A is for Aardvark ~ Close encounter with one of the world’s most amazing animals.

 First view, sleeping beauties 

A is for Aardvark ~ Close encounter with one of the world’s most amazing animals

My husband has long had a love for an unusual creature. Coming at the start of the dictionary and top of the list of animals nobody knows a lot about, aardvarks have enchanted him almost as long as we’ve been together. By one of those coincidences we live a few miles from one of only three places in Britain that has them, and the only one that offers the public the chance to get up close and personal with them.

The aardvark is a shy African animal that puzzled the first white settlers in Africa. Looking at it, they decided it must be some kind of pig but one that lived in the earth, so they named it Aardvark, which is Afrikaans for Earth-pig. There is not a single related species anywhere left on the planet; they are unique. Living on termites and ants, aardvarks can dig through rock hard earth and even concrete(as those who keep them in zoos found out) using incredibly powerful feet equipped with claws that are as hard as hooves. A male ‘vark can weigh up to around 63 kg, and the animal is about two or so feet at the shoulder.

Africa Alive wildlife park in Kessingland has three aardvarks: the male, Crigley and two females, Ellie and Mischa. They hope to have them breed, as the zoo at Colchester has successfully bred aardvarks, but so far, there has been only one still birth. Little is known about their lifestyle in the wild; the arrival of night photography has begun to open up a world hitherto unknown to humans. Studying them in captivity is adding to our understanding of their physiology and their behaviour. In the wild, their main predator is the lion, though they have been known to simply dig their way out of trouble and a predator that follows them down a burrow will probably find themselves walled in and buried alive. An aardvark can dig as fast as two men with shovels, which gives you some idea of how powerful those feet can be.

As a birthday treat our daughter offered us a close encounter, and today we got to enjoy it.

Rubbing in aqueous cream. Their skins need some extra care to stop it getting dry and cracked. They’re still sleeping as we rub them.

Their skin feels a little like a pigs, but the hair is softer. They smell a bit piglike too, but mixed with a smell of fermenting fruit and an overtone of musky, like a ferret.

This gives you a better idea of their size.

I was blown away by their sheer good nature!

That tongue is actually 45cm long and it used to for scoffing termites and ants!

The bottle contains meal worms and Mischa scoffed them down amazingly fast with her sticky and virtually prehensile tongue. They can stand on their hindlegs quite happily. Note the front feet, equipped with heavy duty claws.

The aardvark has only rudimentary teeth and is unlikely to try and bite. These three were super-laidback and happy around people. They are clumsy though so you can be knocked off your feet by them going through rather than round you. They’re incredibly powerful animals for their size; it took six keepers to hold Ellie down when the vet needed to give her an injection. They barely slowed her, let’s say.

The experience was utterly magical and we came away with immense grins. The aardvarks have a very serene energy and are contented and relaxed.

All in all, a wonderful morning.