Winter 2020 | Josh Duffus

Elusive aardvark

There are so many reasons to love Tswalu. The contrast between the amazing colours of the dunes in the west and the grey Korannaberg in the east is one reason. Then there is the sight of a gemsbok, silhouetted on a dune crest at sunset. The roar of a Kalahari black-maned lion at dawn is something you won’t easily forget. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there is another surprise. The transformation that the reserve undergoes after the first rains of the year is remarkable, because it’s so sudden. Within days you understand why this part of the world is known as the Green Kalahari. I often lack the words to describe the effect this land of contrasts and extremes has already had on me.

One late afternoon a couple of months ago, I went for a walk with an aardvark. I’m wearing a goofy smile just thinking about it now. There was utter joy in that moment.

Directly translated from Afrikaans, aardvark means ‘earth pig’. This animal is as beautiful and elusive as its name is strange. Considered nocturnal, the aardvark is mostly active in the hours we spend sleeping and chasing our dreams. During the Kalahari winter, it becomes active much earlier in the day due to the freezing night temperatures and the change in behaviour of its favourite food source, termites. In winter these ectotherms also become active earlier in the day, as their metabolism does not allow them to function when temperatures plummet.

I dreamt of taking photos of an aardvark long before I became a guide or arrived at Tswalu.  Here, a dream could become a possibility and, finally, in the warm afternoon sunshine, a reality. For 20 minutes I walked with an ‘earth pig’ as it foraged up and down the dune streets in the golden light. It was completely unaware of my presence, and perfectly relaxed.

 

Perhaps this is why I love Tswalu! For it is a place where dreams can come true. It is also a place where species that many consider to be as elusive as ghosts – the creatures that inhabit the myths and fables told around the campfire, including aardvark, pangolin, brown hyena, bat-eared fox and aardwolf – can be seen more easily than anywhere else in southern Africa. And winter is the best time to do so.

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