All About the Hyrax, the Elephant’s Cousin That Looks Like a Rodent

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In a continent full of unique and unusual animals, the plucky hyrax still manages to stand out. These medium-sized mammals are survivors of a primitive group of species that later split off to evolve into elephants, manatees and dugongs. They have some interesting characteristics, including complex barking “songs” and elephant-like rubbery footpads adapted for climbing.

You can find the four different species of hyrax all throughout Africa during an African safari tour. Observing them in the wild is a rare treat that makes them every bit as worth seeking out as any of the Big Five.

The Four Species of Hyrax

There are four different species of hyrax — also called “dassies” by those who speak Afrikaans — and they all have their own distinct habits and habitat ranges.

  • Rock Hyrax — Also called the “rock badger,” these hyraxes are highly social and adept climbers thanks to their thick rubber-like pads. They spend 95% of their time sleeping or resting in the sun.
    • Distribution: Cape Hyraxes are found along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia as well as across Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Yellow-Spotted Hyrax — Also called the “bush hyrax” or the “yellow-spotted rock hyrax” this species lives in clusters of boulders and rocky natural outcroppings found on the plains called kopjes. They are smaller and less-round than the rock hyrax.
    • Distribution: Found along the eastern coast of Africa and also within limited areas of Angola.
  • Western Tree Hyrax — Unlike the social rock hyraxes, this hyrax tends to live alone within tree clusters. They have coarser fur and unique white markings that resemble eyebrows or beards.
    • Distribution: Found in a limited range in western subtropical Africa, including the D.R. Congo and southern Cameroon.
  • Southern Tree Hyrax — The most elusive and smallest of the hyrax species, the southern tree hyrax lives alone or in pairs. They prefer humid regions of forests and savannas as well as rocky areas.
    • Distribution: A limited range in east-central Africa, including most of Tanzania and parts of the D.R. Congo.

Hyrax Size and Appearance

Hyraxes appear similar to rodents or guinea pigs, with the rock hyrax looking rather rotund and the other species looking more-lean. They can grow up to 28 inches in length and 11 pounds.

Hyraxes have interesting teeth structures, with front incisors that grow out into tusk-like formations, similar to their elephant cousins. They also have hoof-like blunt nails that resemble elephant feet.

Hyrax Group Behaviors

The two rock hyrax species are highly social, living in groups of up to 30. As a result of their social organization, they show signs of high intelligence, including the ability to communicate through 20 different vocal noises. In captivity, they tend to be extremely “talkative,” responding actively to caregivers when they approach. They also make chomping/chewing movements as a form of communication.

Unique Adaptations

All hyrax species have unique foot pad structures and sweat glands in between their toes to help them grip rocks and tree trunks. The foot muscles all curve inward to create a suction-cup-like grip.

Another interesting adaptation is the hyrax’s highly efficient kidneys, which can filter waste with minimal use of water. In fact, their concentrated urine creates mineral deposits over time called hyraceum, and the musky scent is highly prized as an ingredient in perfumes.

One thing the hyraxes are not well-adapted for is maintaining their internal heat. Rock hyraxes in particular must huddle together, rest frequently and bask in the sun to maintain their internal body temperature.

See Rock Hyraxes and Other Incredible Species During Your African Safari Tour

You can encounter hyraxes and other charming, unique creatures during your African safari trip when you book one of our safari tour packages.

Take a look at our sample safari tours to book your trip today, and contact us if you want to create a custom safari vacation where you can meet hyraxes in person.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Meet Africa’s Plucky “Small Five” During Your Safari Adventure

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Much attention is given to Africa’s “Big Five” game animals — and deservedly so — but those who come to Africa to look at just five species will miss out on incredible opportunities to see other beautiful wildlife.

Tackling this problem, conservationists decided to band together and make a push to recognize the not­so­big and not­quite­so­iconic animals you can find throughout the continent. The result was the “Small Five.”

None of these creatures are particularly rare, but they do feature names from each of the Big Five as a clever nod. The real purpose in highlighting these animals is to help people headed to top­rated African safari destinations focus on all the small details that make Africa great, not just Five of them.

Get to know the Little Five and what makes them so endearing by reading their species profiles below.

 

1.   Red­Billed Buffalo Weaver

The buffalo weaver lives in large colonies on savannas south of the Sahara all throughout Africa. Each colony is made up of breeding groups of 3­4 females and one male. The groups make huge nests in baobab trees and other plains trees on the savanna. Each nest contains multiple compartments for individual females to lay eggs and nest upon them.

Even though males often compete for female mates, and females do not tolerate other females in their chamber, red­billed buffalo weavers do cooperate when it comes to building their large nests. Males will even cooperate with one another to build nests, gather food for females and defend the colony territory from invaders.

 

2.   Elephant Shrew

The elephant shrew is a fascinating creature known for their long snouts and rapid speeds. Even though the animals typically measure less than a foot in length, they can sprint at speeds of nearly 18 miles an hour for short distances.

Some species even modify their environment by clearing “lanes” or paths through the underbrush to make finding insects easier. They can also use the cleared lanes to rapidly scurry to safety when a threat comes near.

3.   Leopard Tortoise

Named for the vibrant leopard­like patterns sometimes seen on their hard domed shells, leopard tortoises are desert­loving reptiles found from Sudan all the way to the southern Cape. They eat grasses but prefer desert succulents and spiny thistles, making quick work of them with their leathery tongues.

Leopard tortoises are the fourth­largest species of tortoise in the world, growing up to 16 inches in overall length and 29 pounds in weight. Some tortoises along the Cape have gotten even bigger, growing to 28 inches and weighing more than 88 pounds!

4.   Rhinoceros Beetle

Africa has over a dozen species of rhinoceros beetle throughout its lands, including the huge Archon centaurus at nearly three inches long and Oryctes boas, which has a single horn large enough to make even a real rhino jealous!

Both male and female rhino beetles have horns, but only the males use them to battle for mates. They also use the horn as real rhinos do: to dig, lift objects and help navigate their environment. When threatened, some rhino beetle species “squeak” by rubbing their abdomens against their thin inner wings.

5.   Ant Lion

The most­common of the Little Five but nonetheless fascinating, the ant lion species can be found all throughout Africa and the world. These voracious insect predators are actually the larva of lacewing insects. They burrow into the ground and make trademark “funnel traps” in the sand to capture unsuspecting insect prey. Antlions’ powerful jaws can seize prey many times their size, and their large abdomens and forward­facing bristles help keep them anchored during the struggle.

Africa is home to some of the largest antlion species, including one species of Palpares that grows to 6.3 inches as an adult!

Come Meet the Small Five at Top­Rated African Safari Destinations

When you book a safari destination vacation package, feel free to get excited about lion, leopard and elephant sightings, but don’t forget to take a closer look at the world around you. You just may see an ant lion funnel, or catch the call of a buffalo weaver as they exit their large nests.

Take a second to appreciate all of Africa in this way, and you will get much more out of your trip to come home feeling like you truly experienced as much splendor as possible.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Where to Visit Africa in August

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Africa’s predictable seasons make planning your African safari tour easy. Different parts of the continent have peak visiting times throughout the year for various attractions, helping you pick the most astonishing and memorable activities to take part in during your trip depending on the time you choose.

If you aim to visit Africa in August, for instance, it is the perfect time for both viewing wild game and experiencing some of the most incredible cities on the continent. To help you plan your trip, take a look at the following exciting places to see and activities you can do there.

Botswana

August means that the long, dry winter season in southern Africa is finally winding to a close. During the course of the winter, a lack of rain causes much of the vegetation to die and the temporary water holes to deplete.

This may not sound like the most scenic time to visit, but less vegetation means it will be easier to spot animals that are unable to hide in the tall summer grasses. A lack of water also means that many animals like elephants, lions, gazelle and antelope will all gather near the remaining rivers and permanent water holes, creating spectacular interactions and perfect photo ops.

To get the best viewing in Botswana during your August safari, make sure to visit Chobe National Park and the Moremi Game Reserve.

Namibia

Winter in Africa can bring some surprisingly chilly winds and frigid nights. In August, these temperatures finally begin to inch their way back up, creating the perfect in-between weather for a light jacket and mild days.

There may be no better time on the calendar to visit the deserts of Namibia. You can take sunrise pictures of the towering dunes to capture magnificent photos worthy of a National Geographic spread.

Cape Town, South Africa

Mild weather makes Cape Town a veritable paradise in August. The incredible wildflowers of Table Mountain first begin to bloom around this time, and many wineries are just beginning to roll out the red carpet for Spring’s slew of guests.

Whale watching is also incredible during this time of year. Many pods of southern right whales converge upon South Africa’s coast to calve during this time, offering one of the best opportunities of the year to see them breaching with their mates and newborn calves.

Zambia

Travelling to Zambia in August offers a fair mix of weather and small crowds as the area’s bush camps begin to prepare for their busy season. Mana Pools National Park is a great place to visit during this time as there are few mosquitos, the days are often clear and wildlife viewing is optimal thanks to the thinned vegetation.

You could also travel to South Luangwa National Park for a unique canoeing safari trip where you can get up close and personal with some of the continent’s most iconic animals.

Lake Malawi

The start of spring also happens to be amazing beach weather, giving you a wonderful excuse to explore the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Malawi on a sailboat or kayak.

Book Your August African Safari Tour Now to Save

Booking your African safari tour for August right now can give you the perfect opportunity to save on lodging and game viewing rates. As the peak tourism season approaches, many game lodges and camps still struggle with vacancies and sometimes offer incentives to fill their books.

Take a look at our sample African safari tour itineraries to get an idea of the amazing time you could be having on your luxurious African vacation in August.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Africa’s 4 Deadliest Snakes: How to Avoid Getting Bit

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Africa’s abundant wildlife evolved in some pretty astounding ways to help each species get their lunch without becoming lunch in the process. In the case of Africa’s deadliest snakes, a combination of clever camouflage and potent venom can allow them to play both offense and defense as the situation arises.

Before revealing the most dangerous of these snakes, let’s go ahead and put the idea to rest that they are likely give you a chomp on your African safari trip. All snakes are incredibly shy, more likely to slither away and flee a fight rather than defend themselves with their fangs. Snakes also never strike unless cornered, and only a few in Africa happen to have venom.

By following our tips at the end of this post, you can also reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with these snakes even if you do happen to cross their path.

With that out of the way, here are some of Africa’s most lethal — and beautiful — serpents:

Boomslang

The boomslang snake is a blue/green tree-dwelling snake found in the jungles of Sub-Saharan Africa with a great name and even better coloration. Its venom is slow-acting but potentially deadly, causing internal bleeding over hours or days if left untreated.

Luckily, boomslang bites are rare because the snake flees quickly from humans.

Cape Cobra

Calling the arid regions of Southern Africa home, the Cape Cobra hunts during the day and is particular fond of weaver bird nests, often stealthily infiltrating them for a raw omelette snack. They also have a tendency to find their way into human settlements in search of mice and small prey.

When threatened, they will sit upright, bear their copper-colored belly scales and fan out their iconic hood. In this position, they will not hesitate to strike in response to sudden movement, but standing still will often give them the chance they need to slink away.

Black Mamba

The black mamba is the most famous of African snakes thanks to the gargantuan dose of venom it delivers and its immense size — up to eight feet long! The snake itself is usually brown rather than black, but when threatened it will bare the black inside of its mouth to frighten away predators.

Unlike other mambas, which tend to live in trees, the black mamba hunts in tall grass along the ground. They avoid humans at all costs, staying far away from settlements and typically fleeing rather than getting defensive.

Puff Adder

Puff adders are responsible for the most snake bites of any venomous species in Africa because of their incredible camouflage and widespread distribution. They will hiss quite loudly when threatened and inhale air to “puff” up their body size and appear larger.

While puff adder bites are common, this viper’s venom is mercifully well-tolerated by humans. Most people seek treatment in the time needed to prevent going into a critical condition, and even untreated cases have an 85 percent survival rate.

Avoiding Snake Bites on an African Safari Trip

Your best bet for avoiding snake bites is to wear tall, thick boots with stiff ankles since most bites occur on ankles. You should also avoid walking in tall grasses since many snakes hide in them and will strike if surprised.

When walking around the bush, keep an eye at ground level and walk firmly to send vibrations that make snakes aware of your presence. Pay close attention to your guide’s advice since they have the knowledge and experience to help you avoid risky interactions.

At your lodging, ensure your doors and windows stay shut. Because camp tents zip up tight, they actually provide better protection than most lodge-style buildings.

If confronted by a snake, react calmly and give them a chance to flee. You can move slowly around the snake if possible, outside of striking range. If you must retreat backwards, do so very slowly.

And remember, even if you do happen to get bit, most snakes in Africa are not venomous. We are quite familiar with the ones that are, so most game reserves and park clinics have an ample supply of antivenom for each snake type on hand! Seek treatment quickly, and your odds of survival are typically near 100 percent.

With all this information, you can appreciate the true beauty and uniqueness of these snakes without getting too up close and personal of a look.

Start planning your African trip — where you may even see a rare snake from the safety of your game drive vehicle — by taking a look at our African safari tour packages today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

7 Small Cats of Africa That Need Your Love, Too

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Africa’s lions, leopards and cheetahs are absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word, but they are not the only fabulous felines the continent has to offer. In fact, there are seven other species of wild cats that can be found during an African safari vacation.

While these kitties may be smaller than their larger counterparts, they are no less beautiful or fascinating. Many of them actually happen to have some fairly astounding abilities, like leaping 10 feet into the air! Read on to learn more about seven small cats of Africa that need your love, too.

Caracal

Caracals are gorgeous, medium-sized wild cats recognizable by the tall black tufts they sport on their ears. They stand about 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 40 pounds.

While caracals may be best known for their wispy ears, they have an even more impressive quality: they are some of the world’s best jumpers. An adult caracal can leap up to 10 feet in the air in order to catch elusive prey like pheasants and other birds. The ancient Egyptians even once tamed caracals to use for hunting.

Spotting a caracal is difficult because they are mostly nocturnal, solitary and shy, but they can potentially be found throughout grasslands in southern and eastern Africa.

Serval

A serval is another medium-sized African cat. This species often looks like a large version of housecat but with longer legs and a stunning spotted coat. In fact, the serval has the longest legs relative to body size of any cat. They typically stand around 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh 30 to 40 pounds.

Although they are still shy, you can find servals more easily than caracals. They have a wide-ranging habitat stretching across central Africa and reaching along the east coast all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.

African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat is an incredibly rare and beautiful medium-sized cat that lives almost exclusively in the forests of the Congo, with some subspecies also being found along swathes of the west African coast.

This species is reddish-brown, and about twice the size of a typical domestic cat, weighing up to 35 lbs. Seeing an African golden cat is truly a rare treat that can make safaris in the Congo and East Africa well worth the trip.

African Wildcat

If you spot a creature stalking in the Savannah that looks like it could be a large stray, look a little closer. There is a solid chance that this may actually be an African wildcat, the species that was domesticated to become a common housecat.

True African wildcats have a longer, lankier, and more muscular build compared to a housecat. Their shoulder blades also protrude more noticeably, like a cheetah’s. All have a faint grey tabby pattern.

With a wide range stretching across most of Africa, they are also very common in the wild. And, like most regular cats, they definitely won’t come when you call them!

Black Footed Cat

Black-footed cats are tiny, spotted cats that are found predominantly in arid regions of South Africa. Weighing less than six pounds on average and at a standard size half that of a typical domestic cat, black-footed cats may be the smallest wild cat species in the world.

They typically hunt at night and rest during the day in abandoned burrows dug by animals like aardvarks. Their small size means they must hunt voraciously every night to maintain their energy — an adult black-footed cat may catch as many as 14 small animals a night!

Cats of North Africa

  • The Sand Cat is a small cat adapted to life in the desert, with thick paw pads and large ears used to detect vibrations caused by small prey.
  • The Jungle Cat is rare in Africa, only found near the Nile in Egypt, but found more commonly in the jungles of southern Asia. They live mostly in wetland habitats, hunting with large fangs.

Come Get to Know Africa’s Small Cats on an African Safari Vacation

You can potentially meet Africa’s small cats in person — and ensure they get the spotlight they need to shine alongside their big cousins — when you book an African safari vacation package today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

What to Expect on a Game Drive During Your African Safari Tour

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When people think of an “African safari tour,” they are typically thinking of game drives. Parks like Kruger and the Maasai Mara are enormous, so riding in a vehicle is one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground without getting exhausted. You can also make sure to see some of the best viewing experiences all in short time.

You are definitely encouraged to try other sorts of activities during your stay, such as a “bush walk” walking safari or a canoeing safari upon a river, but game drives will likely comprise a large portion of your wildlife viewings and give you a chance to become more familiar with a park.

So what can first-timers expect on a game drive? Even though every experience is unique and every lodge will do drives differently, there are plenty of common threads. You can learn about a typical game drive by reading on.

Open Air Vehicles

Most game drive vehicles have an open top for maximum viewing. There are three rows of seats that can accommodate 2-3 people each. These are raised like theatre seats so that each row is taller than the one in front, with the rear row as the tallest. One person may have the option to sit next to the ranger in the front, which will be the lowest seat but one with unobstructed front views.

Usually Two Guides: A Ranger and a Spotter

You will be most likely accompanied by two people on your drive. A ranger drives the vehicle and is responsible for serving as your direct guide, telling you stories and information while answering questions. The second person is a “spotter,” who stays focused on helping you locate wildlife while keeping an eye out for possible threats.

Interacting with your ranger is highly encouraged, but try not to distract the spotter.

Game Lodges Working as a Team

Game drive operators understand that the best way for everyone to enjoy their trip and see as many animals as possible is to work together. They will usually communicate over radio when a significant find is spotted, like a family of elephants, an elusive leopard with a kill or lions sunbathing near the road.

No one wants ten cars crowded around a single lion, though, so guides refer to an implied set of etiquette rules, giving the reporting vehicle the best position while other vehicles try to hang slightly back until the first vehicle departs. You may even find yourself in a sort of “queue” as each vehicle pauses to give everyone a satisfactory photo op.

Stay patient and be respectful of other groups since this system provides the best benefits for everyone!

A Rigid Schedule

Wildlife have certain patterns throughout the day, and one of the times they are most active is in the very early morning. That means for morning drives you will be waking up anywhere from 4:30 to 6:00 a.m.

Even if you are not a morning person, it is still important to drag yourself into the 4×4 to ensure that everyone gets to leave on time and can get the most out of their drive. You can choose to sleep in at your camp instead, but you will likely feel envious if everyone comes back with stories to tell!

Evening drives are also common, usually departing around 4:00 p.m. or so. These drives usually see less action at first because the animals are still shrugging off the heat of the afternoon sun, but nocturnal animals begin to stir and get active as the sun goes down. Some lodges offer special night drives, which can come at an added cost but often see active predators and sometimes even a kill.

Plenty of Time for Snacks and Natural Business

Just because you are getting up early does not mean you will have an empty stomach! Game lodges usually provide a light “morning tea” before your drive and a heavy breakfast when you return. You can then enjoy lunch and sleep off the afternoon heat. Evening drives also have “high tea” or “sundowner meals,” which are enjoyed right in the bush.

Drivers also understand that nature calls to us all, so they will take breaks for everyone to relieve themselves in the “bush loo.” Bring your own toilet paper and a sealable, disposable bag so that you can take everything back with you. You may not want it, but the bush definitely doesn’t, either!

Book Your Perfect Lodge for Thrilling Game Drives on Your African Safari Tour

Each lodge and park offers its own set of activities and style of game drives. You can take a look at what options you may have by exploring our available safari vacation packages and then booking your exciting trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Game Drive Tips for Your African Safari Trip

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Those looking for ways to make the most of their African safari trip should consider going on a few game drives, one of the best activities for maximizing your time.

If you want to get the best photos during your game drives and increase your chances of seeing Africa’s most famous animals, you can follow these tips that can ensure you have a good time while respecting wildlife and respecting others.

Follow the Most Important Rules: Stay Inside the Vehicle, Keep Quiet and Don’t Feed the Animals

Game drives disrupt the typical experience of wildlife in the bush, but guides and safari tour companies do their best to compromise with nature. By sticking mostly to set paths, taking steps to not stress the animals and keeping interactions to snapping photos, the natural experience can be preserved as much as possible. Most animals even get used to the site and sound of 4x4s.

Uphold your end of the bargain by staying quiet during drives. Do not call out to animals to get their attention, and try to talk softly the entire drive. Definitely do not feed animals, since this can get them sick and encourage them to associate humans with food — not a good connection!

Also, most importantly, keep within the confines of the vehicle at all times. Leaning out or, heaven forbid, exiting the vehicle can stress animals and place you in a very dangerous situation.

Dress in Layers, Wear Sunscreen and Bring Repellant

Game drives can be chilly in the morning and hot in the afternoon sun. Dress in layers so that you can prepare for these temperature changes. Also, wear a brimmed hat and cover yourself in sunscreen to prevent getting burned.

Biting insects are common in many parks, especially during open air drives, so bring along plenty of repellant to reapply during your drive.

Take Along a Guidebook

During your drive, you will probably see a ton of animals you do not recognize but that look interesting. Take along an informative guidebook with photo identification of bush animals so you can know as much as possible about the world around you.

For younger safari-goers, you can print off a checklist of animals so that they can stay engaged and focus on seeing the most interesting species.

Bring Binoculars

Binoculars help you spot far away animals and set up your photos more quickly. Being forced to share binoculars can mean watching a speck by a drinking pool while everyone else sees a lion, so bring a pair for each person to ensure no one misses out.

Wait for the Vehicle to Stop Before Taking Close-Up Photos

The powerful engines in 4x4s tend to vibrate, which leads to blurry pictures if you have your lens zoomed in. Feel free to snap wide angle shots as you drive, but for the best photos wait until the engine is cut off.

Look for More Than Just the Big Five

Everyone wants to see lions, elephants and other famous “big five” animals on their trip, but you should recognize that there are plenty of beautiful species on the African continent, both big and small. Use a guidebook to help you spot birds, tell the difference between antelope-like species and appreciate sights others might miss.

Talk With Your Ranger

Your ranger has gone on hundreds of drives and has likely spent much of their life living in the bush. Feel free to ask them questions or to get them to describe their experiences, especially if you want to know more about a specific animal.

Let Nature and Your Spotter Be Your Eyes

With the tallest necks in the bush, giraffes tend to be amazing lookouts, helping you identify big cats crouched in the grass where you cannot see. Other animals like antelope tend to focus sharply when they see possible dangers. Your spotter guide will also help keep everyone focused either by staring at their target, quietly pointing or informing your ranger.

Tip Your Guides!

Game drive guides earn some wages, but they get much of their income from tips. They also tend to get motivated to do more for groups that tip generously, so if you are particularly keen on seeing something elusive like a leopard, then be a little more giving.

Tip amounts are at your discretion, but R30 to R50 or $8 a person is considered fair. No matter how much you give, be sure to thank your guide since they are providing you a service few others are capable of rendering!

Go on Several Drives to Get a Diverse Experience During Your African Safari Trip

Morning drives are usually the most productive times of day, but afternoon and nighttime drives offer differing experiences. Regardless of when you go, recognize that each drive is a dice roll in that you never know what you will see — or if you will see anything. If you have a disappointing drive one day, do not think that means you will not see more than the average group on your next drive.

You can ensure that you go on as many different drives as possible while enjoying other amazing activities like bush walks and boat rides when you book an African safari tour package and start planning your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui