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

 

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

What do Wild Lions Do All Day?

take dad on safari for fathers day

With their lithe, muscular bodies, flowing manes and breathtaking eyes that seem to pierce with their gaze, lions are no doubt one of the single-most beautiful creatures on the planet. But just what the heck do they do all day when they live out in the wild?

If you have ever been on a trip with an African safari tour operator, you would see that a lions’ typical agenda appears quite similar to the average housecat. They sleep most of the day, play and interact with one another, and spend large amounts of time stalking and hunting prey. Of course, when the lion tends to do it, it looks a lot more majestic!

You can learn the specifics of the average lion’s routine as well as some interesting facts about lions by reading on.

Sleeping and Resting — 16-20 Hours a Day

Lions are fairly massive creatures, with the average female weigh nearly 300 pounds and the average male around 420 pounds. They also tend to spend a slim but important part of their day in vigorous physical activity, hunting, meaning they use up a lot of energy all at once.

To help build up these energy levels and maintain all that mass on a somewhat scarce diet, the typical lion will lounge around during most of the daylight hours. They will alternate between sunny and shaded areas, usually relegating themselves to a chosen section of their overall territory for a number of days.

If the females happen to have cubs, they will establish a temporary den and play area for the entire pride to get their rest around while protecting the young brood.

Grooming, Socializing, Playing and Exploring — 1-2 Hours a Day

Most of the awake time lions spend actively is divided between eating and what one might call social or leisure activities. At dusk, lions are the most active, grooming one another, interacting and finding places to go defecate. Lions may also play or interact with one another in bursts of activity leading up to the nightly hunt.

Walking, Searching for Prey — 2 Hours a Day

The most time-consuming activity on a lion’s agenda besides sleeping is walking. Lions spend around two hours a day on average patrolling their territory, looking for both prey and competitors. They may also be exploring looking for new sources of shelter, water or places to establish a temporary den for cubs. Lionesses will relocate cubs to a new den once every few weeks to ensure that the vulnerable cubs do not build up a scent for predators to notice.

Lions may shift to new parts of their territory as they patrol it, or they may return to their lounging site once they are done hunting and eating for the day.

Hunting — Less Than 10 Minutes a Day

Not counting the time lions spend locating and stalking prey, they dedicate very little time doing actual hunting. Lions are large and often noticeable, so their strategy is to flank their prey and encroach slowly. They must get very close before performing a short, powerful strike, usually at the end of a burst of speed.

Lionesses typically spend their time hunting in the early hours of dawn while males watch after the cubs.

Eating — Around 50 Minutes a Day

To preserve their body mass and get the need nutrition, adult male lions must consume around 15 lbs of meat a day and adult lionesses 11 lbs. Small prey is usually consumed quickly on site by the lion who earned the kill, while larger prey is shared in groups. Eating and protecting kills also spends up a large portion of the their energy, so they will often go home with full bellies and no stamina left, leading to another daily session of legendary naps.

Come See Lions With a Safari Tour Operator

Lions can be readily seen in many of Africa’s most popular parks, including Kruger National Park in South Africa. Their trademark naps can be observed on game drives as sleepy lions sprawl out near paved roads in the early morning. Nighttime hunts can be rarely spotted, but going on a nighttime walking safari can help you see lions when they are more active.

Come take an up-close look at wild lions by booking a safari tour package today!

Jill Liphart for www.rohoyachui.com

Last Male Northern White Rhino Takes to Tinder to Find a Date

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There are only three northern white rhinos left, and just one male. As one of the last of his subspecies, Sudan the 44 year-old rhino did what any sensible person would do: create a Tinder profile and start looking for dates.

Sudan’s Tinder profile can now be found alongside others in 190 countries and 40 different languages. “I don’t mean to be too forward, but the fate of the species literally depends on me,” his profile quips, adding that he does “perform well under pressure.”

Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the caretakers of Sudan and his two female companions, started the campaign as an effort to raise money and awareness for the plight of the northern white rhino, also called the square-lipped rhino. The Conservancy also offers Kenya safari tours and lodging on their 90,000 acre facility.

So far, traffic for the Conservancy’s site has spiked, causing it to crash numerous times. No word yet on whether visitors are concerned conservationists, Sudan’s new adoring fans, or someone actually looking to get a date.

 

Sudan: Possibly the Last of His Subspecies

Sudan was born in 1973 — ironically the same year Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” was a #1 single. He was captured in the wild in Sudan when he was only three years old and transported to the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech republic. Sudan became the zoo’s rarest exhibited animal, drawing millions of interested visitors, photographers, zoologists and conservationists across the world every year.

The zoo successfully bred Sudan with a female northern white rhino named Nasima, giving birth to a male named Nabire in 1983 and a female named Najin in 1989. Nabire tragically died in his enclosure in 2015, but Najin went on to sire a female named Fatu in 2000.

Fatu, her mother and her grandfather Sudan were all transported to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2009 to give the rhinos a more natural habitat and hopefully encourage breeding with other partners. Their horns had grown in an abnormal shape because they had been rubbing them on the bars of their enclosures, so to encourage them to grow back normally — and to discourage poachers — all three rhinos had their horns safely sawn off once they reached their new home.

These rare specimens are protected around-the-clock from poachers by a team of vigilant and highly trained armed guards.

Looking for Love on Tinder

Unfortunately, neither of Sudan’s kin can breed any longer, and Suni, one of the last viable white rhino males they could breed with, perished in 2014. That means Sudan is the only one of his subspecies left who can produce viable, pure northern white rhino offspring.

His only options, then, are to cross-breed with other subspecies of square-lipped rhino, such as the southern white rhino. Or, perhaps he can dig up a saucy date with an elusive bachelorette northern white throughTinder? Although the chances of that actually happening are slim to none — no northern whites have been spotted in the wild since the early 2000s — Sudan’s profile will help raise awareness and money for other conservation efforts that benefit Ol Pejeta, Kenya, and the African wildlife community at large.

See White Rhinos on a Kenya Safari Tour

You can see white rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy or at other amazing destinations when you book a rhino safari tour package to visit these majestic beasts in their home environment. Book your tour now, and start packing today!

Who knows, you just may be able to blow Sudan a kiss.

Jill Liphart for www.rohoyachui.com