The aardwolf (Proteles cristatus) is a poorly studied and often misunderstood carnivore of southern Africa. The Institute for Wildlife Studies currently cooperates with the Malolotja Nature Reserve in Swaziland in their study of the nocturnal Aardwolf. Inclement weather is a standard experience at Malolotja, especially during the late afternoons, which then makes it difficult for visual observations of the animals. Wildlife researcher Sipho Nana Matsebula, working under the direction of Dr. Ara Monadjem of the University of Swaziland, has only seen the elusive aardwolf a few times. However, he also kept detailed records of other nocturnal animals occurring in the reserve: primarily the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas), followed by serval, caracal, slender mongoose and the large spotted genet.
During more than 4000 miles of nighttime spotlight surveys of the grasslands of the Reserve, Sipho observed only four aardwolves! Nighttime observations (sunset to midnight) of active dens and mid-dens (i.e. ‘latrines’) were conducted for a total of 21 nights, but unfortunately no aardwolf was seen. Daytime walks have also been conducted to identify sign of aardwolf occupation. More than 15,000 hectares of the reserve have now been searched for possible aardwolf sign. In his latest report, Sipho writes:
"Although sightings of the animals are very limited, new and active signs of their presence are being identified and recorded. Seven territories have been found so far, of which six are active. All these territories are located in open grasslands. All of them have a river or a small stream running through them. They are all found between hills or next to hills. Combined, these territories cover an area of about 1400 hectares which is about 8% of the total area of the reserve. "
Mapping dens and mid-dens with the aid of a GPS unit has helped the scientist to learn how the aardwolf uses its' habitat. The average aardwolf territory has numerous dens and mid-dens, about 20 dens/territory and 8 mid-den/territory. The aardwolf does not use one den or mid-den throughout. If it has used one den or mid-den on a particular night it does not necessarily mean that it would use the same den or mid-den the following night, it changes these units.
The aardwolf shows a very high selectivity for certain species of termites, so Sipho and his colleagues are studying the available termite populations. Prior to this study collection of termites have not been made in the reserve or in adjacent areas, hence there is no record of the diversity of termite species present. Specimens of the different termite species are collected from the termite mounds within the reserve and are stored in vial bottles in 70% alcohol. So far 33 samples have been collected to be identified by a termite expert. Sipho is currently characterizing the termite density, soils and vegetation of aardwolf territories. Then he will study competition between warthogs and aardwolves. The Institute is looking forward to learning more about this rarely seen and ecologically complex mammal.
Further information on Aardwolves: