The Little 5: Redirect Your Gaze

Apr 2 2015

Imagine a tortoise with leopard like spots and an ability to swim, a passerine bird with an externally visible penis, or a beetle with a rhinoceros like horn. Also a small mouse-like creature baring a trunk which rapidly runs along pathways and deftly kicks obstacles from its trail. Or perhaps a creation so mystical in appearance and behaviour that they served as an archetypal for the “Ceti eels” featured in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan! Only you don’t have to imagine this, as these are all real and possible sightings of the “Little 5” in the Kruger National Park.

Malcolm Douglas, Senior Lecturer of South African Wildlife College enlightens me and explains the small 5005 concept. He says, “5005 is a play on numbers, started by Rael Loon, Wildlife Author & Scientist with the notion that the Big 5 is so limiting, and a clichéd marketing gimmick. How can only 5 species be of interest to a visitor in the bush? What about the other 5005 forgotten inhabitants in our biodiversity hotspot?”

So often it is the little things that we tend to overlook, and this is true for our “Little 5″ species: the leopard tortoise; red billed buffalo weaver; rhino beetle; elephant shrew; and ant-lion.

Introducing these “Little 5” in the Kruger National Park, the leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver and ant-lion are most easily spotted. The rhino beetle is generally only seen during the night as it is attracted to bright light, and the elephant shrew is the most difficult to spot without a camera trap (a remotely activated camera that is equipped with a motion or infrared sensor).

Each of these creatures display unique and charming characteristics:

The ant-lion larva is a ferocious-appearing creature with a small head that bears a pair of sickle-like jaws with teeth-like projections. They frequent sandy terrain and are often nicknamed “doodlebugs” because of the spiral-shaped trails they create in sand when hunting. They predominantly prey off ants but will eat anything else that they are able to capture in their trap.

The red billed buffalo weaver is an interesting bird with cordial social habits, and can often be seen feeding off of a buffalo. Fascinating is that they are one of the very few birds to possess a visible phalliod organ. Both males and females have them – but males are much longer (can be over 1.5cm). They are typically found in savannah, thornveld and dry woodland and their social nature is displayed by untidy communal stick nests in tree colonies. The nests are generally occupied by one male and several females.

The elephant shrew habits closed-canopy woodlands, and thickets, usually with a floor densely covered by leaf-litter. It is an insectivorous, hopping mammal whose long snout may resemble the trunk of an elephant (and can even move as such). And not to be misled they are not part of the shrew family but are considered sengis, a term derived from the Bantu languages of Africa.

The leopard tortoise sports an attractive shell with markings similar to that of a leopard. It is one of the few tortoises that is capable of swimming and can often be seen crossing a river or lake. They are the fifth largest species of tortoise and prefer a semi-arid, thorny grassland habitat. They typically live to between 80 and 100 years of age and adults can reach a length of 18 inches long.

The rhinoceros beetle is aptly named because it has horns on its head much like the rhinoceros does. This beetle is truly unyielding and can carry 850 times its own body weight. They are generally found on decaying wood and plant matter.

With this said it is obvious we need to take a moment and redirect our gaze to these formidable ‘little’ creatures within the boundaries of the Kruger National Park.




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