As a Field Guide, when you get new guests on your vehicle, it is all about understanding what they want to get from the trip that they've possibly spent a small fortune on. "So Ladies and Gents do we have any special requests for this afternoon's game drive? Anything you would like me to try and look for?"… "LIONS!" would be the reply over 90% of the time…"rhinos! elephants! buffalos! LEOPARDS!" would follow. Now, while I wholeheartedly advise everyone to see the Big Five while they're on safari, the fact is that lions sleep between 20 and 22 hours a day and most of the time just sit there in a heap. What's my point then I hear you cry? My point is, in the veritable Eden of the African bush there is a whole host of supporting actors who often play second fiddle to the bigger, more iconic Big Five players. In this article I am going to try and shine a spotlight on to some of the less well-known animals on safari and where best to see them...
Anyone who knows anything about African wildlife knows the reputation of the fearsome honey badger or ratel. Terrifying stories have circulated of these lightweight bruisers taking down snakes, buffalos and even lions without batting an eyelid. I am here to tell you that they're all probably true. I'm lucky that I've had a lot of experience with honey badgers, including being personally chased out of my kitchen by one. If your guide knows of a decent spot to look for badgers, I would go so far as to say they are the most interesting animal on safari.
Where best to see them? - The Kalahari, Botswana
Also known as the antbear, many people go for years without seeing an aardvark. I can remember the first time I saw one and they are truly amazing. Despite being mostly nocturnal, in certain places at cooler times of the year one can see them relatively regularly scuttling around the bush looking for termites. A massive highlight for anyone who appreciates the weird and wonderful.
Where best to see them? - Samara Game Reserve's dedicated Aardvark Safaris, Eastern Cape, South Africa
The second-smallest antelope in southern Africa, but arguably the most adorable. A lot of people say Dik-Diks don't have a fear of humans as they will often walk right up to your vehicle and smell your tyres with their endearingly twitching nose. Almost always in pairs on kopjes or rocky outcrops in drier areas, these cute little critters will melt your hearts.
Where best to see them? - Damaraland, Namibia
Another personal favourite, these beautiful cats are both elusive and shy. I have only glimpsed one once but it was a jump out of my seat, shout loudly and prevent any chance of the cat returning kind of moment. The scientific name, Caracal caracal, has its origins in Turkish, loosely meaning 'black-eared', referring to the tufts on top of the cat's ears. If you get the chance to watch these felines hunt, pay attention to how high they can jump as they attempt to catch birds right out of the air.
Where to see them? - Addo Elephant Park, South Africa
I don't think any list of interesting and rare animals to see on safari would be complete without reference to the indomitable pangolin. Arguably the rarest of the rare, pangolin are somehow also the most poached and illegally trafficked animal on the planet, prized for traditional medicine and as a fine dining delicacy. These myrmecophagus mammals (big word, I know) are a wonder to watch as they balance on their hind feet using their long, heavy tail as a ballast as they trundle along the savannah.
Where best to see them? - Okonjima Game Reserve, Namibia (while one of the hardest animals to see, Okonjima seem to get lucky!)