The secret seven of Sabi Sabion Jun 07, 2018
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve is an extraordinarily game rich oasis, fortunate enough to have unfenced internal borders both within the Sabi Sand Reserve and the world renowned Kruger National Park. Travellers from across the globe are drawn to this natural wilderness with its multitude of wildlife, to spend time seeking out the wonders of the African bushveld – both fauna and flora. Known for our exceptionally trained and skilled Rangers and Trackers, Sabi Sabi is the perfect choice for those visitors seeking unique, close up encounters with members of the animal kingdom. Whilst the Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino) are some of the most sought after viewing experiences, there is a group of mysterious, mostly nocturnal creatures, nicknamed the ‘Secret 7’, which are recognised as possibly being the most challenging animals to locate. Their elusive lifestyle provides limited clues on their whereabouts, activities and in some instances even their lifespan.
This is a slender, medium sized animal that takes long leaps through thick grass and underbrush, as it hunts for rodents, small birds, frogs and insects, both by day and at night. These cats are fairly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, and are solitary, anti-social creatures. Servals have the longest legs and the largest ears of any cat relative to their body size. A coat in shades of tan is richly marked in black and brown spots and stripes. Cautious in their environment, these elegant felines are regarded as some of the best hunters in the cat world, using their dish shaped ears and ultrasonic hearing to tune into the high-pitched communication of rodents.
AFRICAN WILD CAT
This solitary cat is widespread across Africa, found in many different locations. Mainly a nocturnal hunter, it is opportunistic and will also hunt in the early morning or late afternoon. Although they generally hunt on the ground, this species is also an excellent climber. The African Wild Cat is an ancestor of the domestic cat, often interbreeding with the domestic variety, and is distinguished by its very long front legs, rich reddish-brown colour on the backs of the ears, belly and back legs, and its gait, which more closely resembles a cheetah than a cat. Due to its genetic integrity being threatened, it is becoming more and more rare to come across a pure bred African Wild Cat.
Endemic to South Africa, the Large-spotted Genet is hard to find and communicates through olfactory senses. Also a mainly solitary cat, genets only congregate during the mating season. They have an elongated body, with a long, whitish-grey ringed tail with a black tip. A dorsal stripe of long, black hairs run across the spine from shoulders to tail that stand up when agitated. Birds, bats, millipedes, centipedes and even scorpions are caught with partially retractable claws by this omnivore that also enjoys eating fruit. Genets groom themselves in the same way as cats, but are not related to felines.
Another mysterious omnivore is the Civet, greyish in colour with black spots and a black band around the eyes that gives a Raccoon-like appearance. There are at least 12 different mammal species including the mongoose which are related to Civets. The African Civet is quite famous for its musky territorial marking scent. This secretion which is produced in the perineal glands of both males and females, is highly prized in perfumery. Rarely known facts about civets include that they are good swimmers, and are able to attack venomous snakes. With 40 sharp teeth and a strong jaw, civets predominantly use their teeth and mouth to gather food.
Ears resembling a rabbit, a pig-like snout, a tail that looks like it belongs to a giant rat or a kangaroo plus 4 toes on the front feet and 5 on the back, each ending in a shovel shaped nail, this is one strange looking species. The Aardvark, or African Antbear, had its name directly translated from Afrikaans into English as Earth Pig – “Aard” meaning Earth, and “Vark” meaning pig. Relatives of this peculiar creature include shrews and moles. It is a nocturnal, insectivorous animal, using its powerful claws to dig burrows. With a long, sticky tongue to lap up its diet of ants and termites and “spades” at the ends of its toes, the aardvark will dig into termite mounds and syphon up thousands of ants at a sitting.
When you are considered a delicacy to lion and leopard, then it is best to have a coat of quills as protection sharp enough to impale a predator. Many a young lion cub has been taught a good lesson by trying to play with porcupines. Porcupines are the largest (and prickliest) rodents in Africa and feast on bark, roots, fruits and berries.
On the list of the ‘Secret 7’, the Pangolin is the most threatened species and is near extinction. Tragically, it is the most trafficked animal in the world, poached partly for meat, but largely due to a false belief of the medicinal properties of the scales that cover the pangolin’s body like an armoured shell. It is the only mammal on earth covered in keratin scales, and curls itself into a near-impenetrable ball covering its face as well when threatened. Insects are slurped up with a tongue that is longer than the pangolin’s body, and covered in sticky saliva. This incredible animal has no teeth, and swallows small stones while eating to assist with the digestive process. They are good swimmers, but have poor vision – relying mostly on their sense of smell and hearing to hunt and for protection.
Six out of the ‘Secret 7’ are solitary, and most appear only when the sun starts to set. It is a rare occurrence and a great privilege to be in the presence of these unique animals while out on safari.