Unless you are a safari fanatic, or speak Afrikaans, chances are you have never heard of an aardvark. The animal is pretty much as weird as its name (which means earth or ground pig), and looks something like a cross between a giant rat, a bunny, a pig and a kangaroo. It’s not its looks that put it at the top of many safari enthusiasts’ bucket list, that’s for sure! However, the animal is as elusive as it is strange and few people ever get to see it (including professional safari guides). It’s been on my list for as long as I known about it, but it took me 12 years of regular safari travels to encounter the elusive aardvark.
It was a cool Karoo winter afternoon, and our guide Julius was animated as he picked us up for our sunset drive. He’d seen a youngster not far from the lodge, and he though it might be the animal they had spent months habituating*. At these news we scampered into the vehicle as soon as we could, and got our cameras ready. The excitement was palpable, but we tried our best not to get our hopes up too high. Aardvarks are generally nocturnal, but it happens that they come out to forage during daylight in the cold Karoo winter climate. In fact, we had already caught a glimpse of not one but two other individuals. Both in the dark, and both disappearing faster than a motion of no confidence. So we knew that, as opposed to No 1, the odds were against us.
But there it was! Julius stopped the car, and persuaded us to get out (we were so busy trying to photograph the little speckle far in the distance that he had to tell us a couple of times before we realised there was a chance of getting closer). Slowly and quietly, we walked closer and it became obvious that he was unbothered with our presence. When we were some 50 meters away from him, we stopped and just savoured the moment. There was an elusive, nocturnal animal rarely seen, calmly foraging just a short distance away. He stopped at a termite nest, dug a little with his sharp claws and then sucked the termites out with his long, sticky tongue. Then, he proceeded to the next nest. Apparently this snacking at several nests is so that he won’t deplete the food source within his territory.
This magical experience was but one of many during our stay at Samara Karoo. We were treated to star-studded skies, dinners in front of the fire place, gorgeous sunsets, stunning scenery and even a cheetah mother with four cubs. When things like these become the side-attractions, you know you’ve had a very special experience!
The best time to see the aardvark is during the winter (but, like with all wildlife it is not guaranteed). Although it gets bitingly cold during the Karoo winter nights, this is actually my favourite time to visit. Frosty mornings give way to pale, sunny days that fade into bitterly cold, starry nights. At Samara, you will be treated like royalty and there is always a fire going in front of which you can have your gin & tonic. There is also plenty of rich, comforting farm-fresh food and a wonderful wine list to keep you comfortable, and during the day there is tea and home baked cake. This is a soul-soothing place in so many ways!
For more information: Samara Karoo
(my stay at Samara was sponsored, but all opinions are my own)
*To habituate means that they spend long periods of time getting the animal used to human activity at a distance. It is by no means tame but won’t scurry down into its den as soon as it hears a car or voice, as it has realised that the humans present no danger.