The Aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is neither a wolf nor a jackal, but is the smallest member of the Hyena family. Proteles means ‘complete in front’, referring to the fact that they have five toes on their front paws and four toes on their back paws, while cristatus means ‘provided with a comb’, referring to their mane. They are highly territorial and define their territory by extensive scent marking. When threatened, the Aardwolf (Earth Wolf) raises the stiff bristles of hair forming the black stripe on its back in order to look larger and, hopefully, more menacing. This has given rise to its common Afrikaans epithet of Maanhaar Jakkals (Mane Hair Jackal). One rarely comes across one either in or out of game reserves. This is because these solitary creatures are nocturnal and feed mainly on termites. The Aardwolf laps up termites from the ground using its long, sticky tongue.
It was very sad to see an Aardwolf had caught a blow from a passing vehicle during the night and had died on the road.
These and Bat-eared Foxes are prone to being hit by vehicles travelling at night. I wonder if they are dazzled by the headlights and ‘freeze’ or if they simply cannot get out of the way quickly enough.
We visited the Cradock Club (established in 1881) and came across two mounted specimens of Aardwolf decorating a pub – they had clearly been hunted a very long time ago. Still, it seemed a strange coincidence to see evidence of these shy creatures in two very different places on the same day.
Now, to hope that we will come across a live one in the wild one day!