Africa’s geographic diversity has provided sanctuary for the world’s most amazing animals, some of which have evolved in truly unique directions. There are those that continue to steal the spotlight, and there are those elusive, funny-looking creatures that are just aching for attention. The stuff of legends, the latter are often overlooked.
When on an African safari, you might be tempted to run after iconic species like the Big Five. I’m here to tell you to look beyond touristy attractions, as that is where Africa’s true charm lies. So here’s a list of Africa’s most bizarre, out of this world animals and where to find them.
10. The Colobus Monkey
Photo by Eric Kilby
Widespread in Africa’s equatorial regions and a great addition to Africa’s wildlife, the colobus monkey is not getting half the publicity it deserves. Its name, colobus, means “mutilated” in Greek, and there’s a good reason for it – these monkeys have no thumbs, an adaptation that helps them move around trees faster.
Photo by Gopal Vijayaraghavan
They are excellent acrobats, jumping from one branch to the other, taking incredible leaps as high as 50 ft (15 m) into the air. Their lengthy tail, longer than their bodies, helps them keep balance. The long hair on their back acts as a parachute, slowing them down when they reach a branch. Black-and-white Colobus monkeys are native to 15 African countries, and live in all types of closed forests – coastal forests, inland, high-country, mountain forests, gallery forests, and rarely come down from trees.
9. The Shoebill
Serious and big-nosed. That’s the shoe-billed stork, also known as Whalehead or simply shoebill. You guessed it: its name comes from its huge shoe-shaped beak. And that’s not the only thing that’s big about it. In fact, this strange bird seems completely out of proportion. It can grow up to 5 ft (1.5 m) tall and 4 ft (1.2 m) long and has massive feet. Not to mention it looks like a living relic from prehistoric times.
Despite being called a stork, it is more related to pelicans and herons. The shoebill lives in tropical swamps, marshes and wetlands in Eastern Africa, from southern Sudan to Zambia. No wonder it earned itself the nickname of Africa’s swamp king. Unfortunately, it is a vulnerable species, with only 8,000 left in the wild, and the best place to see it in action remains Zambia’s Bangweulu Wetlands.
8. The Honey Badger
Photo by Steven Tan
Don’t be fooled by its appearance. These creatures are violent, to say the least, a good example that size and looks do not matter. With a nasty temper, honey badgers are eager to pick a fight. They attack lions, buffaloes, even humans. Their bite is so powerful they can repel a lion attack, yet their key strength remains their endurance. During a fight, they can hold their position for far longer than their opponent, thus wearing down large animals.
Photo by Mark Bridge
With a wide habitat tolerance, honey badgers can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are primarily carnivorous but, as the name suggests, they are suckers for honey. They find hives by following the tweets of a bird called the honey guide, which is attracted to honey. They are pretty handy with tools too, as they have been observed to use sticks, stones, and logs to obtain honey. In fact, they are considered one of the most intelligent animals on the planet.
7. The Bush Viper
Nobody would want to come across this little fellow at night when it comes out to hunt. A carnivore predator lurking in the trees of Western and Central Africa’s tropical forests, the bush viper spends its days basking in the sun on top of flowering bush plants.
This bizarre snake comes in many bright colors, as it adapts to the surroundings to camouflage itself. With unusually big eyes, head that is larger than its neck and covered in scales, it seems straight from outer space. Bush vipers prefer regions far from human settlements. Quite venomous, their bite can prove fatal to humans as there is no antivenom.
6. The Aye-Aye
Photo by Frank Vassen
What are your first thoughts upon looking at these creatures? Miniature Yodas? They may not seem like it, but these are primates, related to chimps, apes and to us humans. Native to the island of Madagascar, the bushy tail of an aye-aye is longer than its body. These nocturnal primates have large eyes and ears and live in rainforest trees, and avoid coming down at all costs.
Photo by Nomis-Simon
Aye-ayes are the only primates that use echolocation – using sound waves to determine the position of objects in space, like bats). Another method they use to find food is tapping on trees with their long middle finger and listening for insects moving under the bark. They use the same finger to fish them out.
5. The Dik-Dik
Photo by Sergey Yeliseev
These miniature antelopes are so cute and cuddly you will be tempted to take one home with you. They are only 14 in (35.6 cm) tall and weigh about 6 lbs (2.7 kg). They are probably smaller than your dog!
Dik-diks live in dry bushlands in Eastern and Central Africa such as Congo, you can imagine they have many predators. They’re an easy target, which is why they prefer habitats with tall vegetation. Despite their size, they’re pretty fast – reaching speeds of up to 26 miles/hour (42 km/h). By now you are probably wondering where their name comes from, right? When they feel threatened, they run in zig-zag patterns, whistling through their noses and making a “dik-dik” noise.
Photo by Mathias Appel
4. The Lowland Streaked Tenrec
These cute little creatures live only in rainforests and scrubland in eastern Madagascar. Covered in yellow spines, used as camouflage as well as for defense, with a long snout, these mammals are active day and night.
Photo by Frank Vassen
The lowland streaked tenrec is the only mammal known to use stridulation for generating sound – rubbing together different body parts like insects and snakes do. They do it by rubbing their spikes on their back, producing an insect-like chirping noise to communicate with their family members. Another means of communication is by clicking their tongue.
3. The Okapi
It looks like a failed genetic experiment. The feet belong to a zebra and the body to a horse, right? Well, the okapi is actually more closely related to the giraffe.
Photo by David Ellis
Native to the Ituri Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it appears like a mythical creature from a fantasy movie. Not so long ago, it actually was. Before being discovered by Western scientists in 1900, the okapi was referred to as the African unicorn because it was considered no more than a myth. Okapis communicate through 14-hertz infrasonic sounds, a great adaptation to the dense forests of the Congo. Even better, humans cannot hear their calls. On the brink of extinction and a cultural symbol in these parts, okapis prefer solitude.
2. The Aardvark
Photo by CucombreLibre
With a long snout, pig-like nose, rabbit-like ears and tail like a kangaroo, it looks like it’s made out of animal parts. Translated, it means “earth pig.” Aardvarks are indeed about the same size of a small pig.
Aardavarks are solitary, elusive, nocturnal creatures spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa in a wide array of habitats – grasslands, savannas, woodlands, rainforests. To be more precise, they go where the ants and termites are. Call them nomads if you like. They move from one mound to the other, digging holes on their way to take refuge from predators. Abandoned aardvark homes become nests for porcupines, warthogs, even ducks.
Photo by Valerie
Their 12 in (30 cm) long tongue can slurp 100 ants at a time, and they can eat 50,000 termites in one sitting! Their sharp claws are as strong as a pick ax. And here’s one more incredible fact: they’re the only animal in their order. That’s right, there’s really no other animal like it on Earth. It gets even stranger: their closest relatives are elephants!
1. The Pangolin
Photo by David Brossard
In February 2017, Google raised awareness about the world’s most trafficked animal by using the pangolin for the 2017 Valentine’s Day Google Doodle. This armor-platted mammal lives in woodlands and savannahs in tropical regions of Africa, using its sharp claws to dig holes under dense bushes. The pangolin depends on trees for protection against predators. In case of an attack, it rolls into a ball, revealing its sharp scales.
The pangolin’s large keratin scales make 20% of its body weight. It’s the only known animal on Earth to possess such a feature. Plus, it has a huge tongue – 16 in (40 cm) long. When fully extended, it is longer than their body! Pangolins eat ants and termites, but they don’t have any teeth! They do have a strong stomach, though, digesting food with the help of ingested sand and gravel.
Mother Nature never seizes to amaze. It must have had a blast playing around with all living things on our planet, which does make us wonder… Is our world accidental or was it carefully planned?
If you do happen to see any of the above on an African safari, you can consider yourself lucky and are entitled to brag about it!
Would you like to be among the lucky few who get to see these bizarre animals for themselves? Go to BookAllSafaris.com and choose a walking safari guaranteed to take you deep into the African bush for the chance to get close and personal with the continent’s most amazing creatures.