The Wonderful World of Wildlife

Travel Inspiration, Wildlife

If you haven’t noticed from our abundance of photos and videos, here at Unfound Africa, we are passionate about animals. During our time learning about our extraordinary wildlife world, we’ve picked up some amazing and often amusing facts about animals.

Since most of our guests are just as wonderstruck by the animal kingdom as we are, we thought we’d share some of our favourite tidbits that we’ve gathered over our years of travels and wildlife interactions. And if you’re wondering about the names, we have to give credit to Twitter’s #theinternetnamesanimals campaign for those.

Grumpy McSnapface

Well, we just had to start with our favourite animal of course. Turtles date back 240 million years, to the Triassic age. The oldest recorded fossil, from the Pappochelys (grandfather turtle), a semi-aquatic species, predates the first dinosaurs by 10 million years.

Although a 260 million-year-old fossil of the Eunotosaurus africanus was discovered in South Africa, and represents one of the first species to form the evolutionary branch of turtles, it is thought to have been terrestrial, living in the Karoo region.

While we can’t promise you prehistoric turtles, our guests at our quaint Klaarstroom Hotel in the Karoo, often spot leopard tortoises, the second largest species of tortoise in South Africa.

Fun Fact!

Boys are cool. The temperature of the nests is an important factor to define the sex of turtle hatchlings. This is called temperature-dependent sex determination. Studies have shown that if the eggs incubate below 27.7° Celsius, the hatchlings will be male. If the eggs incubate above 31° Celsius, the hatchlings will be female.

Collective noun: A Turn of Turtles

Sabertoothed jungle tuba

Who doesn’t love these big, beautiful beasts? Elephants are revered worldwide as intelligent and empathic and it’s typical for travellers to our mother country to want to clock as many of these endangered Big Five animals as they can on a safari.

They are matriarchal, living in female-led groups, with males moving out of the herd when they become sexually mature, often then leading a solitary life. We frequently observe herds of elephants while on a game drive with our guests staying in Machangulo Nature Reserve. And, of course, our Kruger guests are fortunate to almost be guaranteed elephant sightings. Over 30,000 are thought to reside in Kruger National Park and the surrounding areas.

Fun Fact!

Talk to the foot. Elephants can communicate at auditory frequencies that are well below what humans are capable of hearing. According to geophysicists, elephants produce low-frequency waves that are capable of travelling up to 2.2 kilometres through the ground. It’s thought that they use it to communicate with other herds, who then sense the underground vibrations through special receptors in their feet and trunks.

Collective noun: A Parade of Elephants

Pantless thundergeese

Only in Africa will you find wild ostrich. These birds can boast a wingspan of over two metres, however, this does not aid them in flight. They are actually flightless and their wings serve to help them balance when they are running or defending themselves against predators, and can even help them ‘steer’, to change direction when running.

Unbelievably, they don’t even have the largest avian wingspan in South Africa. The wandering albatross’ wingspan can reach a whopping 3.5 metres and guests have been lucky to spot these birds off Southern Africa’s coast.

Fun Fact!

Ostrich got talent. While you drive the famous Route 66 on your way to Klaarstroom Hotel, you might see ostriches looking like they’re practising for Dancing With The Stars. These dance routines are their courtship displays, where you might spot a male flapping his wings out, squatting down, and waving his neck back and forth.

If a female likes what she sees, she’ll flap her wings backwards, while bending her neck forward, and making a clapping noise with her beak. Not quite as romantic as the Rumba, but certainly a sight to behold.

Collective noun: A Wobble of Ostrich

Sea catsnake

There’s just something so adorable about otters, with their expressive faces and little squeaks. Southern Africa is home to two of the 13 species of otter worldwide and these highly adaptable creatures are happy to live near freshwater rivers and lakes, wetlands, estuaries and marine environments.

Cape clawless otters are periodically spotted on one of the Animal Ocean expeditions for travellers off of Hout Bay’s coast, and it’s always a delightful interaction. It’s a real “aww” moment if you see one hobbling along on 2 or 3 legs while carrying something.

Fun Fact!

Natural born sinkers. When you think of otters, you no doubt picture their sleek movements and Olympic-worthy prowess in the water. However, they are not born with swimming abilities. The pups are taught to swim by their mothers, from the age of around four weeks old.

Collective noun: A Romp of Otters

Danger dolphin

Despite their formidable reputation, sharks are actually a species that we should admire, not fear, as they are vital for the health of our oceans. There are over 500 species of sharks and Southern Africa is home to over 100 of these, including one of the tiniest sharks, the Happy Eddie, or puffadder shyshark, that reaches an average of 60 cm in length.

Shark eco-tourism is a crucial conservation tool in South Africa and Mozambique, and travellers can choose the adrenalin rush of cage diving with impressive white sharks, snorkelling with elegant reef sharks and magnificent whale sharks, and SCUBA diving with docile ragged-tooth sharks or endearing catsharks. Since sharks have been around even longer than turtles, an impressive 455 million years, we should be doing all we can to keep them around.

Fun Fact!

Who run the world? We could go into all the facts that should make sharks way more afraid of you, than you should be of them, such as an estimated 100 million sharks are killed per year by humans, whereas an average of five people are killed by sharks per year globally… but that isn’t so ‘fun’. So here goes…
…did you know that female sharks have been known to reproduce independently? Females that were separated from males in captivity have had pups without mating. This is known as asexual reproduction or parthenogenesis and has been observed in at least two species of sharks. Their shark pups only carried the female’s DNA.

Collective noun: A Shiver of Sharks

Prison pony

There’s nothing more glorious to see on the plains of Africa than the iconic black and white stripes of a herd of zebras. They are beautiful Equidae and native to Africa. Impressively, their stripes are actually unique to each individual, like a snowflake or our fingerprints.

While staying at our Vida Nova Kruger eco-lodge in Marloth Park, odds are high that you’ll get a chance to observe zebras grazing on our lawns. If you’re driving to one of our Machangulo luxury villas in Mozambique, you’ll likely pass dozens of zebras along the way since the trip takes you through both Maputo National Park and Machangulo Nature Reserve.

Fun Fact!

Where’s Waldo? The black & white striped pattern of a zebra’s coat serves a dual purpose. The stripes control body temperature; as the black hair rises, the white hair lies flat, creating convection currents as heat is lost from the skin. Scientists have also observed that the stripes act as a bug-repellant. In the study, far fewer flies landed on the zebras, or horses covered with a striped coat, than those covered with solid coats.

Collective noun: A Dazzle of Zebras

Grabby grabby water balloon

Ever since the success of My Octopus Teacher, filmed right here in South Africa, these endearing animals have caught the attention of people around the world. These eight-tentacled, three-hearted ocean-dwellers are fascinating creatures, who are able to recognise and remember individual humans.

With around 300 species of octopus found across every ocean, it’s worth being on the lookout for them while taking part in ocean activities.

Fun Fact!

Mike Tyson eat your (one and only) heart out. Octopuses are full of personality and it wouldn’t be unusual to witness them punching both friends and foes. It is well documented that octopuses lash out at predators with a one-tentacle strike. However, scientists are baffled as to why they also randomly punch fish they are in alliance with to pursue prey. Just because they can?

Octopuses punch fishes. YES. OCTOPUSES. PUNCH. FISHES!!

Our new paper is out on @ESAEcology, showing that octos express this behavior during collaborative hunting with other fishes. This was probably the most fun I had writing a paper. Ever! (small 🧵)

— Eduardo Sampaio (@OctoEduardo) December 18, 2020

Collective noun: A Tangle of Octopus

Floaty potato

The dugong is part of the Sirenia order of marine mammals and they are affectionately dubbed “sea cows”, along with the more widely known manatees. The nickname derives from its very small brain (less than 1% of its body size!) and slow nature, which we think adds to its adorableness. You can only find these vulnerable animals in warm, shallow waters in the Indo-Pacific region, from East Africa to Australia.

We’re on a mission to look for them in the mangroves near private Mozambique island, Ilha do Fogo. They love munching on seagrasses, and there are fields of their favourite food along the 25 km of this mangrove channel.

Fun Fact!

Have the courage to lose sight of the pretty ladies. Imagine a foggy day, back in the late 15th century. You are the great explorer, Christopher Columbus, and while sailing the choppy seas, you spot three “mermaids” in the water. Given their renowned allure, you are disappointed that they are “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” This is probably because what Mr Columbus actually saw was a group of sea cows! Or so the story goes.

Collective noun: A Herd of Dugong

Formal chicken

It’s the big event…. the red carpet is laid out and the stars are arriving. Well, no animal is more black-tie-ready than the ocean’s most endearing bird. Penguins would look right at home waddling down that red carpet in their black and white garb.

We are fortunate to have a colony of endangered African penguins a short journey away from our Cape Town hotel, along Chapman’s Peak Drive. Just a warning though… you hear them before you see them. There’s no wonder their nickname is the ‘jackass penguin’ but, surprisingly, it did not derive from their personalities. Their calls sound very similar to a donkey’s bray.

Fun Fact!

Stay clear of the snot trajectory zone. Whenever you get a chance to check out the African penguins up close, take a look above their eyes. You’ll see pink glands, which serve as thermoregulators, helping them to cool off on hot days. What you might not be able to see near their eye is the salt gland. Since their kidneys cannot process salt very well, this superorbital gland removes salt from their blood. They then get rid of the salt through their nostrils by sneezing or shaking their head.

Collective noun: A Waddle of Penguins

Leather tank

Last but not least on our list is the “nose horn”. Translated from Greek, we (if you haven’t already guessed) mean the rhinoceros. Two of the world’s five species of rhino live here in Africa, and guests have been lucky to spot both threatened white rhinos and critically endangered black rhinos during game drives in Kruger National Park.

Today’s African rhinos are a fair length shorter than their ancient ancestor, the paraceratherium. This hornless rhino species was around some 30 million years ago and towered over the largest of today’s rhinos. Our white rhinos reach up to 1.8 metres tall, almost a third of the height of the massive 4.9-metre paraceratherium.

Fun Fact!

Let’s talk crap. South African researchers discovered that white rhinos can determine the age, sex, general health, and reproductive status of another rhino, just by sniffing its dung. They also noted that each area’s rhinos seem to have a communal latrine. The researchers think this is linked to the way they communicate with each other.

Collective noun: A Crash of Rhinos

Are you just as wild about wildlife?

These are just some of our most entertaining wildlife facts. Our eco retreats are perfectly located to see all of the animals on our list. You can read more on Southern Africa’s extraordinary animals, including when and where it is best to see them, in our blog.

Do you know an animal fact that you think we’ll love? Please share it with us on our social media pages.

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