The Wildlife of Banghoek

Baboons are common in the valley. A map of 1850 shows the kloof name on the eastern border of Banghoek as Baviaanskloof which indicates the presence of the ancestral family of our own two baboon troops. They are Chacma Baboons, (papio ursinus) and a pleasant reminder that we are the custodians of an ancient wildlife area.  We hear them in the kloof squealing during frequent family tiffs or at dawn when the leopard stalks resulting in fierce and deep warning barking by the alpha males.  The baboons are quite wild and usually harmless unless provoked. Leaving food waste behind will cause problems as is seen by the on-going baboon problems in other areas of the Western Cape.  Our baboons are shy of humans (the farmers on the ridge shoot at them) and therefore we are lucky that we rarely encounter them down in the valley when we are here.  They remain though a problem for thatched roof owners.


Image ref Brett Cole Photography

Aardwolf (Proteles cristata).  “…in the summer of 2015 we arrived on the Banghoek dirt road quite late.  Shortly past Keurbos our headlights picked up what we thought was a farm dog. We slowed down and after a quick turnaround into the light it loped ahead at a very comfortable gait.  It’s a hyena!! I said to Gerrit.  But it’s quite small with a pointy face. And do we have hyenas here?  No, maybe a brown hyena?  But do brown hyenas have stripes?  We remained puzzled as we drove slowly behind it for about 3 kms into the Banghoek Reserve and past the farmhouse; it seemingly quite comfortable just ahead of us in our headlights. And then at Dassies Klip (Bange Hoek), it left the road and took the dirt road into Bobbejaanskloof and we lost sight of it. The next day we looked it up and discovered it was an Aardwolf, a creature we had never seen in all our years in the bushveld of Africa.”  ref Colleen Backstrom, Gerrit van Wyk


Image ref Cathy Withers-Clark Photography

The Aardwolf is an evolutionary oddity, the hyena that adapted to eat only termites and the sole survivor of an evolutionary dead-end some 10-20 million years ago.  It owes its survival to its ability to digest the toxic excretions of termites. Whilst many mammals feed on termites on occasion, the Aardwolf, like the Aardvark, is wholly dependent on them.  Unlike the Aardvark though the Aardwolf lacks the powerful claws and digging snout to break open a termite mound. They feed mostly on harvester termites on the ground lapping them up with a long sticky tongue, up to 300 000 a night.  Its presence in Banghoek is not so surprising then if you think about the amount of termite hills we have and the presence of Aardvark and Porcupines in whose burrows they like to sleep during the day.

Although they are seldom seen they are not endangered and have been observed to be flourishing (like the Cape Leopard) in agriculture areas.  We are privileged to have this elusive mammal in our valley.   Would a trip camera allow us to add to the small body of knowledge around this special mammal?

Image ref Cathy Withers-Clark Photography

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) An early morning walk on the sandy stretch of the Bobbejaanskloof section (northeast) of the valley reveals the presence of small flies and a long 3-toed spoor with a tail drag – Aardvark.  A nocturnal feeder it has poor night vision and uses its long snout to sniff out a termite hill. Using its spade-like claws it breaks in and licks up occupants with a long sticky tongue.  Females give birth to a single cub underground.  Elusive but not endangered.   Again, a trip camera would be useful for us to know more about the Banghoek Aardvark.

Ref Expert Africa

The distinctive spoor of the Common Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), also known as the grey or bush duiker, can be found almost everywhere in the valley.  Sometimes you may not even be aware that they are there and only the sound of the duiker suddenly crashing through the undergrowth tells you of its presence.  The common duiker has a wide diet, leaves, flowers, fruits and tubers, also insects, frogs, small birds and mammal.  As long as they have vegetation to eat (from which they get some water), they can go without drinking for very long periods.

Vaalribbok, Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus).   This little buck survived the onslaught of European hunters and farmers in the 17th and 18th Century by preferring as its habitat the slopes of mountains – unsuitable for horseback hunting or farming.  It feeds on leaves and soft shoots, and fruits of higher growing shrubs. It gets most of its water from its food so can browse distances from water, the Sand Olive (Dodonaea viscosa) prevalent in Banghoek being an ideal food source.  In the 1990s we had six in the valley.  When startled they flee rolling up their tails to reveal a fluffy white flag for others to follow – a lovely sight on an early morning walk…

The Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) favours the rocky hillside in the top section of the valley.  The sole member of its genus, it was first described by zoologist von Zimmerman in 1783.  Its unique coat conserves moisture and insulates the body from extreme temperatures – in the cold, body-warmed air is trapped in the fur and in the heat, its flat loose hairs allow for increased heat reflection.  Upon sighting you it stands its ground and warns with a high-pitched nasal “pheee”, whereupon you could see it silhouetted, feet together on an outcrop.  Typically nocturnal.  There are no major threats to its survival as its habitat of rocky spaces make it inaccessible and unfavourable for hunting

Rarely seen is Banghoek’s smallest antelope, the Cape Grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis).  It stands only 45–55 cm at the shoulder and weighs 8–12 kg. To make itself look larger it fluffs out the fur at its rear end. This little antelope has a reddish-brown colour and gets its name from the prominent grey hairs dotting its coat. Like all our buck, the Grysbok is very shy and difficult to see favouring the thicker fynbos. Males have short, sharp, and straight smooth horns.

The Cape Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) is the world’s largest porcupine and Africa’s largest rodent.  It feeds on plant material and is a lone forager. Typically, nocturnal and monogamous, living as mated pairs, caring for young together which, contrary to most animals are born in the rainy season.  Each pair may inhabit up to six burrows, and range between 67 and 203 hectares.  When attacked, the porcupine freezes. If cornered, it charges and stabs with its quills, or retreats into its burrow, exposing only its quills. This delightful photograph – a rarely seen family group – was captured by a Cape Leopard Trust trip camera in the Cederberg.

Ref Cape Leopard Trust

The Cape Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta) is common and will fearlessly approach the house if it smells food especially a braai.  They also sneak into the kitchen and eat the dog’s pellets and, once you have built trust, will come up to you and take food snippets out of your hand. They have long toes and make use of latrines.  They are solitary.

Ref C.J. Backstrom

The Water Mongoose (Atilax paludinosus) favours the waterways.   In appearance it differs from the grey mongoose in that it has brown fur and a lighter nose. Their spoor is often seen in the riverbeds where they forage for crabs.  Unlike the otter they do not eat the carapace of the crabs and crushed shells are a common finding along the streams of Banghoek. 

Rock Dassies (Procavia capensis).  Our valley is the perfect rocky habitat for this delightful small mammal – the biggest family living on and around Dassies Klip, the large rock on the “Bange Hoek” bend. They eat aromatic and even toxic plants and don’t stray more than 12-50 metres from their rock, wary of the presence of Black Eagles in the valley, Dassies being their favourite food.  When the Dassie sentry – its retina protected by a light shield so it can look straight into the sun – sounds the alarm, a high-pitched hissing sound, the dassies streak back to safety in under three seconds at a speed of 16 kph. The feet have moist glands enabling expert rock climbing.  Named by the early Cape settlers for the Dutch word “das” meaning badger, DNA evidence links them as “the closest relative” to the African Elephant.

Dassies use sheltered latrines, the urine (Dassiepis) over centuries turning resinous and aromatic; known as hyraceum. Middens can be metres thick.  Although the Banghoek middens have not been dated, it is humbling to think that we are the custodians of an ancient creature; seven middens in the Cederberg have been dated back to 40 000 years.

Recent years has spawned a considerable trade in fossilised Dassiepis used in the production of medicine and perfume – perfumers calling the aroma Äfrican Rock.  Fossilised Dassiepis (or klipsweet – hyraceum) forms part of traditional medicine in South Africa, the settlers learning from the locals for its said healing properties.  Tinctured in brandewyn, it was used as recently as 1952* for stomach, tooth, ear and back ailments, also for scorpion and snake bites and diphtheria.  Recent scientific research reveals the Cederberg hyraceum’s efficacy in the treatment of epilepsy. For traditional recipes and more information refer to this delightful and informative post
*Volksgeneeskunde in Suid-Afrika) (1952) SAAWEK


The Cape Hare (Lepus capensis).  Arriving in Banghoek early evening one is often treated to the sight of this beautiful little creature zig-zagging in front of the car, white cotton tail displayed and low sunlight shining through its ears – a scene straight out of a Brer Rabbit story book.  It has a long history in Africa from Egyptian hieroglyphics to a description by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in his landmark 1758 Systema Naturae.  The Cape Hare is nocturnal, the females larger than the males.  It is fond of Banghoek’s kwik grass and if you have a patch of it near your house, you will see the grass scattered with hare droppings in the mornings.  The Cape Hare, like its rabbit cousins, maximises nutrition from its food by eating its own faecal pellets, thus doubling the amount of digestion time, and gaining extra nourishment from the microbes in the pellets.  The only predator which can outrun the Cape Hare is the Cheetah.  In Banghoek its only threat is ambush from the Leopard and Rooikat*.

*The Caracal (Rooikat), as well as the small and delicate African Wild Cat, have been seen in Banghoek in the early 2000s but not in recent years – the last Rooikat the writer came across in 2005 was dead due to poisoning.  Please report to your Trustees if you are lucky enough to come across a spoor, so we can update our knowledge.  And, if you sight any further animals listed or not listed.

Banghoek Private Nature Reserve