Africa 2018-19

Bat-eared Fox Family Time

The Daily Dozen

Twelve carefully curated photos from the first half of Day 9 in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

That’s right, this day is too big to contain in a single post. Even I, the heartless 12-photos-per-post-only dictator, cannot in good conscience dismiss 53 of the 65 awwwwww-inspiring and HA!-inspiring photos Mike has pulled from the collection of hundreds.

We’ll see if I can eliminate 41 of the 65.

I will also point out that this one day contains two of my Top-10 Trip Experiences.

See what I’m up against?!

Fun, Right Out of the Gate . . . or Driveway

We were hardly out of the campground—I hadn’t gotten the cameras out and situated yet—when a springbok raced away over a ridge as though its life depended on it. We looked in the direction from whence it came.


And not the same cheetah we’d seen last night in this same area. She had three cubs. This cheetah had a single, larger cub who was hunting with her. They were not in hot pursuit of the speeding springbok, but they soon disappeared over the ridge, too.

Before cresting the ridge, Mama cheetah sniffed a tree, turned her butt toward it, and sprayed urine backward, surprisingly high on the trunk.

Good morning, Africa!

Foxy Silhouettes

Nearby, on the opposite side of the road, three young cape foxes played keep-away on a ridge with some coveted comestible. As the sun was just rising, it made for some lovely silhouettes.

Cape fox silhouette, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Photo by Mike Weber.
Cape fox silhouette, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Photo by Mike Weber

That thick, bushy tail is something I use to distinguish foxes from jackals at a glance. Jackal tails are skinny and even scraggly.

Our Bat-eared Fox Friends

We stopped by the bat-eared fox den that is near the Rooiputs campground. Since discovering the den, we always stop by for a peek on our way out and in.

Today, one adult was lying outside the den. As we sat quietly and watched, one, two, three, then four kits popped up and out of the holes to look at us and romp around.

Bat-eared fox kits emerging from their den. Photo by Mike Weber.
Good morning! Bat-eared fox kits emerging from their den. Photo by Mike Weber.

They wobbled and bounced on clumsy legs, chased and bit each other and various insects, rolled, and tumbled into their den holes. And of course they loved and harassed the adult while s/he dutifully kept watch.

Patient bad-eared fox dad. Photo by Mike Weber.
Patient bat-eared fox adult tending four kits. Photo by Mike Weber.

A springbok grazed through the den site. The foxes didn’t mind.

A springbok grazes around a bat-eared fox den. Photo by Mike Weber.
A springbok grazes around a bat-eared fox den. Photo by Mike Weber.

All at once, the adult fox was on its feet. The springbok and kits turned toward the ridge, their backs to us. They froze, watching, listening.

The springbok bolted. Two kits darted down holes; the other two moved closer to a hole, ready to dive to safety.

Bat-eared fox kits peeking out from their den. Photo by Mike Weber.
What was that?! Bat-eared fox kits. Photo by Mike Weber.

Soon, a second adult bat-eared fox appeared on the ridge and came slowly—cautiously?—down the slope.

The adult at the den went out to meet it. The kits stayed put.

The adults approached each other slowly. The new arrival lowered its head and torso in what I would call a submissive posture. When s/he got within a few feet, s/he hurried the final distance, lying down at the resident fox’s feet. The resident fox greeted the new arrival warmly, lying down next to it, licking and nibbling its head and ears and back.

After a brief moment, one kit approached cautiously, then excitedly, quickly latching onto the new arrival to nurse.

It was such a sweet scene! And would you believe that Mike had the wherewithal to click the video button on his camera quite early, catching what lasted only a minute or two before the kits interrupted? That means you get to see this awwwwwwsome moment, too! The video is less than two minutes long. You can watch it here or over at YouTube.

Now we knew who was whom, and how they all fit together. The attentive and gentle caretaker we’d been watching was Papa.

A second kit, watching from the den, soon followed the first to Mama. Eventually, all four hung beneath her, pawing her belly.

Mama bat-eared fox nursing kits. Photo by Mike Weber.
Mama bat-eared fox nursing all four kits. Photo by Mike Weber.

Adult time was over. Mama was home.

Male bat-eared fox, one ear flat back. Photo by Mike Weber.
HA!-some photo of Papa fox with one ear flattened. Photo by Mike Weber.

The one-ear photo cracks me up. Note how torn up Papa’s visible ear is: a big notch is ripped out of the side. The invisible ear matches. Compare that to Mama’s mostly smooth ears above. This is how we can tell Papa from Mama. It also tells us Papa is scrappy.

Mama, I guessed, had been out hunting during the night, while Papa took care of the den and kits. Remember, these animals are nocturnal. Until we came here to KTP, we’d never seen them in the light of day.

Though Mama had had time off from the kits, she was nonetheless exhausted from hunting, still in need of a break. Papa, having been on duty at home, was hungry. He scratched at the hillside behind the den, scrounging an insect meal for himself before heading back into the den for a day’s rest.

When Mama ignored the kits’ requests to play and nurse more, insisting on some rest, they joined Papa, digging and hunting and playing on the hillside. He parented like a champ.

By this time, a bunch of cars had joined us, so we wound our way out of the crowd and continued on.

One of the Top 10

Not only had we enjoyed daylight views of bat-eared foxes, now we had some behavior, too— warm, fuzzy family behavior, at that. This experience is number 5 on my Top 10 list of wildlife experiences for this trip.

So far, of the Top 10, you’ve seen the following:

  1. XXX
  2. Lions in camp
  3. XXX
  4. XXX
  5. Bat-eared fox family interactions
  6. XXX
  7. Maybe saving a scops owl adult
  8. XXX
  9. New species sightings: brown hyena, cape fox, cheetahs
  10. XXX (Hmm. Not sure I can share this one here.)

On the Dunes

We drove over the dunes to the Auob River valley. High in the dry dunes we saw the obligatory gemsbok and steenbok.

Beautiful female steenbok, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, photo by Mike Weber
Beautiful female steenbok. Photo by Mike Weber.

Look at that gorgeous face: the enormous eyes framed in long black lashes, the dainty nose and black-lipsticked mouth highlighted by the white muzzle, and those gigantic furry ears with a couture branching design like leaf veins. The steenbok is one gorgeous antelope.

It is also solitary or part of a pair, an independent soul, which further endears it to me.

Along the Auob

Ground Agama

A ground agama hugs its stick. What you can’t see is the falcon in the tree above this brave fellow.

Colorful ground agama. Photo by Mike Weber.
Colorful ground agama. Photo by Mike Weber.

Cape Hare

It was 99°F by 10:30 am. It was going to be a scorcher. This cape hare had found shade by the road and wasn’t budging, unwilling to give up that precious commodity. Note the ruthless flies around this fellow’s nose. Ay yi yi!

Cape hare unwilling to leave its shade. Photo by Mike Weber.
Cape hare hiding from the sun and enduring relentless flies in search of moisture and nutrition. Photo by Mike Weber.

Okay, who’s read Watership Down? That’s Bigwig, no? (Affiliate link alert!)

If you haven’t read Watership Down, what’s the matter with you?

Swallow-tailed Bee Eaters

Bee eaters are contenders for my favorite African birds. They come in a variety of vibrant colors. They fly fast, swooping and darting to catch insects, including bees, on the wing—as opposed to, say, stomping or pecking at them on the ground. They whack their prey on branches to kill it before gulping it down. They snuggle together on branches at night to sleep.

Swallow-tailed bee eaters. Photo by Mike Weber.
Swallow-tailed bee eaters. Photo by Mike Weber.

And look how they pop against a blue-sky background.

Ground Squirrel

And then there is the endlessly hardworking ground squirrel. Out in the cruel sun, gathering food and digging burrows that meerkats will likely steal.

To deal with the sun, they turn their backs to it, unfurl their parasol tails overhead, and flare the hairs to make a squirrel-sized bit of shade. I think this is a brilliant adaptation.

Ground squirrel with its tail parasol up. Photo by Mike Weber.
Ground squirrel with its tail parasol up. Photo by Mike Weber.

We have a running joke about Mike’s Ground Squirrel Tours because we can pretty much guarantee seeing a bunch of them, and they can be fun and interesting. Sadly, they are overlooked and underappreciated.

Moving from Rooiputs to Two Rivers

Because we were moving from the Rooiputs campground to the Two Rivers campground, we headed back to set up camp, get showers, and do some laundry. Coming up next are photos from our “evening” game drive, which include another Top 10 event—number 3, in fact. Stay tuned!

So, tell me, would you enjoy a Ground Squirrel Tour?

2 replies »

  1. Sure – I’d enjoy a Ground Squirrel Tour! But I must say I’d love to see that steenbok. That is such a great picture!