Did You Know? There Are A Few Things You May Have Got Wrong About African Animals

Think you know rhinos, zebras, ostriches and other iconic African animals? You might be surprised…

What you may have got wrong about zebra


There are two species of African rhinoceros, one of them being the famous white rhinos. But the thing about white rhinos is... they aren't white. Their name has nothing to do with the colour of their (greyish) hide. Instead, it's generally thought to derive from a mistranslation of the Dutch word "wijd", meaning wide. Which in turn is thought to have been a reference to the animal's wide mouth, rather than its general girth. According to this theory, the other, more pointy-lipped type of African rhino became known as black rhinos simply to differentiate them. It makes sense, since they're no more black than white rhinos are white.

Ostriches don't bury their heads in the sand.

Ostriches don't bury their heads in the sand.


What do ostriches do when they feel threatened? Well, they definitely don't bury their heads in the sand. This fanciful, false idea goes right back to the great Pliny the Elder, who wrote that ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed." What he might have been observing is ostriches digging holes to stow their eggs, or simply lying on the ground to blend in with its surroundings. It's best not to get too close, because a good kick from an ostrich is strong enough to kill a lion.


The brilliant black-and-white stripes of zebras still present a bit of a conundrum for scientists. Camouflage is the obvious answer, yet the stripes are actually too vivid to make for conventional camouflage, unless they perhaps work by "dazzling" predators. There's an alternative theory, backed up by real research, which suggests their particular pattern of black-and-white stripes is off-putting to insects which spread disease. Yet another idea is that stripes somehow help regulate body temperature by affecting air flow over the skin. Ultimately, the existence of stripes is likely down to a combination of all of these things.

>MORE: See How You Get On In Our African Animals Quiz

African elephants may mourn for their dead.

African elephants may mourn for their dead.


Think only humans have rituals around death? Not quite. Evidence suggests that elephants are deeply aware of death and even conduct various "funeral rites" for the departed. Elephant carcasses have been observed being visited by groups of elephants which poke the body with their trunks and stand vigil. They have even been known to attempt to bury their dead beneath foliage. Incredibly, there have even been reports of elephants trying to bury dead humans.

Naked Mole-Rats

Which African animal might benefit human beings the most? It's not the majestic lion, the wise elephant, or the powerful rhino. It's arguably the naked mole-rat, which with its wrinkled, hairless, fleshy body and protruding teeth is perhaps one of the most unsightly creatures on the continent. Yet they have a very particular talent: an immunity to cancer. It's down to their genetic ability to forge a "super protein" that prevents cancer from forming, and scientists hope that understanding its mechanism can help in the fight against cancer in humans.

Black mambas are actually olive coloured.

Black mambas are actually olive coloured.

Black Mambas

And lastly, Africa's most notorious snake. Black mambas are incredibly long, incredibly agile and incredibly venomous. But what they are not... is black. They're generally greyish or olive coloured. They actually get their ominous name from the inky blackness of their mouths - a sight nobody ever wants to see up close.