Aardvarks – the architects of the African bush

I’d been trying to get my head around a blog topic for this month. It shouldn’t have been difficult given the drama and unpredictable behavior of the Mkhuze Wild Dogs these last few weeks. However, putting it all down on paper didn’t come easily to me. I then started sifting through a few camera trap images when I came across one of an Aardvark. I had my topic!

Aardvark caught by a camera trap

The word Aardvark translates to ‘earth pig’, which in my opinion, hits the nail on the head. It’s an odd looking animal with a thick tail, large ears and a pig-like snout. It is a solitary animal that moves throughout the night and is therefore is seen only on rare occasions. What people don’t realize though, is the ecological significance that this strange character has in our ecosystem.

Aardvark also known as 'Earth Pig'

The primary reason for this is their ability to dig. With the ability to dig through cement like substrate, faster than two men with a spade, the aardvark can be nicknamed the ‘excavator.’ Their survival however depends on their digging abilities, whether it is for food; escaping from a predator or simply digging a hole to live in. These are not the reasons why I argue that the Aardvark is the unsung hero of the African bush. It’s rather that their abandoned holes create the homes for a number of different animals.

The disused burrows are used by a number of different species; 17 mammal species, two types of reptiles and a couple of different birds. Included in this list are hyenas, jackal, warthog, porcupines, bats, owls and most importantly the WILD DOG.

The underground tunnels that an Aardvark builds can be as long as 10 meters, providing an ideal home to a female Wild Dog and her pups. When several holes have been dug, there are sometimes other holes for the rest of the Wild Dog pack to lie and keep warm during the cold winter months.

The abandoned Aardvark hole then becomes their den or ‘base camp’ where the pack can raise the pups and keep them safe at the same time. While the mother usually stays with the pups on a permanent basis, the rest of the pack will bring food back and ensure the alpha female is well fed.

One starts to question how a Wild Dog would go about denning if Aardvarks didn’t exist! Of course Wild Dogs are the most awesome animals and would make an alternative plan but the set up that a single Aardvark can provide for a pack of dogs is priceless. It is something that even humans, with all their technology, could not beat. I therefore want to applaud the Aardvark population for their hard work and thank them for providing a safe home to our much-loved Wild Dogs!