Africa is one of the most popular game-viewing destinations on the planet. The continent’s most famous animals were originally sought after by hunters but now it is predominantly tourists who hope to catch a glimpse of these iconic species. This week we’re airing the documentary Africa’s Super Seven on the Love Nature streaming app, so we thought we’d celebrate by putting together 7 little known facts about these incredible animals—read on to take your African animal knowledge to a whole new level.
The mane of the lion is the king of the jungle’s most distinctive characteristic. The mane makes male lions look much bigger and more intimidating, but through its colour also signals his sexual maturity and health status. The darker the mane, the fitter the lion and the more attractive he is to females—this is because dark manes are hot and heavy, so only the most biologically superior of males can afford to have one. The colour actually fluctuates based on how much stress or trauma the lion has experienced, so can go lighter if the lion cannot find enough food or his territory is less hospitable.
Though an elephant’s hide looks tough, the gentle giants actually have very sensitive skin. As thin as paper on some parts of their body and as thick as 3cm on others, elephants can actually feel a fly landing on their back. This also leaves them sensitive to the sun, and they can get sunburned. To protect themselves from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, elephants throw sand on their backs as well as mud after bathing in a river. Adults protect the calves by dousing them with sand and standing over them to cast shade.
Buffalo are aggressive animals that will go to some lengths to protect members of the herd. One of Africa’s most dangerous animals, buffalo are known as ‘the Black Death’ because they kill over 200 people every year. They actually have exceptional memories and can recognise hunters that have hurt them in the past, and will attack them if they encounter them again. They do the same to their other predator, the lion. Buffalo will chase and kill lions that have previously killed a member of the herd.
As well as possessing excellent eyesight that allows them to see in daylight and at night, leopards also have acute hearing—at least five times better than ours. Their earflaps help concentrate soundwaves into each ear and their hearing is thought to be exceptional enough to allow them to hear small animals rustling through the grass or moving in their underground burrows. It has also been suggested that they can hear in the infrasonic range, enabling them to monitor lion sounds as their roars have an infrasonic component, a useful skill given that lions have been known to kill leopards.
White rhinos are not named after their colour—their name is taken from the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ meaning wide, a description of its mouth which it uses to graze on grass. By contrast, black rhinos are browsers and have prehensile lips, specially adapted for grasping and holding the leaves and branches of shrubs and trees, as well as manipulating its food while it feeds. Its lips are in fact so dexterous that black rhinos are able to open gates and even car doors, also giving an indication of their high level of intelligence.
With predators like lions, hyenas, baboons and large eagles, cheetah cub mortality is high. To offer a level of protection, young cubs grow a thick yellow-grey coat on their backs, from their neck to the base of their tail. Called a mantle, this helps to camouflage them in the shadows and enables cubs to blend into the grass. It also makes the cubs resemble a honey badger, a small and aggressive carnivore that most predators naturally avoid. An additional benefit of the mantle is that it gives protection from the sun and rain.
1. African Wild Dog
African wild dogs live in packs with intense social bonds, a great advantage during hunts which are done co-operatively to run down and overpower prey in long distance chases. But unlike many other pack animals, African wild dogs have a submissive-based hierarchy rather than a dominance-based one. Dominance between animals is established without any conflict or blood-shed and even when it comes to food an individual will energetically beg rather than fight. This non-aggressive approach is likely due to avoiding injuries to members of the pack, because injured animals would mean less dogs available to hunt and the pack would be unable to provide enough food.
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Size, agility, speed, perception, stealth, intelligence and strength; each of Africa’s Super Seven are masters of at least one of these attributes. Follow mammoth beasts, skilful predators and crafty scavengers over a 24-hour period and see who reigns supreme.