Have you seen South Africa’s Secret Seven?

Have you seen South Africa’s Secret Seven?

If you love spending time in the bush, you’ve probably seen the Big Five of South African wildlife. But if you really want to prove your bush credentials, you have to spot the Secret Seven in the wild.

South Africa is renowned for its wildlife and visitors come from all over the world to see animals like the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo). But not many nature lovers manage to track down the Secret Seven. These animals are shy and elusive, blending into the bush or hiding out during daylight hours. Have you got what it takes to spot them?
 

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Serval

As the sun starts dipping low over the horizon, it becomes time for you to scan the long grass for signs of movement. You’re looking for an elegant cat with a yellow coat covered in black dots and dashes. The serval is a stealthy hunter and the tallest of the smaller wild cats. You might mistake this elegant cat for a cheetah at first glance, but the serval is noticeably smaller, with big ears and a short tail. From late afternoon and through the night until late morning, servals are out on the prowl. They hunt by pouncing on their prey in an arching leap or snatching a bird straight from the air.
Where to look for them Kruger National Park

 

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Aardvark

There’s no mistaking this animal with its pale skin, pig-like snout and long bunny ears. The aardvark is one of a kind, from its strong, sturdy legs that finish in claws to its long, sticky tongue that slurps up ants by the dozen. Aardvark look for food by night, using their well-developed sense of smell to sniff out ants and termites. With their powerful legs they can excavate a metre of tunnel in five minutes. These animals dig complex burrows that extend 6 metres down – abandoned aardvark holes provide shelter for 18 different mammal species.
Where to look for them Addo Elephant National Park

 

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Pangolin

With its armour of bronze scales, the ground pangolin looks practically invincible. The sad reality is that this mammal is threatened in the wild. Worldwide the eight species of pangolin represent the most trafficked animal on Earth. Like aardvark, pangolins have a taste for ants and termites. They use their claws to scratch open termite heaps and lick up the insects with their sticky, long (25-40cm) tongue. Pangolins are solitary creatures that venture out at dusk, so your best chance of seeing one may be on a guided sunset game drive.
Where to look for them Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

 

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African wild cat

Don’t confuse this feisty feline with a domestic tabby. The African wild cat is fierce enough to survive in the wild, hunting down mice and doves for its meals and evading predators like leopard. The wild cat’s coat of sandy grey with darker markings helps it blend into scrubby bush. At night and in the early mornings the African wild cat stalks its prey in a low crouch, rushing forward to pounce when the moment is right. By day the cat lies up in holes, burrows and rock crevices, waiting until the time is right to hunt again.
Where to look for them Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

 

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Porcupine

This animal with its trademark black-and-white quills is seldom seen. That’s because porcupines usually venture out only under cover of darkness. They may look dangerous, but porcupines are mostly vegetarian, preferring a diet of plant bulbs, roots and tubers. It’s a myth that porcupines shoot out their quills, but they do use these stiff spines in self-defence. If a porcupine finds itself cornered, it raises its quills before running sideways or backwards into the attacker. It’s no fun having several sharp quills stuck in the face or paw, so predators think twice before messing with Africa’s biggest rodent.
Where to look for them Karoo National Park, Kruger National Park

 

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African civet

The masked bandit of the African bush may remind you of the North American raccoon. Like the raccoon, the African civet has a black band around the eyes and a striped tail. But the civet’s coat is unique: each animal’s collection of dark brown or black stripes, spots and blotches against a pale background is particular to that individual. The civet scales trees better than a cat burglar, has a knack for disappearing into the undergrowth and ventures abroad mainly at night. No wonder this shy animal is so rarely spotted. If you dream of seeing civet, your best bet is to keep your eyes peeled for movement from sunset onwards. Civet sometimes visit rest camps, so you may be in luck.
Where to look for them Kruger National Park

 

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Large spotted genet

You’d be forgiven if you mistook this spotted tree dweller for a civet. Both animals usually come out only after dark and with their spotted coats they look like kin. But look more closely, the large spotted genet has a longer tail and doesn’t sport the bandit’s mask of the African civet. It looks like a slim cat but has larger ears and a pointy face. Genets are good tree climbers although they tend to find their food on the ground. They hunt mainly for insects and small rodents, but will also eat fruit. Because of their nocturnal habits genets aren’t readily seen. Keep your eyes trained on the treetops and you might just be in luck.
Where to look for them Garden Route National Park

 
Want to go game viewing?
The Wild Card is your passport to more than 80 protected areas in South Africa and Swaziland. A year’s membership gives you 365 days’ access – plenty of opportunities to search for the Secret Seven and other animals.

 

 
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