Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the ugliest of them all?
If you have been on safari or planning to go on one you’ll probably be aware of the ‘Big Five’ – buffalo, elephant, lion, rhino and leopard. Or you may have also heard of the ‘Little Five’ or ‘Small Five’ – buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, antlion, rhinoceros beetle and the leopard tortoise. However… did you know that there is also a special group of animals that have unfortunately been christened the ‘Ugly Five’? The members of this exclusive club are – the hyena, wildebeest, Lappet-faced vulture, warthog and the marabou stork.
Although these animals aren’t exactly eye-catching, they all have something unique and fascinating to offer and definitely worth a tick on your must see list whilst on safari.
Baby hyenas definitely have a cute factor to them, but alas it does not take long for them to grow up and loose that adorable appeal. Hyenas are not part of the cat or dog family. In fact they have the own, known as Hyaenidae. This family has four different members which include the striped hyena, the spotted hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf.
Hyenas are menacingly aggressive looking animals; they are vaguely bearlike large animals with a large head, broad rounded ears, high shoulders, sloped backs and long muscular limbs. Their coats are rough, comparatively short and are reddish brown to tan in color growing lighter with age. The tail and nose are black. Hyenas are cunning and resourceful. Although usually considered scavengers (they pick over kills made by large carnivores), they are also very good hunters and kill a variety of prey.
Hyenas can adapt to almost any habitat and are found in grasslands, woodlands, savannahs, forest edges, sub-deserts, and mountains.
Unique to these animals are their bone-crushing teeth which allow them to shatter the entire skeleton of any prey – even as big as wildebeest.
Fun Fact: The stripped hyena has the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom.
This is one animal that, at first sight, lacks any apparent form of grace. The animals name is derived from its “wild” look and literally translates from the Afrikaans word which means “wild beast” – for the menacing appearance presented by its large head, shaggy mane, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns. In fact, the wildebeest is better described as a reliable source of food for the truly menacing predators of the African savannah.
Wildebeest prefer savannahs and plains, but they can be found in a variety of habitats, including dense bush and open woodland flood plains. The largest populations are found in the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya. Between July and October approximately 1.5 million wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara in search for fresh grass generated by the rains. It is arguably the most spectacular wildlife show on the planet.
Fun Fact: By Late January and early February, pregnant wildebeest are giving birth. It is estimated that during the peak of this birthing season, an astonishing 8,000 calves are born each day.
While extremely graceful during flight, vultures have a face that only a mother could love. However their ugliness is efficient. The Lappet-faced vultures have a very characteristic bald head and bare necks so that when they feed on rotting carcasses, bacteria and other parasites cannot burrow into thick feathers to cause infections. This allows the bird to stay healthier while feeding on material that would easily infect other animals. They also dominate the other vultures when feeding on a carcass; their beak has the ability to tear through skin and tendons. Lappet- faced vultures are carnivorous and eat carrion almost exclusively. Like all vultures they prefer fresh meat but can consume carcasses that may have rotted so much that the meat can be toxic to other animals. This gives them a unique and important ecological role because they help prevent the spread of diseases from old, rotting corpses.
Unknown to many, vultures are facing extinction in several places in Africa and their numbers are declining quite rapidly. One of the main causes is poisoning.
Fun Fact: Vultures are sociable creatures and are often seen as a collective unit, but the name assigned to a group of vultures all depends on what they are doing at that given time.
Like most bird groups, vultures can be referred to as a flock, though they can also be labelled as either a venue, volt, or a committee. However, when it comes to the vulture group feeding around a carcass, they are called a wake, and when the birds are in flight formation, they are known as a kettle.
‘Hakuna matata’ indeed! These bristly-haired pigs need little introduction thanks to the renowned Disney duo. Far from its insecure animated spokes-pig, the warthog can be something of a dangerous adversary when it comes to protecting its own. Antenna-like tail pointing skyward, rough mane flowing behind it, an adult warthog can pick up a fair amount of speed when necessary. Their tufts of spiky hair, vicious tusks, prominent snouts and facial wattles have earned them their place on this list, but these grazers are always a delight to spot out in the grasslands.
The warthog’s favorite habitats are grassland, savannah, and woodlands. They utilize the abandoned burrows of other animals as their dens. The most commonly-occupied burrows are those dug by aardvarks.
Fun Fact: Warthogs get their English name from the large wart-like protuberances on their faces. These protrusions are a combination of bone and cartilage. Males have four warts, two large ones beneath the eyes and two smaller ones just above the mouth; females have two small ones right below their eyes. These warts are actually protective bumps. They are designed to protect and cushion the blow when fighting with other male warthogs.
A mess of frizzy hair protrudes from a speckled pink scalp, large black wings fold inwards as it stalks hunched forward through the grasses, fleshy throat swinging from side to side. It’s no wonder the marabou stork’s nickname is the ‘undertaker’. These unusual looking birds can weigh up to 9kg, and have a wingspan of up to 3 metres.
Look out for them in wet and semi-arid areas. Like its fellow member of the Ugly Five and frequent dinner companion, the vulture, the marabou stork is often a scavenger. You’ll spot them lingering on the periphery waiting for the pieces of carrion the vultures discard. While they prefer the flesh of dead animals, these birds will eat just about anything small enough for them to gulp down – more often than not, other birds.
Fun Fact: Marabou storks possess hollow wing, leg and toe bones. In such a large bird, this is an important adaptation for making sure that they are light enough to fly.
So remember, next time you are on safari with Origins Safaris, be sure to keep an eye out for these animals!
ABOUT ORIGINS SAFARIS
At Origins Safaris we are passionate about wildlife, cultural heritage, adventure and exploration. We customize each and every safari to your personal requirements and expectations, ensuring an exclusive, unique and authentic experience every time.
Origins Safaris is a family business, founded in 1963 by Don and Margaret Turner. It is managed today by two subsequent generations of the family, and predominantly by Don’s son, Steve. We are so much more than just a travel broker – our years of experience, professionalism and reliability means that we go the all-important extra mile, to make sure your dream safari is safe, memorable, educational and most of all great fun. We are renowned for our meticulous safari planning from start to finish, and the highest standards of natural history interpretation.
Contact us on www.originsafaris.com for more information and pertinent itinerary advice.
Origins Safaris – Authentic African Experiences Since 1963.