Orycteropus afer 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Tubulidentata Orycteropodidae

Scientific Name: Orycteropus afer (Pallas, 1766)
Common Name(s):
English Aardvark, Antbear
French Oryctérope
Myrmecophaga afra Pallas, 1766
Myrmecophaga capensis Gmelin, 1788
Taxonomic Source(s): Shoshani, J., Goldman, C.A. and Thewissen, J.G.M. 1988. Orycteropus afer. Mammalian Species 300: 1–8.
Taxonomic Notes: Aardvarks were originally thought to be congeneric with the South American anteaters (Myrmecophaga), until they were put in their own genus: Orycteropus. After 1872, aardvarks were also put in their own order: the Tubulidentata. But this order was long considered to be closely related to the Xenarthrans and the pangolins in the now obsolete clade "Edentata" (Lehmann 2007). It is only since the beginning of the 20th century, that aardvarks have been considered to be basal "ungulates". It was also at this time that the seven then recognized species were merged into the single species Orycteropus afer (Shoshani et al. 1988). Since then, Tubulidentata is the only order of Mammals to be represented by a single living species. To date, 18 subspecies have been described (Meester 1971). However, their validity is doubtful and studies in this regard are ongoing. Finally, at the turn of the millennium, molecular phylogenetic analyses integrated the aardvarks into the new super-cohort Afrotheria, next to elephants, hyraxes, sea-cows, sengis, tenrecs, and golden moles.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-01-21
Assessor(s): Taylor, A. & Lehmann, T.
Reviewer(s): Rathbun, G.B.
Contributor(s): Lindsey, P., Cilliers, S., Griffin, M. & Rathbun, G.B.
Although Aardvarks are not commonly seen, they are often relatively common in suitable habitats. However, their numbers in some countries are undoubtedly reduced by the bushmeat trade and by habitat alteration, and this is something that should be monitored if possible. Despite this, given their widespread, nearly pan-African distribution south of the Sahara, and there occurrence in many large protected areas, there is no good reason to adjust their Red List status at present. The species is listed as Least Concern.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Aardvark is widely distributed south of the Sahara from Senegal to Ethiopia to South Africa, being absent from the Sahara and Namib deserts. It is also present in the Congo Basin, although its distribution in West African rainforests is poorly known (Taylor 2013). The distribution of the Aardvark is largely determined by the abundance and distribution of suitable ant and termite species, which it eats.
Countries occurrence:
Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):3200
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Current population trends are not known. In southern Africa there is little reason to believe that they are decreasing or increasing significantly due to any factors other than natural variations due to the variable nature of the habitats they occupy. However, in eastern, central, and western Africa, numbers may be declining as a result of the expansion of human populations, the destruction of habitat, and hunting for meat. This has not been quantified due to logistical difficulties in conducting field studies. Densities vary according to habitat suitability, including the abundance of prey.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Aardvarks occur in a broad range of habitats, including the semi-arid Karoo areas of southern Africa, grasslands, all savanna types, rainforests (but not swamp forests; F. Maisels pers. comm.), woodlands and thickets (Shoshani et al. 1988, Taylor 2013). They are absent from hyper-arid habitats and avoid very rocky terrain that is difficult to dig in. Aardvarks have been recorded at 3,200 m Asl in the highlands of Ethiopia (Yalden et al. 1996). They feed almost exclusively on ants and termites, but sometimes eat other insects, such as pupae of scarabaeid beetles (Taylor et al. 2002). They obtain most, if not all, of their water requirements from their food, although they do occasionally drink. Aardvarks are anatomically adapted to dig, and they extract all their food from underground. They also dig burrows in which they rest during the day and which they use to escape predators (Taylor and Skinner 2003). Because many animals, from invertebrates to other mammals, use these burrows (Whittington-Jones et al. 2011), the Aardvark may be considered a keystone species (Cilliers 2002). Aardvarks are generally nocturnal, although they may come out in the afternoon in cold weather. They are solitary, only coming together occasionally for very short periods. Very little is known about reproduction in the wild.
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The Aardvark is used for meat, curios (skin, claws and teeth), and for some traditional medicinal purposes (Carpaneto and Germi 1989). The only use that may form a threat is the use in the bushmeat trade, but the degree of use is unknown.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Potential threats to the species have not been quantified. However, the bushmeat trade in African savannas may pose a genuine threat to Aardvark populations in some countries (e.g. Zambia, Mozambique). Localized threats include habitat loss due to agriculture and subsistence hunting. Hatt (1934) recorded indigenous hunters in the Congo killing Aardvarks trapped in burrows, and Mbuti pygmies in the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo smoke them out of their burrows (Carpaneto and Germi 1989). The meat is prized, while other parts of the Aardvark, such as the skin, claws and teeth, are used to make bracelets, charms and curios, and for some medicinal purposes (Carpaneto and Germi 1989). In western Kenya (1960s), local hunters flooded burrows to kill animals for food (Rathbun 2011).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The severity of the threat of bushmeat hunting and habitat loss to the conservation of Aardvark populations is unknown, but Aardvarks are present in a number of large and well-managed protected areas across their range. No targeted conservation measures are recommended at present, but this should be revisited if further data become available. Aardvarks can reproduce successfully in captivity and the zoo populations are increasing in the northern hemisphere (Parys et al. 2012).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.5. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
1. Forest -> 1.9. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
2. Savanna -> 2.1. Savanna - Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.5. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.4. Grassland - Temperate
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
4. Grassland -> 4.5. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.2. Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Causing/Could cause fluctuations ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 5 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Minority (<50%) ♦ severity:Causing/Could cause fluctuations ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 5 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.1. Taxonomy
1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Food - human
 Local : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Carpaneto, G.M. and Germi, F.P. 1989. The mammals in the zoological culture of the Mbuti pygmies in north-eastern Zaire. Hystrix – Italian Journal of Mammalogy 1: 1-83.

Cilliers, S. 2002. The ecological importance of the aardvark. Afrotherian Conservation - Newsletter of the IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group 1: 7-8.

Hatt, R.T. 1934. The pangolins and aardvarks collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 66: 643-672.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. Available at: www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 23 June 2015).

Lehmann, T. 2007. Amended taxonomy of the order Tubulidentata (Mammalia, Eutheria). Annals of the Transvaal Museum 44: 179-196.

Meester, J. 1971. Order Tubulidentata. In: J. Meester and H.W. Setzer (eds), The Mammals of Africa: An Identification Manual, pp. 1-2. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Pagès, E. 1970. Sur l'écologie et les adaptations de l'oryctérope et des pangolins sympatriques d'Afrique. Biologia Gabonica. 6: 27-92.

Parys, A., Lehmann, T., Shoo, W. and Wilms T.M. 2012. Newcomers enrich the European zoo aardvark population. Afrotherian Conservation 9: 2-5.

Rathbun, G.B. 2011. Aardvark hunt in Kenya. Afrotherian Conservation 8: 13-14.

Shoshani, J., Goldman, C.A. and Thewissen, J.G.M. 1988. Orycteropus afer. Mammalian Species 300: 1-8.

Taylor, W.A. 2013. Orycteropus afer Aardvark. In: J.S. Kingdon, D.H.D. Happold, M. Hoffmann, T. Butynski, M. Happold and J. Kalina (eds), Mammals of Africa. Volume I. Introductory Chapters and Afrotheria, pp. 290-295. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

Taylor, W.A. and Skinner, J.D. 2003. Activity patterns, home ranges and burrow utilisation of aardvark (Orycteropus after) in the Karoo. Journal of Zoology (London) 261: 291-297.

Taylor, W.A., Lindsey, P.A. and Skinner, J.D. 2002. The feeding ecology of the aardvark Orycteropus afer. Journal of Arid Environments 50: 135-152.

Whittington-Jones, G.M., Bernard, R.T. and Parker, D.M. 2011. Aardvark burrows: a potential resource for animals in arid and semi-arid environments. African Zoology 46(2): 362-370.

Yalden, D.W., Largen, M.J., Kock, D. and Hillman, J.C. 1996. Catalogue of the Mammals of Ethiopia and Eritrea. 7. Revised checklist, zoogeography and conservation. Tropical Zoology 9(1): 73-164.

Citation: Taylor, A. & Lehmann, T. 2015. Orycteropus afer. In: . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41504A21286437. . Downloaded on 21 June 2018.
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