One of the delights of African safari’s in Tanzania is the chance to come upon unexpected or seldom observed wild animal behavior. Here’s an account of some of the more bizarre, interesting behavior along with some tips about what to look for when you’re viewing wildlife.
See my slideshow “Animal Behavior Photographs from a Tanzanian Safari” and “Prettiest Pink Legged Mating Dance of the Common Ostrich” for more examples of these behaviors.
Peekaboo is Really About a Dwarf Mongoose’s (helogale parvula) Hunting Behavior
The first time we spotted a dwarf mongoose my husband and I were sipping beer at our tent near Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, when up popped this cute little face out of a hole. He looked just like a teddy bear. While we sat quietly, two more dwarf mongoose began popping in an out of holes at the edge of the rocky pavement foundation-apparently they lived beneath our tent, thus explaining the strange slithering noise at the toilet. Later, we spotted them in full day light, never stopping but for a moment as they climbed in and out of termite mounds, looking for a quick snack.
Jumping Red Eyes of the Spring Hare (pedetes capensis)
Whoops, no photo with this one because night time pictures are really hard to get. We took a night drive safari from our camp near Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, and our most commonly spotted wild life was the spring hare, seen mostly by the bright red eyes that kept moving up and down.
Shady Trees are Welcome at Noon For Many Except Olive Baboons (papio Anubis)
Olive baboons get up and go out into the fields in the Serengati National Park plain of Tanzania. When all of us are rushing back to camp for siesta to get out of the worst heat and away from the tsetse flies that dislike shade, the olive baboons continue to sit. As we rush past them, Thomsons Gazelles (gazella thomsoni) jump and when notice that they’ve clustered in a ring around the trees. Likewise many of the other animals including African Elephants (loxodonta africanus), whose bottoms don’t quite make the shade. The so-called indestructible termite is the reason for the baboons odd behavior, their underground nests provide plenty of food.
Rock and Rolling Nile Crocodiles (crocodiles niloticus)
We’re dashing over a bumpy road as night is falling and as I see a small stream, something lurches out of the water, then we’re by. Next morning, we see the animals walking single file toward the river. By night fall, they’re walking single file toward the woods. It seems odd, until you find out that those lurking crocodiles really like to eat the young wildebeests ()who often aren’t very strong and don’t know how to swim well. Single file keeps damage from predators minimized. Apparently if it’s your day to die, snap. The crocodiles look quite unwieldly on land, mini-tanks with all mouth. Their teeth don’t actually cut, so when eating their meal, they often roll back and forth to help their teeth do the job.
King or Queen of the Mound or Tree
One of the main differences between Cheetah (acinonyx jubatus) and Leopard (panthera partus) is the way that they hunt. Cheetah lack retractable claws, so are unable to climb trees. The cheetah in the Serengati National Park, Tanzania used road work mounds to scope out prey. Cheetah hunt gizelles using their ability to run 100 km/h and then eat quickly since the hyena often follow them and steal their kill away. Leopard’s on the other hand hold their tail erect when hunting and after their kill, they call haul two and a half times their own weight into a tree. The tree top canopy will hide their kills from the predatory birds – we watched one kill in a tree for two days before the smell attracted an eagle.
Mating Dance of the Common Ostrich (struthio camelus)
The Common Ostrich male’s legs and neck turn bright pink when he’s ready to mate. We came upon two pairs of mating ostriches in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. The closest male to us, ignored the female’s signals that she was interested and escorted the other male through his territory to meet up with the other female. His girl continued to signal her interest by spreading out her wings and leaning halfway over. When the male was secure he had the female isolated, he began his dance, waving one wing then the next, swaying to and fro. Eventually she sank to the ground and he approached her, his neck engorging while he continued his dance through lowering himself and mounting her. It was quite a beautiful dance to see, but that pink, wow, how secure can a male get?
This is just a small bit of the experience we had on safari. Animals often differ in the way they mate, the food they eat and how they kill it, the way they get water, and how they treat other members of their species and other species. Animal identification is only the first step in understanding the Earth’s web of life.
 Martin B. Withers, David Hosking, “Wildlife of East Africa”, Princeton Pocket Guides, 2000
Jonathan Kingdon, “The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals”, Princeton Pocket Guides, 2004