Tag Archives: Southern African Ground Squirrel

Carnivorous Ground Squirrels!?

While exploring with his camera in Mata Mata Rest Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Joubert came across something really remarkable, if somewhat gruesome: Southern African Ground Squirrels feeding on the carcass of a Cape Turtle Dove. While it is doubtful the squirrels killed the dove and it isn’t clear how the dove succumbed (probably attacked by a raptor), Joubert captured some really fascinating behaviour, as none of the literature we consulted give any indication at all that ground squirrels will eat meat (other than an occasional hapless insect).

These photos were all taken by Joubert (who turns nine soon).

(Edit 08/08/2018 – The WILD Magazine also did a short piece about Joubert and these photos, have a read here)

(Edit 17/08/2018 – Joubert’s school shared his photos and Wild article on their facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Flaerskoolgarsies%2Fposts%2F1830709550376081&width=500 )


Southern African Ground Squirrel

Xerus inauris

The Southern African Ground Squirrel is a common animal with a stable population (to the point of being considered a pest in many agricultural areas), and listed as being of least concern by the IUCN. They’re found widely in Namibia, Botswana and marginally into western Lesotho. In South Africa they are to be seen in the Northern and Eastern Cape, Free State and North West Provinces. This distribution reflects the species’ preference for arid to semi-arid open scrublands with a hard substrate. They feed chiefly on a wide variety of plant species, consuming bulbs, tubers, roots, leaves, grass, stems, flowers and seeds, but also some insects. They are independent of drinking water, gaining enough moisture from their diet. Adults are about 45cm long (including the bushy tail) and weigh around 600g.

Southern African Ground Squirrels are diurnal and highly gregarious. Colonies number up to 30 individuals, usually with no more than 3 adult females and a coalition of unrelated males in attendance. Colonies construct elaborate burrow systems with as many as 30 entrances, in which nesting chambers are lined with grass. These burrows are often shared with meerkats and yellow mongooses, though these species do at times prey on the baby ground squirrels. They will only rarely climb into bushes but will use termite mounds as lookout points instead. While out foraging in the hot sun they often hold their bushy tails above them like a parasol. Southern African Ground Squirrels easily become habituated to humans.

Southern African Ground Squirrels breed throughout the year, though most litters are born in summer. Litters number between 1 and 4 babies, born after a gestation of 7 weeks. The young are weaned at about 7 weeks old. Females usually have a single litter annually, but may have as many as three under favourable conditions. When they’re about 8 months old young males leave their maternal colonies to join neighbouring groups, but females may stay with their birth colony throughout their life. In the wild they have a life expectancy of 4 to 5 years.