There is so much beauty to behold in the African bushveld: sweeping landscapes, striking flowers, vibrant sunsets… One can find appeal in just about everything out here. But one group of animals has earned the unfortunate reputation for being the ‘ugliest of them all’, and is referred to as the ‘Ugly Five’.
Here is a look at the five species, and you can judge for yourself – are they really the ugliest beasts out there?
Hyenas live in matriarchal clans and have a strict dominance hierarchy. They both hunt and scavenge, and are powerful, smart and stealthy. This lethal combination makes them one of Africa’s most successful predators. They have gained a bad reputation from pop culture depicting them as villains, due to their unusual appearance and unappetizing diet. But they play a very important role in the bush by cleaning up decaying carrion.
Warthogs are named for the warts on their face – admittedly, not the most attractive feature. Females have a single set of warts, while males have two sets, used to protect their eyes and face while fighting. Males and females both also have tusks, which make them a dangerous foe. Warthogs can be aggressive and aren’t afraid to use their tusks against a threat – even a lion! – that gets too close to their young or burrow.
There is an old tale that goes: during creation, the wildebeest was the last animal to be made. By then, all that remained were a few spare parts. So the Creator stuck together the horns of the buffalo, the body of the hyena, the stripes of the zebra, and the tail of the giraffe, and thus the wildebeest was formed.
At Marataba, it is the blue wildebeest that is commonly found in our open grasslands. While they certainly have an odd appearance, if you look closely, you’ll notice a beautiful striped pattern on their sides. This gives them their other name, the ‘brindled gnu’ – ‘brindled’ (meaning streaked with dark colour).
The Marabou Stork
The marabou stork is an unmistakable goliath. They have a wingspan of over 3m (10ft) – among the largest of any bird species. Along with carrion, they also feed on insects, small birds, reptiles, frogs, and small mammals. If you can look past an unattractive face and bald head, and use a little imagination, their wings resemble a dark coat with beautiful white embroidery along the edge of the feathers.
The most common species of vulture seen at Marataba is the white-backed vulture. We are also lucky to have a breeding colony of the endangered Cape Vulture. Vultures are bare around their heads and necks, which doesn’t help their appearance, but is very practical when you consider that they scavenge inside carcasses. Contrary to popular belief, a group of circling vultures doesn’t necessarily indicate a carcass below – they could be riding the air thermals in search of a meal.
So what do you think: beauties or beasts?
Words and photos by: Charlotte Arthun