Surprising Facts about African Wildlife

What You Didn’t Know about African Wildlife

Children who grow up in Africa are not surprised to hear that gorillas are their closest relatives and that elephants can’t jump but most travelers come on safari to hear surprising facts about African wildlife. Learn all about Africa’s amazing wildlife and astonishing facts on how they survive and adapt to the diverse African continent. What you didn’t know about African wildlife is all revealed here! Bet you didn’t know that humans have only discovered 20% of all the 8.7 million species on Earth. And that finding the other 80% could take another 500 years! For starters, we have uncovered 12 interesting facts about African wildlife here.

Wild animals constantly adapt to changing climates, human impacts, unexpected catastrophes and other unusual stresses and imbalances. In every species, there are exceptions to every rule, even in nature’s many miraculous cycles of life. This blog reveals all – what you didn’t know about African wildlife! 

Africa’s best wildlife experiences

Giraffes only hum at night.

Herd of giraffe under a tree in the Kenya bush
The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world. Even newborn giraffe are taller than most humans.

You can’t miss the extraordinary height of a giraffe and the way it curls its extra-long tongue around thorny branches to eat the leaves. Have you ever heard these elegant animals make a sound? Have you ever heard a giraffe roar, growl or bark? Well, scientists only recently found out that giraffes do make a noise unique to their species – giraffes talk to each other using a repertoire of different hums which they tend to make at night. Researchers recorded different humming sounds of about 9Hz in frequency which humans can just hear. 

Elephants just can’t jump. 

An elephant eating out of an Amarula tree
The African elephant is not just the largest living land animal but it has an enormous brain size to match. Their brains can weigh up to a whopping 5.4kg

Imagine a 5-ton elephant trying to jump and then realize that this would be nigh impossible. Elephants are not made to jump and don’t need to jump at all as their food source is always accessible. They can use their sheer force to toss trees aside like twigs but they cannot jump. A good reason for this is that these massive herbivores have very weak muscles in their feet and they have weak, inflexible ankles too, carrying all of that weight. 

Gorillas and humans share 98% of their DNA.

Gorillas are the largest of the great apes. Although they’re over 10 times stronger than humans.

Primatologists have found fossils showing that humans, gorillas and chimpanzees share a common, ancient ancestor. The evidence is there – our outer ear structures are very similar and we both have fingers and thumbs with fingernails.   We have the same teeth structure but gorillas’ strong jaws can bite open a coconut with one bite! However if a gorilla is exposed to a human illness, it will be severely affected as gorillas have not developed the same immunities we have. They live in pristine forest habitats where they simply never interact with humans or get sick. 

Gorilla trekking safaris teach you more about these gentle forest giants

Black Rhinos lie down for a deep daily sleep.

rhino in the tall grass in africa with its calf
The black rhino lives in Africa, primarily in grasslands, savannahs and tropical bush lands.

Black Rhinos get very hot and tired in the African sun and by early afternoon they need a nap. They find a shady tree or a cool muddy pan and they just lie down. They cool down and get ready to roam at dusk again. When they sleep deeply, they lie on their sides with their feet curled up slightly, like a baby in a dream. 

Pangolin means ‘roller’ in Malay. 

a ranger in gorongosa holding a Pangolin
Fun Fact, A single pangolin can eat up to 70 million insects in a year.

The word pangolin comes from the word ‘pengguling’ in Malay and aptly describes how these scaly creatures roll up immediately when they sense danger. Pangolins face enormous dangers every day as the most highly trafficked animal in the world. They roll up into a tight ball to defend themselves from predators and poachers, leaving their sharp tails out to lash back if need be. The scales fit together like a perfect jigsaw, making a hard shell and nothing can get a grip. 

Dolphins eat fish headfirst.

two dolphins in the ocean waters
Dolphins are incredible. They are socially skilled, intelligent, agile, joyful, and playful creatures that share many emotional similarities with humans.

Bottlenose dolphins eat their fish headfirst to avoid the scales getting stuck in their throats.  Dolphins may have teeth, but they don’t chew their food, they just grab a fish, bite it and swallow it down. These clever mammals also use their tail flukes to flip a fish out of the water and then catch it in their open mouths! They can dive down to the seabed to pounce on fish which often leaves craters in the sand – now known as ‘crater feeding’. 

Desert lions quench their thirst with melons.

Two lions walking through the bush in Botswana
Namibia is the only country in the world where lions have adapted to desert conditions and walk to the beach to prey on seals.

Namibian and Kalahari lions have ingeniously learned how to get their water from the Tsamma melon. This indigenous melon is like a watermelon, high in water content which quenches the cats’ thirst. Lions also glean water from the prey they catch. The San use every part of the melon: they hydrate with the watery flesh, cook it in stews, roast the seeds and make oil from the seeds. The leaves can also be cooked like spinach.

Whale sharks filter more than 6,000 liters of water an hour.

a whale shark swimming in the deep ocean waters
Whale sharks are the world’s largest living fish, with fully-grown adults weighing as much as three elephants.

The largest fish on the planet eats the tiniest fish on the planet! Whale sharks live on zooplankton and phytoplankton as careful filter feeders. They filter water all day long through their gills to find millions of these tiny morsels. They can’t bite or chew and simply open their huge mouths to allow food to enter their digestive systems.  Imagine seeing a whale shark ‘standing’ in the ocean depths, its enormous mouth wide open to catch as much plankton as it can, bobbing up and down!

Nile crocodiles have the strongest bite in the world. 

A crocodile catching a wildebeest in the river while it was crossing
Africa’s largest crocodilian can reach a maximum size of about 20 feet and can weigh up to 1,650 pounds.

These enormous freshwater reptiles can clamp down so hard with their jaws, applying 2300 kg of pressure per square centimeter. That is 10 times mightier than a great white shark’s bite! We humans can only apply 45 kg per square centimeter when we bite. Crocodiles are apex predators with sharp hearing, eyesight and smell. Their long teeth clamp down on prey and drag it under the water to drown it.  

Aardwolves are not wolves at all but insectivores. 

A wolf of the earth or Aardwolves roaming the wild
An aardwolf is a nocturnal creature (active during the night) but once winter comes it will conserve energy by sleeping at night and feeding during the day.

Insectivores eat insects, herbivores eat plants, omnivores eat a varied diet and carnivores eat meat! This ‘earth wolf’ is small and its cousin is the hyena. It hunts at night eating termites and other insects using its long sticky tongue to catch its food. Aardwolves only have one mate for life, and they only use their strong jaws to defend their territories. They have a long mane which they raise as a warning sign to intruders.  

Meerkats eat scorpions and never get stung.

A meerkat family sitting on the rocks in the wild
Meerkats are known for their daring diet: they are able to kill and eat venomous snakes and scorpions without being hurt.

Meerkats teach their offspring the art of hunting scorpions. They bring back half-dead scorpions to the dens so their pups can practice killing them without getting stung. Meerkats are highly intelligent and will follow a scorpion for ages, then zero in to grab it by the tail which it bites off. This is where the stinger is, and the meerkat spits it out. The meerkat avoids the dangerous pincers and knows that the exoskeleton contains poison. So it rubs the dead scorpion in the sand to remove all leftover venom. How clever is that?

Zebra mothers give birth to their calves alone, away from the herd.

A herd of zebras eating on the grass in Kruger National Park during dusk
Each individual has its own unique striped pattern – this means that no two zebras in the world are ever the same!

The female zebra instinctively knows that her foal must imprint her unique stripe pattern into its memory, away from the confusion of the herd’s stripes. The stripes have several functions, one of which is to make the animal seem unattractive to bloodsucking insects such as horseflies which can suck their blood and spread disease. The stripes also help to stop sunburn and cool the animal down in extreme heat. Some scientists say that the stripes also confuse large predators when the herd runs together as it is just a blur of black and white. 

Reading these 12 surprising facts about African wildlife is entertaining and amusing. Learn all about Africa’s amazing wildlife and astonishing facts on how they survive and adapt to the diverse African continent. We can enlighten you with many more interesting facts about Africa’s incredible wildlife and biodiversity.

Check out the top 10 national parks to go on safari in Africa

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