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An aardvark ambassador

An aardvark ambassador

Earl R. Miller, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Botswana,  visited the World of Wildlife
Earl R. Miller, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Botswana, visited the World of Wildlife
Warwick Hendry

 

By: LAWRENCE ALROY

Email : kathyalex@vt.edu

The Kasane Biodiversity Centre is becoming better known these days as the CARACAL World of Wildlife, and it will be rebranded under this name to clearly identify it as a haven for wild animals and a vibrant centre for conservation and education in the Kasane area, definitely with the ‘WOW’ factor!   

It was not the anticipated outcome of a wildlife rescue feat: a three month old male aardvark misnamed Ethel gallumphing around people’s feet at the World of Wildlife in Kasane, while members of wildlife veterinarian Dr Kathleen Alexander’s team battled to provide a balanced diet to keep this survivor alive.

The endearing creature had been rescued by Parakarungu villagers after a severe mauling from local dogs, rushed to Kasane, then transferred to Maun for advanced veterinary surgery on his multiple injuries. Knowledge was limited about the physiology of aardvark and procedures were complicated by the need to provide Ethel with specialised sustenance. Against all odds he survived, thanks to veterinary skills in Maun and Kasane and continuing   intensive ‘tlc’ at WOW.

Aardvark number among the strangest-looking animals on the planet, with long pig-like snout, rabbit-like ears and sticky tongue that extends up to 30cm when scooping up their food.  If that isn’t odd enough, their common names – from aardvark (earth pig) to ant-bear to Cape anteater - are all misnomers too. They are related to neither pigs nor bears, and the close resemblance to South American anteaters is nothing more than an accident of convergent evolution.

This species is the sole surviving member of the order Tubulidentata, and their closest living relatives include elephant, elephant shrew and hyrax. Secretive, solitary, nocturnal creatures, they spend most of their time in subterranean burrows when not out foraging for ants and termites. Although they occur across a wide swathe of sub-Saharan Africa, they are seldom seen in the wild.

Fortunately for visitors to the Chobe region, WOW is now home to Ethel, the Aardvark Ambassador - to give him his full title. Not only is he readily visible, but people can enter his enclosure and see him at close quarters. He’s a fluffy-looking, huggable fellow, but, surprisingly, his coat is wiry to the touch. In the four months since his return from Maun, when he weighed a mere 12kg, his condition has improved dramatically and he has more than doubled in size on the diet specially formulated for him by Dr Alexander.

There is no plan to release Ethel back to the wild. He has become too habituated to humans through his long recuperation, and the severity of the injuries he sustained during his encounter with the dogs mean that he would not be able to forage effectively or elude predators. Fundraising is underway to create a suitable area to accommodate him, as befits his high profile station.

Along with ‘Ambassador Giles’, the white-backed vulture, Ethel is a firm favourite with locals and visitors and they make an enormous contribution at the World of Wildlife -  living examples of CARACAL’s  mission statement that ‘conservation through education’ is the way to teach the community about the animals that share their lives in this wild part of northern Botswana