AARDVARK
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Population & Distribution Research
S.D.Cilliers

Abstract: Aardvark breed slowly and cannot be kept in captivity, making them a very vulnerable species once threshold numbers are reached. Public response indicates that aardvark are found throughout South Africa but are nowhere common. Aardvark play a key role in facilitating the environment for various other species. The survival of aardvark depends on the availability of a sufficient undisturbed natural environment with the abundance of their main food-source, ants and termites.

Key words: Key species, facilitator, slow breeder.

S.D.Cilliers, Mapungubwe National Park, P.O.Box 383, Musina, 0900 South Africa.
E-mail: stefancilliers@absamail.co.za

           

Introduction
The aardvark (Orycteropus afer) plays a key role in facilitating the environment for other species. Smithers (1971) recorded 17 species of mammals that utilise aardvark burrows and also mentioned that the survival of some of these species may depend on the shelter which these burrows can provide. Various insect, reptiles and bird species (Including the highly endangered blue swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea) also utilize aardvark burrows. Skinner & Smithers (1990) states that aardvarks have a wide distribution on the continent south of the Sahara but mentions that they are nowhere common. Aardvark has one offspring per year making them a slow generating species difficult to rebound from declining/threatened numbers. Sustainable numbers of aardvark cannot be kept in captivity or by zoos making the artificial sustaining of numbers impossible. Data on aardvark are limited and the current distribution and status of aardvark are unknown.

Methods
Eight (8) magazine articles were published in various types of magazines over a one and a half year period. Readers were urged to respond with aardvark sightings or activity in their region. Information obtained from readers were summarised in a distribution table, chart and map. Response was summarised in provincial categories. One radio interview was conducted.

Results
Provincial response on the aardvark articles published over a 1.5 year period are summarised in Table 1. These results are graphically illustrated in a pie chart (Figure 1). The final distribution map of aardvark in South Africa is given as Figure 2.

Discussion
A total of 99 responses were received over an 18-month period. The Limpopo and Freestate provinces had the largest response on aardvark sighting, probably due to the size of undisturbed areas within these provinces. Gauteng province having the most human impact and disturbed areas had the least response and it seems like aardvark are almost extinct there. The responses were well spread throughout South Africa including various habitat types. Aardvark are however nowhere common and their distribution is limited to an undisturbed natural environment and the availability their sustaining food source. Sightings of aardvark are rare while signs (burrows and opened termite mounds) are more common.

The current status of aardvark being least vulnerable on the red-species list may be due to insufficient data on these species. Aardvark breed slowly and cannot be kept in captivity, making them a very vulnerable species once threshold numbers are reached. Aardvark play a key role in facilitating the environment (burrows and old opened termite mounds) for various other species and the protection of the aardvark species cannot be emphasised enough.

Conclusion
It is difficult to determine the accurate distribution of any species. Information and responses should and will be added to the data on a continues basis. The survival of aardvark depends on the availability of a sufficient undisturbed natural environment with the abundance of their main food-source, ants and termites. Landowners play the largest role in protecting the aardvark and needs to be informed and educated. Funding is the main limiting factor hampering the further research and education about this species.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the following persons for their financial, physical and advice assistance:
Andrew Taylor, Martin Haupt and Danie du Preez.


References
SKINNER, J.C. & SMITHERS, R.H.N. 1990. The mammals of the southern African subregion (2ed.) Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.

SMITHERS, R.H.N. 1971. The Mammals of Botswana. Mus. mem. Natl Mus. Monum. Rhod. 4: 1-340.



Table 1
Provincial response on aardvark article for 18month period

PROVINCE
RESPONSES
Limpopo
24
Freestate
18
Eastern Cape
14
Northern Cape
11
Western Cape
10
Mpumalanga
9
Natal
6
North West
6
Gauteng
1
Total
99

Fig. 1
   Provincial response on aardvark activity.




Fig. 2
Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) distribution in South Africa



Fig. 2:     Aardvark