An Aardvark Surprise

Exploring the banks of a flowing Zebenine River a couple of weeks back, we noticed some fresh claw marks trudging along the road that had been smoothed out by the overnight rain. I asked my tracker Glen what they were, and he told us that they were from one of the most seldom seen creatures in the Timbavati, and indeed the Greater Kruger. They had been made by an aardvark, and very recently. Knowing that this was going to be about as much of an aardvark that we would see, we carried on a little down the road when Glen spotted some freshly excavated sand just off the road. We jumped out to have a look and saw that this was the unmistakable location of an aardvark den. Based on the fresh diggings, and the fact that there was only one set of tracks going into the den, and none coming out, we knew that the aardvark was still inside, which was even more exciting than seeing the tracks!

Arriving back at camp, I went and dug up an old camera trap from the depths of the draws in the office and put some batteries on charge, but sadly, they weren’t charged by the time afternoon drive came around, so I decided to leave it for the next day. Fortunately, the following morning on passing the den, we could see that the fresh diggings suggested that the aardvark had once more returned to the same spot. So, with batteries loaded, I headed out and set up the camera on a small bush and left the den in peace for a day or so.

A couple of days later on our way back to bush breakfast, we stopped off with the guests to check the camera trap and I was amazed to find 9343 pictures had been taken in 24 hours...either this was a very busy aardvark, or I had done something wrong! My error soon became clear when I realised that the bush was just too flimsy to hold a camera trap and the windy conditions caused the poor camera to blow around all day photographing nothing more than a warthog! Luckily though, when night fell, there was still enough memory left to capture the emergence of the animal we so desperately wanted to see...the elusive aardvark (who had a surprisingly early departure time of 19:47pm, and then he returned to the den at 04:20am that morning, just as I was getting out of my bed).

Lesson learnt. I reinstalled the camera, but this time, on a solid piece of wood that I dug into the ground and left the camera to keep on capturing the action. Amazingly, the next night the aardvark exited the den at almost the exact same time (19:48pm), but returned a little earlier the next morning, at 04:03am. My third attempt at setting up the trap failed to capture any activity, but when my first evening off arrived, I decided to still chance my luck and go and sit and wait at the den site to see if he would come out. To say it was a warm day was an understatement, and simply sitting in the dark waiting to see this elusive creature emerge saw me perspiring like I had just done a half-hour work out! Despite the slightly unpleasant conditions, I was prepared to do it, based merely on the fact that I hadn’t seen an aardvark for almost 8 years!!! Their elusiveness comes not so much from the fact that they are not around, but rather because of their hours of activity. Aardvarks are exclusively nocturnal and run around on their own foraging for termites and ants, using their exceptionally powerful claws to dig into the numerous termite mounds dotted across the Tanda Tula Safari Camp concession.Despite the long wait since my last sighting of one after almost an hour of waiting with no joy, we decided to call it a night…but not before installing the camera trap once more.

A couple of days later, I went to retrieve the camera and due to the fact that the burrow wasn’t showing great signs of recent activity, I wasn’t overly excited to check the images...but then I did! Firstly, it would have been a long wait for me on my night’s vigil, as the aardvark only emerged two hours after I left the area. But the most inspiring images came through the next night, when the first emergence from the den was at 01:20am and rather than moving around, the aardvark stayed milling around the burrow for more than an hour! Some of the images showed that my assumption that this aardvark was a male were clearly flawed as I could clearly see teats between her back legs!While scrolling through the pictures I was wondering if perhaps there was a baby around, and eventually, as I scrolled through the series of images of mom digging, sleeping, and walking around, out popped another pair of ears from the burrow, and a little aardvark cub emerged to join mom! Wow, we managed to capture not one, but two aardvarks at the den!!! Sadly, the pair wondered off, and we did not capture any images of the duo returning, but I have kept the camera trap up just in case they do.

What the camera trap has done, is given us an opportunity to learn more about aardvark behaviour and activity in the area. Hopefully providing a rare opportunity to glimpse one of these incredible creatures with our own eyes, and not merely on the computer screen. But for now though, I am still celebrating what the camera trap caught!

Guess we will have to wait and see what the next series of images holds, and you can be sure that we will share them with you!

Tracking an aardvark

Aardvark

Aardvark

Aardvark

Aardvark

Aardvark and cub

 

 

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