvark off to the side of the vehicle. There were indeed two Aardvarks. During the rest of the night we saw three more – an unprecedented ‘five Aardvarks’ night! We could hardly contain our excitement!

But we were not done yet! The cry ‘Aardwolf' rang out and there, in the spotlight, was a long-legged, elegant animal. Its fur was fine with a silky lustre which rippled as it trotted along. It had delicate stripes along its side and a lovely bushy tail. Our guide spotted a second animal, then a third. By the end of the night we had seen five Aardwolves! Unprecedented!

It was our night for fives as we also saw five Crested Porcupines, as well some Spring Hare, Cape Hare and Scrub Hare. Our last mammal sighting was a great view of a South African Wildcat. Just before we reached the farmhouse we stopped to view a Spotted Eagle Owl sitting on a fence post alongside the track. So our ‘chance to see’ and ‘if very lucky’ had been a resounding success with ‘herds’ of Aardvarks, Aardwolves and hedgehogs.

Definitely a night to recall with delight.

Read more about our 'South Africa's Rare Mammals' holiday.

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