Elephant Elephant: "Elephant" is an ancient word, coming from the Greek word "elephas," but dating back to ancient Egypt. Location: Sub-Saharan Africa except southernmost Africa. Habitat: Terrestrial. From semi-desert to forest at varying altitudes. Description: This is the largest living terrestrial mammal today. Its enormous ears serve to dissipate body heat as the elephant slowly fans them. African elephants are more evenly gray than their Asian counterparts, have more thick hairs on their bodies, and have a back that bows like a horse, whereas the Asian elephants back humps up like a camel. Length of head and body including trunk range up to 25 ft. Their weight may exceed six and one half tons. Behaviour: This elephant is a social creature living in large family groups which have a matriarchal structure. The matriarch makes the decisions about when and where to move, and keeps the peace among the anxious bulls. The elephant must drink daily, and enjoys bathing in waterholes, and rolling in mud-holes. Reproduction: Breeding occurs all year round, but a female will only give birth once every 4 years.
Giraffe Giraffe: "Giraffe" is an Italian word that is derived from the Arabic "zirafah," which probably comes from an older African word. Location: Sub-Saharan Africa. Habitat: Terrestrial. Savanna; rarely in sparse scrub. Description: This is the tallest living animal. The coat pattern is made up of brown spots of varying sizes, separated by a network of light-coloured lines. The giraffe has two small horns and a medium bulge on its forehead. Shoulder height is about twelve feet, and the height to the top of the head is up to 19 feet. It weighs up to 2600 pounds. Behaviour: This gregarious creature lives in herds which can number up to 30 or 40 individuals. The group is dominated by an old bull giraffe, but is led by a female when on the move. The giraffe is vegetarian, and will feed on spiny or thorny plants. The giraffe can kill a lion with one swipe of its front hoof, so adults have few predators to worry about. However, they only sleep about twenty minutes a day, and then only when a lookout is posted. Reproduction: Giraffes breed year round and give birth after a 15-month gestation to a single young
Humpback whale Rorqual: "Rorqual" is an old Norse word for "red whale." Location: All oceans. Habitat: Aquatic. Deep waters near coasts. Description: The humpback is gray-black on the back and dark on the underside of the body. The huge pectoral fins are up to 14 feet long. A good half of the body is covered with about 28 ventral grooves. The mouth contains about 250 to 350 pair of baleen plates. The humpback can reach over 50 feet long, and average 30 tons in weight. Behaviour: This whale is unafraid of ships and is easy to approach, especially when it spends long periods of time playing, with spectacular leaps out of the water. It travels between cold and warm waters in the summer and winter seasons. It feeds on krill and fishes. Reproduction: Gestation lasts 12 months and the young whale, 12 to 14 feet long at birth, is weaned about 11 months after birth.
Zebra Zebra: "Zebra" is an old Spanish word meaning "wild ass." Location: Eastern Africa. Habitat: Terrestrial. Savanna and open forests. Description: The black-and-white striped coat is unmistakable, yet it shows great variation among the five different subspecies; and like fingerprints, even vary from animal to animal. No two zebras look exactly alike. The zebra grows to a head and body length of about 7 feet. Males weigh between 600 to 800 pounds, with female slightly less. Behaviour: This is an adaptable animal which can fully utilise the scarce food resources in its semiarid environment. It grazes on short grass, and eats leaves and shoots. They are fast runners and when fleeing predators will remain in a close-knit group. Its main enemies are lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and wild dogs. One kick from a zebra, however, can break a lions jaw, bringing certain death to the lion. All attempts to domesticate the zebra have failed. Reproduction: Gestation lasts about a year, after which a single foal is born. Its life expectancy is 25 to 30 years.
Yellow mongoose Mongoose: "Mongoose" comes from the Marathi language of India, and their word "mangus" for the animal. Location: South Africa. Habitat: Terrestrial. Rolling plains. Description: The long coat is yellowish orange, and is brighter on the hindquarters. The underside and forelimbs are paler. The tail is rather bushy and is about the same colour as the back, but the tip of the tail is marked by a conspicuous white tuft. The head and body are 11 to 15 inches long. They weigh three to four pounds. Behaviour: This mostly diurnal mongoose lives in large groups, sometimes with more than 50 individuals. Its burrow system is very complicated, and designed so that the entire colony is connected underground. It is common to see it sitting upright on its hind legs so as to get a better view of its surroundings. At the slightest sign of danger an alarm is sounded and the whole colony retreats into the burrows. Reproduction: There are two to four young per litter.
Suricate, meerkat Suricate: "Suricate" is a native southern African word for the animal. Location: South Africa. Habitat: Terrestrial. Arid, open plains. Description: It is a small mongoose with a narrow, pointed muzzle, and a striking pattern. On the back, the shoulder and the tail, there is a series of dark stripes running crosswise. On the face, black rings surround the eyes. The lower parts of the head and body are usually white. The length of the head and body is 10 to 14 inches. They weigh is about five pounds. Behaviour: The meerkat is highly sociable and lives in large colonies, often in association with other mongoose species, ground squirrels, or small rodents. Although it is quite capable of digging its own burrow, the meerkat prefers to use burrows dug by other animals. It feeds mainly on insects, millipedes, and spiders, which it digs out of the ground. Reproduction: Gestation lasts for 11 weeks, after which two to 4 young are born. Note: The meerkat is easy to tame and is often kept as a pet.
Cape springhare Springhare: "Springhare" is the English version of the Afrikaans (South African Dutch) word "springhaas," which means "springing rabbit." It is not, however, closely related to a rabbit. Location: Specific areas from Tanzania through the tip of South Africa. Habitat: Arid, open terrain, preferably where the soil is sandy Description: The springhare resembles a small kangaroo, with its small front legs and very powerful hind limbs. It has large eyes and long ears. The terminal halt of the tail is black. Length of head and body is up to 16 inches. It weighs up to 9 lbs. Behaviour: The nocturnal springhare lives in a complex burrow system, with a great many different openings to the surface, which may be blocked oft from the inside in some cases. When it emerges from its burrow it appears to leap into the air, evidently to avoid any enemy lurking near the exit. It is completely vegetarian and feeds on bulbs, tubers, and roots. It can cause great damage to crops. Reproduction: The 2 to 4 young are born in the burrow.
Eland Eland: "Eland" is Afrikaans (South African Dutch) for "elk." Location: Eastern and southern Africa Habitat: Terrestrial. Savanna, plains; only rarely in open forests. Description: The basic colour is a pale beige-brown, which tends to turn gray with age. The large horns are slightly divergent, and curve slightly backward. Length of head and body up to 12 feet and weight as high as one ton! Behaviour: The eland lives in large groups, usually of 25 to 70 individuals, but occasionally up to 200. These herds live in association with other herbivores including zebras and gemsbok and feeds on leaves and tender branches. Reproduction: After a 250 to 270 day gestation, a single young is born.
Cape golden mole Mole: "Mole" is the Middle English word for the animal. Location: South Africa. Habitat: Fossorial. Soft or sandy soil in grassy or scrub areas. Description: A small, round-bodied animal lacking external tail. Its hind feet are small with five toes. The fur is thick, and it has heavy underfur, brown to gray in colour. Total length is only about 4.5-5", and it weighs about 1 oz. Behaviour: Although its habits are similar to those of true moles, the numerous species of golden moles are not closely related to them. This fossorial (burrowing) animal is blind. It burrows extensively, making both deep and shallow tunnels. The golden mole eats earthworms and other small invertebrates. Reproduction: Its breeding habits are little known. The young are born in a grassy nest.
Dwarf Mongoose Mongoose: "Mongoose" comes from the Marathi language of India, and their word"mangus" for the animal. Location: Much of eastern and southern Africa. Habitat: Terrestrial. Savanna and scrub. Description: This is the smallest of all the African mongooses. The general colour is speckled reddish brown. The head and body are 6 to 9 inches long. The weight is about one and a half pounds. Behaviour: This is a gregarious mongoose which lives in large groups of 20 or more individuals. These colonies occupy old termite nests or the burrows of other animals. It issues a wide range of sounds and cries. It will sometimes attack prey as a group. Although it sometimes preys on small rodents, birds, and reptiles, the diet consists mainly of insects. Reproduction: After a gestation period of about 50 days, 2 to 4 young are born in a hole in the ground or in a hollow in a tree. There are several litters a year. The offspring nurse for about two months and are independent about one month later.
Which of the 'Big Five' do you find most impressive?