Day 197: The Aardvark

Noah sees the first animal in the dictionary.

July 16, 2015: Wakkerstroom, South AfricaLast night, after we saw the leopard, most of our Rockjumper group went on a night drive at Kruger National Park. Night drives are strictly controlled here; you’re absolutely not allowed to go out on your own after dark, and even the official park drives must return by 10 p.m. The rest of the night, guards patrol for poachers, and they don’t want anyone else out there to mess up the patrols.

For our night drive, we climbed aboard an open-air safari truck with tall sides and set out with spotlights for two hours. Our driver, a very polite man named Aubrey, gave us some advice up front: Antelope eyes glow orange; bird eyes glow red; and cat eyes glow green. Orange eyes that leap from tree to tree are bush babies, and big groups of eyes are impala. “Concentrate on the eyes,” he said.

Things started well when we found an African civet, a type of spotted and striped, black-and-white cat-like creature, and in the next two hours, we stopped for several other animals including elephants and rhinos at a waterhole and a Fiery-necked Nightjar perched on a log. But the big surprise came a few minutes later when Wayne suddenly yelled, “Stop! There’s an aardvark!”

The aardvark, besides being the first real word in most English dictionaries, is a very strange animal which is found throughout southern Africa but is seldom seen for its nocturnal and secretive habits. It eats ants and termites by digging them out of their nests and looks like no other beast on this Earth, with an armadillo-like profile and long snout. Aubrey said that in the seven years he’s been at Kruger, this was just the second aardvark he’d seen. It seems our good luck continues!

This morning, after three days in Kruger, we sadly bid adieu to the park and headed south. Over the next few days we’ll see some very different habitats in eastern South Africa, beginning with highland grasslands tomorrow at Wakkerstroom. At Kruger the birding has been fantastic though I’ve been a bit distracted by all these other animals, too. It will be interesting to compare this South African safari to the mega-safaris of the Serengeti when I arrive in East Africa in August.

New birds today: 14

Year list: 3597

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