Smaller Night Animals
Bouncing across the plains on long legs, the Spring Hare is actually not a hare at all, but a large rodent, reaching 4 kg in size. Spring Hares are common throughout south and eastern Africa, though they are seldom seen. These animals dig and live in a long burrow during the day, only emerging at night to feed on grasses and seeds.
Groups of Spring Hares build warrens in undisturbed areas wherever there is abundant grass. They are most common along lake shores and in semi-wooded areas. They live and graze in groups of up to nine and can be quite a shocking site the first time you see one; "Am I in Australia?"
You can tell the difference between Spring Hares and Cape Hares because Cape Hares are day time animals (diurnal) while Spring Hares are night animals (nocturnal). Spring Hares also run exclusively using their back legs very much like kangaroos, while Cape Hares run with all four legs.
Bushbabies live in several parts of the Serengeti National Park, in dense stands of riverine vegetation. About the size of a cat, bushbabies are primates (monkeys and ape group), though only distantly related to higher primates such as chimpanzees. At night, bushbabies give a distinctive call which sounds very much like a crying baby, thus giving them their name.
Bushbabies in Serengeti live in the Grumeti Riverine Forests, the Seronera River Acacia Thickets, and along the streams in the south-west, near Moru Ranger Post. Unlike the black and white Colobus Monkeys, bushbabies are active at night and do not eat tree leaves (folivorous), but eat tree sap, flowers, fruits and insects instead.
Bushbabies live in loose troops of animals which are ruled by a dominant female (matriarch). Dominant males travel between several troops, while young and subdominant males live in the periphery of the female troops.
Both males and females call to announce their location, but most communication is done with scent. Bushbabies have glands in their skin which produce a musky scent which is taken up by the fur. They have special "finger claws" on their back feet and a curiously split tongue which are assumed to help in cleaning each others fur. The prime way of scent marking, however, is to urinate on their hands and touch branches.
George Schaller, the famous Serengeti lion biologist, briefly had a pet bushbaby during the 1960's. It was cute, but scent marked everything, including its human room-mates, making it less than popular, and an animal, like all of those in Serengeti, best left in the wild.
Pangolins, or scaly ant-eaters, are an incredible addition to the animals of Serengeti. This animal, like the platypus of Australia, seems to be a mixture of several animals. It is covered with scales similar in arrangement to dinosaur bone plates, though the pangolins are made out of cornified outer skin, similar to rodent tail scales. Its tongue is the same length as the animal, which can be as long as 60 cm. It has no teeth, but has a sand and stone-filled gizzard similar to a bird.
This animal feeds on ants, termites, and small beetles. When eating termites, it digs a shallow hole in a termite mound, extends its long, sticky tongue into the mound, and retracts it with a slurp, covered in termites.
Pangolins, when threatened, roll into a tight ball so that their hairy bellies and faces are covered. Pangolins are rarely seen in Serengeti, though one lion researcher recently watched one being attacked by lions. The pangolin rolled into a tight ball, which the lions rolled about and attempted to bight, but could not find a purchase. The pangolin, stuck in the middle of a bunch of frustrated and sleeping lions, would unroll enough to look around, then give itself a push and roll a short distance away. The lions noticed each movement and awoke to try again. Slowly, over the course of two hours, the pangolin managed to move far enough away from the lions so that they ignored it and finally left it to go hunting easier prey.