Creatures of the Night: Four Fascinating Nocturnal Species You’d Be Lucky to See on Safari

If you’re looking for a way to take your African safari wildlife viewing experience to the next level, many wildlife reserves are now offering wildlife night drives where you have a chance of seeing nocturnal animals that are rarely spotted during the day. Evening wildlife drives are a truly incredible experience, whether you catch a glimpse of those elusive nocturnal animals or not. Beneath a beautiful night sky drenched in stars, half the fun is in the adventure of the search!  Here are four of those nocturnal species you’d be lucky to spot on a night-time drive.

1. Aardwolf

By by Dkaeuferle = Dominik Käuferle [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

This strange creature is a member of the hyena family. Unlike it’s much bigger cousins, the brown, striped, and spotted hyenas, the aardwolf doesn’t hunt large animals or scavenge. Instead it eats insects, mainly termites and insect larvae.

Where to See Them: Dry open bushland across large swaths of  southern and eastern Africa. Try Etosha National Park in Namibia or Tswalu Kalahari private game reserve in South Africa.

Chances of Seeing One: Fair. Though they are listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and their numbers have not diminished by much, they are skittish and tend to avoid humans.

Fun Fact: An aardwolf can consume up to 250,000 termites per night using its sticky tongue.

2. Aardvark

Photo credit @frontiergap via Instagram.

This strange creature feeds mostly on ants and termites. Its name comes from an old Afrikaans dialect and means “earth pig” or “ground pig,” which is fitting given the aardvark’s habit of hiding in deep underground burrows during the day and using its powerful forelimbs to tear into termite mounds at night.

Where to See Them: Aardvarks can be found in a wide variety of habitats across sub-Saharan Africa where ants and termites can be found in great abundance, including savanna, grassland, woodland, and bushland. Search for aardvark in the semi-arid plains of the Great Karoo in South Africa.

Chances of Seeing One: In spite of their wide range and the fact that they are not considered endangered, it is highly unusual to see an aardvark in the wild. Like many other nocturnal species they tend to be secretive and shy and avoid humans.

Fun Fact: Taxonomically speaking, the aardvark belongs to a superorder known as Afrotheria that  includes the elephant, the tiny rodent-like hyrax, the dugong and manatee. They are not closely related to ant eaters or pangolins, as is commonly believed.

3. Pangolin

There are four species of pangolin (also known as the scaly anteater) in Africa and four in Asia. They are covered in hard, overlapping scales that make them look more like artichokes than mammals and provide protection against predators.

Where to See Them: Pangolins can be found across much of sub-Saharan Africa, though their range is shrinking due to deforestation and human encroachment. Keep your eyes peeled for pangolins in the Namiri Plains area of Tanzania’s east-central Serengeti region.

Chances of Seeing One: Africa’s pangolins are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, though their numbers are diminishing quickly thanks to the growing demand in Asia for pangolin scales and meat. They are nocturnal, extremely shy and, as a result, are rarely seen by humans.  Many safari guides consider a pangolin sighting the holy grail of all of Africa’s wildlife encounters for this reason.

Fun Fact: The scales of a pangolin are made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails. Pangolin are the only mammal with this adaptation.

4. Bushbaby

By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Thick-tailed Bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

At least 20 different species of Bushbabies (also  known as Galagos), can be found across Africa. They all have large eyes and live in trees and are known for emitting loud, haunting cries.

Where to See Them: Bushbabies can be found in the forests and woodlands of 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya,Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mocambique, Transvaal and Swaziland. Bushbabies can be seen on night drives in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

Chances of Seeing One: Most bushbaby species are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Their loud piercing cries and bright reflective eyes make it a bit easier to spot then the first three nocturnal species on this.

Fun Fact: Bushbabies are the smallest primates in the entire continent of Africa.

Have you seen any of these animals in the wild? Tell us about your sightings in the Comments below!

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