A is for Aardvark

Aardvark sniffing the air for the scent of ants. Photo Etienne Oosthuizen, Samara Private Game Reserve
Aardvarks are right up there with unicorns when it comes to being mystical and elusive. Across most of South Africa, you might see signs of them in the morning. A hole here, a raided anthill there, a deep burrow somewhere else.

But the perpetrator is seldom in evidence. Or if it is, there is only a blurred night-time photograph to show for it.

The Karoo, though, seems to specialise in great aardvark sightings, especially at Samara Private Game Reserve between Graaff-Reinet and Pearston.

The aardvark seemed quite unafraid. Photo by Etienne Oosthuizen, Samara Private Game Reserve.

Samara field guide Etienne Oosthuizen was bemused to find an aardvark pottering around the staff quarters. Not just at night, either.

“I struggled to believe that I was actually photographing an aardvark in broad daylight, at eye level. This was surely impossible….

“The two or three hours I spent walking and stalking this individual with my camera, I was surprised by its calmness. It would walk right up to me, as long as I was still. So I would position myself ahead of it as it sniffed the ground.

The aardvark paused to eat a few ants. Photo by Etienne Oosthuizen, Samara Private Game Reserve

“It stopped to dig a small hole to feed on the termites or ants that came rushing out. It allowed me an opportunity to see its front feet, which tore into the hard Karoo ground as if it was loose sand.”

Aardvarks seem to dig homes for half of the animals in the Karoo and Kalahari.

This underground life ensures survival – cool and dark in the heat of summer, warm and protected at night.  In fact, a total of around 17 animals use aardvark holes for living quarters, including foxes, genets, springhares, meerkats, ground squirrels and mongooses.

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