The Aardwolf, Proteles cristata (1783)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Carnivora
Family : Hyaenidae
Genus : Proteles
Species : P. cristata
- Least concern
- 80 cm long and 10 kg (size)
- South and Eastern Africa (map)
Aardwolves are shy and nocturnal, sleeping in underground burrows by day. They will, on occasion during the winter, become diurnal feeders. This happens during the coldest periods as they then stay in at night to conserve heat.
They have often been mistaken for solitary animals. In fact, they live as monogamous pairs with their young. If their territory is infringed upon, they will chase the intruder up to 400 metres or to the border. If the intruder is caught, which rarely happens, a fight will occur, which is accompanied by soft clucking, hoarse barking, and a type of roar. The majority of incursions occur during mating season, when they can occur 1–2 times per week. When food is scarce the stringent territorial system may be abandoned and as many as three pairs may occupy a “single territory.”
The territory is marked by both sexes, as they both have developed anal glands from which they extrude a black substance that is smeared on rocks or grass stalks in 5-millimetre long streaks. They often mark near termite mounds within their territory every 20 minutes or so. If they are patrolling their territorial boundaries, the marking frequency increases drastically, to once every 50 metres. At this rate, an individual may mark 60 marks per hour, and upwards of 200 per night.
An aardwolf pair may have up to ten dens, and numerous middens, within their territory. When they deposit feces at their middens, they dig a small hole and then cover it with sand. Their dens are usually abandoned aardvark, springhare, or porcupine dens, or on occasion they are crevices in rocks. They will also dig their own dens, or enlarge dens started by springhares. They typically will only use one or two dens at a time, rotating through all of their dens every 6 months. During the summer, they may rest outside their den during the night, and sleep underground during the heat of the day.
Aardwolfs are not fast runners nor are they particularly adept at fighting off predators. Therefore, when threatened, the aardwolf will attempt to mislead its foe by doubling back on its tracks. If confronted it will raise its mane in an attempt to appear more menacing. It will also emit a foul-smelling liquid from its anal glands.
Aardwolfs are common sights at zoos. Frankfurt Zoo in Germany was home to the oldest recorded aardwolf in captivity at 18 years and 11 months.