February 8, 2011

I was doing an evening drive; it is summer, so at six o’ clock it was still reasonably hot. We have seen the elephants and a rhino earlier on and we were now driving through the fynbos thickets. Usually seeing big animals like that tend to be the climax of the drive, so now it was quiet on the vehicle, everyone just appreciating the scenery and the slight breeze to cool us down.  I was thinking about the bush dinner later on and checking the feathery cirrus clouds above us to make sure they hold no threat of rain that might spoil the occasion.

Lost in my own thoughts I came around a corner into a small open patch. At that moment four furry bodies ameter from the vehicle caught my surprised eyes. It was an aardwolf mother and her three cubs. They must have been sleeping as they were all bundled up on top of one another before we surprised them. They scattered in all directions, except one that trotted off a few paces and arrogantly turned around to look at what disturbed their peace. It was the big female. Three meters away she stared at me for about 5 seconds and then gave an incredible display. Her hair rose high from her shoulders which were deliberately spread apart to make herself look even bigger. She stood almost side on to show off her enlarged body. I knew she was more scared than anything else as this is typical behavior for aardwolf under stress. But I have to give it to her, for something that eats mainly termites, she did look quite impressive.

That made me realize that aardwolf, like many other smaller African wildlife is so underrated. Although classified under the carnivora genera and hyaenidae family along with the mighty strong hyenas, they do not feed on protein from mammals. The skull and teeth structure differ a lot from other canines and has been especially adapted for the diet they prefer. The cheek teeth are much smaller in size and secondly the palate is much broader. They have a full set of incisors and formidable canines, but the rest of the teeth are poorly developed and peg-like. This allows the aardwolf to consume large amount of termites quickly. There is no need for chewing, because the mastication occurs in the pyloric region of the stomach. However, an even more important reason for the reduction in cheek teeth is said to minimize the terpine release when feeding which would be substantially increased if the aardwolf had to chew on soldier termite head capsules.

In all aardwolf is definitely one of the most interesting family members of carnivora genera and although small, rather brave for its size. I cannot help but to feel proud to have these fantastic animals roaming on Gondwana.



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