The Ugly Five Animals of Southern Africa

By now, you’re probably familiar with the “big 5”: rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and lion. If you’ve ever been on safari, your guide may have explained the “little 5” to you. The little 5, or small 5, as some may describe it, includes the rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, and ant lion.

It doesn’t end there…

Meet the Ugly Five Animals of Southern Africa

Did you know that there is a list of safari animals categorised as the “ugly 5?” These species may be ugly in appearance, but they play a significant role in the ecosystems found in Southern Africa. The African bush, simply would not be the same without them.

1. The Hyena

The hyena family includes four species, the striped hyena, the brown hyena, the spotted hyena, and the aardwolf. All four of these species vary in size and play a significant role in the African ecosystem. They often feast on the leftovers of other predators and also do the hunting themselves.

Hyena Safari

In Southern Africa, spotted hyenas are sighted frequently. They are large dogs with a heavy build and a length of 120cm- 180cm. Their weight ranges from 60 to 80 kg. Spotted hyenas have a short, off-white to fawn yellow, dirty grey coat with many irregular dark brown spots and blotches that fade with age. Spotted hyenas also have a short mane that stands straight up on their backs.

Their ears are round and not as pointed as those of brown hyenas. Spotted hyenas also have longer back legs, and their shoulders are higher than their ramps. They are also known as “laughing hyenas,” because they often appear to be giggling and cackling when they’re annoyed or when they attack other animals.

The size of a hyena’s kill or scavenge depends on the size of its clan, which can range between 12 and 24 hyenas. Some clans even have more members. Any extra food will be hidden in watering holes. Hyenas never waste anything. They will even feed on the hooves of their prey.

Did You Know?

  • For many years, the spotted hyena has been accused of being purely a scavenger. However, studies have shown that hyenas eat between 66 and 90% of what they kill, and are highly skilled hunters.
  • When thinking of exemplary mothers, spotted hyenas are usually not top of mind. Surprisingly, female spotted hyenas are incredible mothers. They spend more energy on each of their cubs than any terrestrial carnivore.
  • Hyenas are commonly portrayed as dull and foolish, due to their laughs or vocalizations, but they’re shockingly intelligent, rivalling most wild animals in Africa.

2. The Vulture

Vultures are natural scavengers. Wherever there is a carcass of a dead animal on the African plains, you’ll find them there. Many professional guides refer to them as nature’s very own cleanup crew. They will gorge on prey until they’ve had their fill, and then sit in a half-sleep state to digest their food. Vultures have strong hooked beaks that can tear hide, muscle, and bone from carcasses.

Vultures have bald heads. Researchers believe this is due to the difficulty of maintaining a feathered head, as well as keeping it clean from any blood or fluids that may have been picked up while eating carcasses. The vulture’s bald head also helps with thermoregulation.

Vultures Safari Wildlife

Vultures all have long, wide wings that allow them to glide gracefully at great heights. They can stay in the air for hours without effort. They can also spot other vultures coming down to prey miles away and scan for carrion with their sharp eyes.

Vultures nest on large platforms made of sticks, either in trees or on cliffs. The same nest may be used for many years. Males and females will alternate sitting and looking for food while their partner eats. Most vultures only incubate one egg at a time. Vultures do not have strong legs or feet, which means they are incapable of carrying food back to their young. They usually eat their fill and regurgitate it for their young.

Did You Know?

  • Vultures often attack sick or dying animals for food.
  • The Egyptians believe that vultures are a symbol of death because they are commonly found feeding on the carcass of a dead animal. Historically, the Egyptians used vultures in their burial ceremonies.
  • The stomach acid of a vulture is more powerful and corrosive than that of other birds or animals. These scavengers can eat rotting carcasses infected by dangerous bacteria, as the acid kills the bacteria and does not threaten their health.
  • To cool off on hot days, vultures urinate on their legs and feet. This is called urohydrosis. The process also helps to kill parasites and bacteria that they have collected from eating dead animals or walking on carcasses.

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3. The Warthog

The common warthog is part of the Suidae, or pig family, and is related to pigs and boars. The warthog was once thought to be a subspecies of P. aethiopicus. There are four species of warthog, namely the Nolan warthog, the Eritrean warthog, the central African warthog, and the southern warthog. The southern warthog is found in southern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe and Botswana. If you plan on going on a Botswana safari, ask your guide to show you where you might see the southern warthog.

Warthog Safari Wildlife

Warthogs have a large head with a mane running from their middle to their back. The common warthog is usually black and brown in color and has few hairs. The tails of these animals are long and tipped with tufts of fur. Warthogs look like pigs. They are plump, hooved animals with a snout. Large nostrils are located at the ends of the snout.

Warthogs usually live in families, where they either search for food or drink from waterholes. They sleep in burrows at night. The sub-Saharan African Warthog has a large distribution. They prefer open woodlands and savannahs.

Did You Know?

  • Warthogs love to wallow! To cool off, warthogs will submerge themselves in water. They love to wriggle in the mud, as it cools them and provides protection from biting insects.
  • If their litter is gone, warthog sows may foster-nurture piglets. This practice is called allosucking and is the main reason why warthogs can be classified as cooperative breeders.
  • Warthogs will often kneel when grazing on lower grasses. To protect their knees while they kneel, warthogs have padding.

4. The Wildebeest

Wildebeest are mostly grazers. They occasionally enjoy shrubs, and herbs. They live in herds that range from ten to thousands. Their long, black mane is complemented by a thick, curled horn and a beard that hangs from their neck and throat.

Wildebeest Safari Wildlife

Their preferred habitat is open grasslands. They use seasonal migration as an optimal survival strategy to access and use large areas of resources, minimising overgrazing in both dry and wet seasons.

The beginning of the mating season, called the rut, is connected to the full moon. Territorial males, however, are constantly prepared to mate. Throughout the mating season, breeding clusters of around 150 wildebeest form from within the bigger herds. In these groupings, five or six of the most dominant bulls create and guard territories that cows amble through. Bulls make a show of bucking and cantering around their land. Bulls also mark their territories by urinating, defecating, and spreading secretions in particular areas. The secretions come from the interdigital and preorbital glands, spread when bulls paw at the ground and proceed to rub it with their heads.

Did You Know?

  • Wildebeests reproduce rapidly and give birth to approximately 150 offspring each spring.To impress the females, some of the dominant males perform elaborate mating rituals.
  • Pregnancies for female wildebeests last for approximately 8.5 months. They give birth in middle of herd.
  • Wildebeests are some of the most courageous animals in Africa. They move constantly and don’t stay put for long. Wildebeest love to move around in the day and night. While they enjoy taking naps, some stay alert, to watch for predators.

5. The Marabou Stork

Marabou storks are one of Africa’s most unique birds, and they are also one of the largest birds in the world. They can be found in both arid and wet habitats, especially near human habitation.

Marabou Stork Safari Wildlife

These birds are unusually shaped, with a bald head and wisps, which makes them worthy of being added to the ugly five. They measure 1.5 metres in height and have a wingspan of 2.6 meters. A fascinating fact about marabou storks: they have hollow legs and feet that allow them to fly.

Marabous can eat anything, including termites, flamingos, and small birds and mammals, as well as human refuse and dead elephants. They share carcasses with other scavengers like vultures or hyenas.

Did You Know?

  • Marabou storks scavenge for food, and a lot of it is their own. They are attracted by lion kills and domestic stockyards.
  • Marabou storks are also attracted to grass fires, and will move in front of an advancing fire to grab fleeing animals.
  • In order to capture insects disturbed by their movements, these storks might be associated with large mammal herds.