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Elusive species of the Lowveld Part 1: Aardvark, pangolin and porcupine

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

This is the first blog in a series of two about elusive species of the Lowveld (read the second one here). It was written by Bushwise students, Menina Nightingale and Jocene de Kock as part of a special research project during their Professional Field Guide course. All information contained in this blog is from Menina and Jocene’s research.

3 min read

The Lowveld is full of elusive species that you might be lucky to find if you pay a visit to areas such as the Kruger National Park, neighbouring private reserves, and northern reaches of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Some of the least common, yet most special animals that you might find in the Lowveld are aardvark, pangolins and porcupines. Let’s learn more about these elusive and intriguing species!

Aardvark 

Photo of an aardvark by Theo Stikkelman on Flickr.

One of the weirdest animals you’ll come across in the bushveld – if you’re really lucky – is the aardvark. These strange looking animals are notoriously hard to spot, normally only coming out of their burrows well into the night to feed on mostly ants and termites. The best chance to see one is either on a night drive or during winter in the Lowveld (June/July) as they tend to come out a bit earlier due to the cooler temperatures. An aardvark will by no means win a beauty contest, but there’s something about their odd appearance that definitely attracts people. Their habits are also very similar to those of pangolins and yet they are entirely unrelated and far funnier looking.

Pangolins 


A pangolin walks across the ground, balancing on its back legs and gently resting its front legs on the ground.

Pangolins are one of the most elusive species that you might come across in a visit to the Lowveld. A sighting of one of these almost dinosaur-like creatures is truly a once in a lifetime encounter. Their elusivity is largely due to the fact that they sleep in underground burrows for up to 20 hours of the day and when they do appear from their underground homes to feed on ants and termites, it is predominantly at night. Pangolins are also highly endangered and very low in number so to see a truly wild pangolin involves a lot of time, patience and luck. 

The majority of the pangolins that you might see on a visit to the Lowveld are normally involved in some sort of soft release program where you can make a (often sizable) donation to walk with one of these strange little creatures whilst they feed. The reason for these programs is largely due to poaching as pangolins are heavily trafficked for their scales and meat. Their rarity and elusiveness makes them a truly special and unique animal to see and if you do manage to find one it is definitely going to be a once in a lifetime experience! So take time to  savour the moment! 

Porcupines

A porcupine photo by Pinti 1 sourced from Flickr. 

Another of the bushveld’s most elusive species is the Cape porcupine, famous because of its unique spiny appearance. These unusual quills have brought tourists a lot of excitement  while they try to catch a glimpse at this bizarre secretive creature. You might be lucky enough to come across a loose porcupine quill on the ground or see their funny multi-padded tracks in the sand. 

Often you will see the evidence of the elusive creatures but very rarely see them. Porcupines are the largest rodents found in Africa and part of the “Secret 7” and thus one of the more exciting things to spot on a safari. One of the reasons for their elusivity is due to their sleepy, nocturnal nature making it particularly difficult to see them during the day. Yet they do love to rummage in rubbish bins around camps for anything they can find, after all they are rodents so keep an eye out for them trying to get into your bins! 

A pangolin walks across the ground, balancing on its back legs and gently resting its front legs on the ground.

Pangolin, aardvark and porcupine are famous due to not only their elusivity but also their unique appearance, which definitely puts them on the bucket list of sightings. If you do catch a glimpse of one of these amazing little animals, cherish it – and of course try and grab a photo.

Would you love to see some of the Lowveld’s most elusive species? Join a Bushwise course and experience these and other incredible sightings. Start your wild career now.

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