It’s an unforgettable thrill spotting Africa’s Big Five – the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo. Give your bush credentials a wild boost and make it your mission to spot the Secret Seven.

They are shy and elusive, and their physical appearance makes spotting them quite the challenge. Put your skills to the test and make it your mission to track down South Africa’s Secret Seven.

Serval

Serval Secret Seven

What are you looking for? The serval is an elegant cat and telltale markings are black dots and dashes on a yellow coat. As these stealthy hunters are active from late afternoon, your best bet would be exploring after sunset. Servals are also the tallest of the smaller wild cats and sport large ears and short tails. Birds may be snatched from the air, but pouncing is also an extremely efficient hunting technique – 40-60% of pounces are successful.

Go here: Kruger National Park

Aardvark

Picture by Barry Christensen

Picture by Barry Christensen

What are you looking for? They might just be one of the most peculiar mammals roaming the bush. There’s no chance you will mistake it for something else. This one-of-a-kind creature has pale skin, a snout resembling that of a pig’s and long bunny-like ears. Other unique features include a long and thick tail, sturdy legs and long claws. These nocturnal animals feast mostly on termites and ants, and can dig an impressive tunnel in mere minutes. Did you know that their burrows can be up to six metres deep?

Go here: Addo Elephant National Park

Pangolin

What are you looking for? Wild fans, this species is unmistakable. With their unique bronze scales, ground pangolins are highly distinctive and seemingly invincible. Unfortunately, all eight pangolin species are critically endangered – it’s the most trafficked animal on the planet. Pangolins share a taste for ants and termites with aardvark. They use their sharp and curved claws to scratch open termite heaps, and their super long and sticky tongues (25-40cm) to lick up ants. They are solitary and scarce – good luck!

Go here: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

[Video courtesy of the African Pangolin Working Group]

African wild cat

Picture by Andre Barnes

Picture by Andre Barnes

What are you looking for? They might look like your pet kitty, but they’re certainly much feistier. Tough enough to survive in the wild, the African wild cat preys on mice and doves. The Southern African wild cat can be identified by its sandy grey coat and dark markings, which make it a master of disguise. These felines are mostly active at night and early mornings and, like most cats, they stalk and pounce when hunting. Only three of the six recognised subspecies of wild cats call Africa home.

Go here: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Porcupine

Picture by Mohammed Jinnah

Picture by Mohammed Jinnah

What are you looking for? Those distinct black-and-white quills make Arica’s biggest rodent a force to be reckoned with. Many a leopard has learnt painful lessons. Wondering why it’s so hard to spot them? Well, they prefer heading out at night in search of vegetarian snacks like plant bulbs, roots and tubers. If ever you heard that porcupines shoot out their quills in self-defence – not true at all. It will, however, run backwards into its attacker, inflicting painful wounds. Ouch.

Go here: Karoo National Park, Kruger National Park

African civet

Picture by Gillian Leigh Soames

Picture by Gillian Leigh Soames

What are you looking for? Reminiscent of the North American raccoon, the African civet has a very special coat: each individual’s stripes, spots and blotches are particular to that animal. And with those striped tails and black bands around their eyes, you cannot help but think of them masked bandits. Civets prefer forest and dense woodlands, are solitary and can disappear into the undergrowth in a split second. If you’re dreaming of encountering the beautiful civet, make sure to get going after sunset.

Go here: Kruger National Park

Large spotted genet

Large-spotted_Genet-min

What are you looking for? Be careful not to confuse the large spotted genet with a civet. Rest assured, practice makes perfect. Although both species are night dwellers, large spotted genets can be correctly identified by their longer tails and lack of bandit masks. It might look like a cat and hunt like a cat, but will ultimately kill its prey – insects and small mammals – with several bites. As they are good climbers, you might want to scan the canopy.

Go here: Garden Route National Park

In search of the Secret Seven

If you want to increase your chances of spotting the Secret Seven, a Wild Card is an unmissable part of your toolkit. With a Wild Card, you can visit more than 80 protected areas in South Africa and Swaziland. Your membership offers 365 days’ free access, a Wild magazine every quarter, bi-monthly Wild newsletter, and exclusive offers and competitions.

Which of the Secret Seven have you seen? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: Smithers’ Mammals of Southern Africa – A Field Guide. Revised and updated by Peter Apps. Struik Nature. 2012.