There is no doubt that the animals on these lists are wild, and often dangerous too. But this can be said of many animals in Africa. Yet for various reasons the animals on this list are not as popular, respected or well-liked as other safari animals. A lot of misconceptions have been built around them due to ignorance and unfair and inaccurate representations, resulting in bad reputations. At a time when many of these African animals with bad reputations have become threatened in the wild, they cannot afford the negative labels they have been given.
African Wild Dogs
The African wild dog is also known as the Cape hunting dog or painted dog. These latter names are preferred by conservationists as a means of allaying the negative image that these endangered mammals have in the wild. The term painted dog is also more accurate, because it is a reference to its Latin name and also describes its beautiful coat. The painted dog’s habitat consists of open plains and sparse woodlands and it ranges throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Due to the opportunistic and cooperative hunting behaviour of painted dog packs, they have received a bad reputation. However, they play a vital role in the ecosystem. Painted dogs are efficient predators and help regulate prey species that in turn play a role in shaping vegetation communities. Saving painted dogs is important in reducing the loss of biodiversity and preserving a healthy ecosystem.
Painted dogs have many admirable qualities too, as evidenced in their social behaviour. They live in packs, which are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair, and they share food amongst themselves, assist weak or ill members and all lend a hand (or a paw, rather) in raising young pups.
Threats to the painted dog include human conflict (mostly by farmers who view them as a threat to their livestock), viral diseases, habitat loss and competition with larger predators. They are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and they are one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.
There are three species of hyena in Africa: the spotted, striped and brown hyena. The latter two occur in east and southern Africa, respectively; whilst the spotted hyena is more widespread, living in savannas, grasslands, woodlands, forest edges, sub-deserts and mountains throughout much of Africa.
Like the painted dog, they have been given a bad reputation due to their efficient hunting behaviour; an image which was not helped by their depiction as mangy, stupid creatures in The Lion King. Hyenas are actually very intelligent and often it is the lion who steals from the hyena, not the other way round. As scavengers, hyenas clean up dead matter; and as hunters, they have been said to assist in maintaining the genetic health of big herds.
Although the spotted hyena is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, the populations are decreasing; and the other two species have been listed as Near Threatened. Their bad reputation is not helping their survival in the wild. Other threats include loss of prey due to the reduction of certain species; habitat loss and human conflict.
Out of all the animals on this list it is arguable that the shark deserves its bad reputation the least. Due to the negative portrayal of sharks in pop culture – for example: movies like Jaws, Deep Blue Sea and Sharknado – people often forget that there are many other species of shark besides the ones depicted, most of which are harmless.
The oceans cover more than one-third of Earth’s surface and house 80% of life on earth, therefore sharks are important to all living things, including us. Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide and heat energy from the atmosphere, which controls our climate and keeps our air clean. Sharks are important to our oceans, because they are often the apex predator in marine ecosystems, keeping it balanced and allowing populations of other marine animals to maintain healthy levels.
Sharks are threatened due to the demand for their meat, as well as their fins. The latter is used to make a luxury cuisine item in Asia, namely: shark-fin soup. This also results in the overfishing of sharks, which is exacerbated by a lack of management to ensure sustainable fisheries. Another problem for sharks is bycatching, which means they are accidentally caught by fishing gear set for other types of fish.
There are more than 400 species of sharks in the world. Some of the threatened species include whale sharks, spiny dogfish, porbeagle, the oceanic whitetip and various hammerhead species.
Vultures are classified into two groups: Old World and New World vultures. Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa and Asia. This family of birds includes eagles, kites, buzzards and hawks. They find carcasses exclusively by sight. New World vultures are found in North and South America. The birds in these groups are usually scavenging birds of prey.
Because they feast on dead and rotting flesh, people tend to turn their noses up at these important birds. Everywhere they live, vultures are important. They clean the environment by eating dead animals before the rotting bodies become a source of disease. This makes it even more tragic that many believe that vultures are just big, ugly birds that spread disease, when the exact opposite is true.
There are 23 species of vultures around the world. Almost half of them are threatened. Species of vulture under threat include the Cape vulture and the white-backed vulture.
There are more than 3 000 species of snakes in the world, and most are non-venomous – although some of these have the ability to swallow or strangle their prey. Snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica, in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and on most smaller land masses.
There are many myths about snakes. Firstly, it is believed they can sting with their tails. Rattlesnakes use their rattles as a warning device, but no snake will, or can, sting with its tail. Secondly, people believes snakes can hynotise them. They cannot. What seems like a hypnotising stare is just a set of eyes that don’t have eyelids and cannot blink. Thirdly, snakes do not chase people, contrary to what many believe. Most snakes are shy and scared of people. If you disturb them and they slip and slither around, it is because they are either trying to get away from you or trying to find a hiding place…to get away from you! If they strike, it is usually as a defense mechanism. Fourth on the list: puff adders do not have poisonous breath. Although they are venomous snakes, they have to do more than breathe on you. And, last but not least, snakes do not suck milk from livestock. Snakes are anatomically unable to suck liquid.
Make no mistake, these animals are dangerous and in certain circumstances can injure or kill you. But it is important to remember that they are not the only ones. If you are going to be entering a habitat populated with wildlife it is important to remain alert and aware and refrain from provoking them. Make sure, before heading on safari or entering an area where you know there are wild animals, that you know how to treat an attack and, more importantly, how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Knowing more about these animals will help us understand and respect them, as well as make us realise why they are so important and deserve as much reverence as a lion or an elephant.