Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)

Conservation Status

Least Concern (LC)

Physical Description

Aardvarks have a stout body with prominently arched back, their skin is very thick but they do not possess a layer of fat. They are sparsely covered with coarse fur which is short on the head, neck, and tail, but longer and darker on the rest of the body, especially the limbs. They are most notable for their long nose, rabbit-like ears and thick kangaroo-like tail. Powerful limbs end in thick nails used in digging; both burrows and in feeding.
Weight 50 - 80kg
Size Head and body 109 to 135 cm; Tail 53 to 66 cm
Lifespan (wild) 18 years
Lifespan (captivity) 23 years


Aardvarks are nocturnal animals making them difficult to see; rather their presence is indicated by their tracks, burrows, and scratch marks left by their powerful claws. Aardvarks forage at night, covering distances of 2 to 5 km each night. Before foraging, aardvarks leave their den in a ritualistic way. They first stop at the den opening to look for enemies, then run out, jump repeatedly, look around, and jump around more, before finally trotting off to forage.

Social and Reproduction

They are generally solitary creatures except when accompanied by young; adults coming together only to breed. They are territorial animals inhabiting large home ranges between 2-5 square kilometres and are typically found on low densities.

Mating System Polygamy (Polgyny)
Breeding interval Annual; once per year
Breeding season October - December
Gestation 7 months
Number of offspring Young born between May - July. The young begin to follow their mother at 2 weeks. They nurse until 3 months, at which time they begin to eat insects. At about 6 months, they become independent of the mother, and at about 2 years, they become sexually active.

Habitat and Food


Aardvarks are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, except for the West and Central rain forest regions. grassland and savanna habitats in sub-Saharan Africa They are rarely found in areas that have hard, compact soil, rocky areas, or areas that frequently flood. They often live in temporary holes that are a few meters in length, but can also live in complex and intricate burrows, which can have eight or more entrances and extend as much as 6 meters underground


Aardvarks eat at night and are myrmecophagous, i.e. they specialize on ants and termites. They dig rapidly into the sides or center of ant and termite nests or mounds, while feeding at the same time. The ants and termites are swept into their small mouth with their long, sticky tongue. Aardvarks swallow without chewing their food, or after chewing their food very little. Most of the predator defences that ants and termites use including biting, stinging and chemical defences do not seem to affect aardvarks. Colonies of ants and termites are rarely destroyed after an aardvark feeds and can be built back up and re-established. up to 50,000 termites and ants in one night. May also feed on grasshoppers and beetle. One interesting addition is the ‘aardvark cucumber (Cucumis humifructus) which often grows below ground near abandoned aardvark burrows. Aardvarks are the only animal known to feed on this species and are therefore critical in the dispersal of its seeds.


humans (Homo sapiens), lions (Panthera leo), hyenas (Hyaenidae), leopards (Panthera pardus)

Conservation Challenges

Aardvarks are widespread, however, they have been exterminated in many agricultural areas. They are vulnerable in all settled areas and endangered or extinct in areas with a high concentration of people. They are often hunted by farmers and ranchers who find their hole digging inconvenient or dangerous (Aardvark burrows can present a hazard for vehicles).

Cultivation and pesticide use has resulted in the elimination of their food source in some areas.

Naankuse Solutions

Knowledge sharing on basic ecology; advice on leaving termite/ant nests outside areas where burrowing activity will not impact human activities (i.e. creating holes under fences through which predators can gain access to vulnerable livestock).


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Aardvark at Naankuse sites