If you’re planning a trip to Africa, you’ve probably read or seen videos about the continent’s most famous animals, which include lions, elephants, and buffalos, to name a few. With so much focus on these animals, it can be very easy to believe everything you hear about them, especially one concerning the early history or explaining a natural or social phenomenon of these animals. Unfortunately, most of this information can be factually inaccurate.
With that being said, here are the 10 safari myths about African animals that are simply untrue!
1. Hyenas are Nothing More than Scavengers.
Hyenas are undoubtedly one of the world’s most reviled natural predators. They are frequently portrayed as scavengers, the bullies of the African plains, laughing as they band together to steal hard-earned meals from their more majestic competitors. However, this is far from the truth. It is a myth often perpetuated by nature documentaries that show large groups of hyenas mobbing lions after a kill. The truth is that spotted hyenas are excellent hunters in their own right. Indeed, the majority of the prey they consume is the result of their own hunting efforts, which we frequently overlook while applauding the efforts of their competitors. We admire the strength of a leopard dragging its prey up a tree, at the speed of a cheetah coursing a gazelle, and the teamwork of lions as they pursue large and dangerous animals. Yet we fail to notice that hyenas are just as impressive and efficient hunters.
2. Male Lions Do Not Hunt.
Male African lions are typically portrayed in nature documentaries as layabouts who prefer to let the females do all of the hunting. However, recent research has led many scientists to reframe this notion. While males with established prides do not hunt as frequently as females, mounting evidence suggests that they are just as capable as females. In pride groups, females do the majority of the hunting. But, male lions have been shown to bring down prey just as often as females—when they do hunt.
3. Hippos are Good Swimmers.
While hippos prefer to spend the majority of their time in the water, many people believe they are excellent swimmers; however, this is not the case. Hippos do not have streamlined bodies or flippers, and while their toes are webbed, their legs are rather short and fat. Instead, they mostly move in a slow-motion gallop along the riverbed. Basically, they run along the bottom of the river, and in order for this to work, they have to be denser than water.
4. Ostriches Bury Their Heads in the Sand.
Ostriches, contrary to popular belief, do not bury their heads in the sand when scared. In fact, when an ostrich detects danger and is unable to flee, it will flop to the ground and remain motionless, attempting to blend in with the landscape. However, an ostrich may appear to have its head in the sand from time to time, but this is not due to fear. Ostriches dig shallow holes in the sand to use as nests for their eggs. The ostrich will use its beak several times a day to turn the eggs in the nest, giving the impression that it is burying its head in the sand.
5. Elephants Have Their Own Graveyards.
According to legend, elephants have graveyards where they go to die. According to this myth, when the elephant realizes it is dying, it travels to the location where its relatives died previously and dies there as well. While there is no evidence that elephants seek out designated graveyards when they are ready to die, large numbers of elephant remains can be found within a small geographic region. These so-called elephant graveyards are primarily caused by environmental factors such as drought or poisoning. Many elephants remain, for example, can be found near Lake Rudolf in Kenya. The lake is extremely salty, and it most likely killed an elephant herd that used it as a watering hole.
So what about the myth that elephants visit these graveyards to pay their respects to long-lost loved ones? While there is no evidence to support this theory, researchers have discovered that elephants interact with the remains of their own species when they come across them. They will not necessarily travel to see these remains, but they might stop to give the remains some attention if they spot them during their regular routine.
6. Hyenas Are Hermaphrodites.
Hyenas have been thought to be hermaphrodites for centuries. Female spotted hyenas have extremely enlarged half-foot-long clitorises that look almost exactly like penises, complete with what appear to be testicles, which are actually their labia that have folded up and fused. They even have erections. They also give birth to a two-pound cub from the enormous clitoris. However, contrary to popular belief, this is not hermaphroditism. Males and females have distinct genetics and reproductive organs, despite the female’s highly modified clitoris.
7. Porcupines Shoot Their Quills.
According to an African myth, the porcupine can shoot its quills at its enemy. This is not true, but the quills do easily detach when touched. The quills are modified hair that can be regrown if they are lost. The quill itself has a very sharp tip with overlapping scales, making it extremely difficult to remove when stuck in an animal’s skin. A single porcupine can have up to 30,000 quills! Some quills can grow to be 50 cm long.
8. Crocodiles Hide Their Food Underwater.
One common myth about crocodiles is that they prefer to hide their food under a submerged log until it rots. This is just a fantastical story to send shivers down your spine! In reality, any food ‘stashed’ underwater would be quickly stolen by other crocodiles and fish. They probably would if they could, but they can’t.
9. Giraffes Sleep Only 30 Minutes a Day.
There’s a popular belief that giraffes only sleep for half an hour per day. However, these nearly two-story-tall critters sleep for about 4 1/2 hours per day. Interestingly, these animals sleep mostly in five-minute bursts, and sometimes with one eye open while standing up to allow them to flee quickly if any danger arises.
10. Zebras are White with Black Stripes.
Zebras have more light-colored hair than dark. Since their bellies are usually light, it may appear that they are white with black stripes. But this is not the case. All of a zebra’s fur, both black and white, grows from follicles containing melanocyte cells. These cells can be found in all animals and are primarily responsible for producing the pigment that gives skin and hair color. Melanocyte cells in both cases produce melanin. What’s important about zebras is that their white fur represents a lack of melanin; white is not its own pigment. Because white stripes only exist because the pigment is denied, black is considered the “default” color of a zebra
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