Xerus is a genus of African ground squirrel that, unlike its tree-hugging European cousins, lives on the ground and does not hibernate. These coarse-haired mammals live in sandy burrows of open woodlands and grasslands, and enjoy a varied diet for such a small animal – from fruits, seeds and grains to insects, small vertebrates and bird eggs. Very sociable in nature, African ground squirrels gather in colonies of up to thirty and live in a complex network of interconnecting burrows – being poor climbers, they spend most of their time either on or under the ground. You can tell an African ground squirrel’s mood by its tail – when alert its tail points upright and drags on the ground when relaxed. Whilst some people keep African ground squirrels as pets as they are easily tamed, in some parts of Africa they are hunted for their meat and are often regarded as pests by farmers, although their species is not endangered. In cases where they are seen as pests, it is important to use humane and effective pest control methods to manage their populations, without causing unnecessary harm to the environment or other wildlife.
- African ground squirrels sunbathe in cold weather. In hot weather, they lie flat in the shade and flick sand onto their backs, before shaking it off again.
- When African ground squirrels move their tails up and down, this is an alarm signal to other members of the pack and is sometimes accompanied by an alarm call in the form of a long whine.
- Indicative of their sociable and non-territorial nature, African ground squirrels are lenient in letting foreign squirrels join their groups and often share their burrows with mongooses and meerkats.
Time of year: Since unstriped ground squirrels do not hibernate, and are usually active above-ground during the day, any time of year is ideal. However, they will typically shelter in their burrows during sandstorms and are less active during windy and wet weather.
Destination: As part of Singita Game Reserves, Faru Faru Lodge in Tanzania offers the perfect getaway for families wishing to explore the east African wilderness. Offering eight open-style suites and one villa suite, including one especially dedicated to families, it prides itself on its easygoing elegance. Viewing decks over the heated rim-flow swimming pools provide views of the watering hole below and, for an authentic touch, a Swahili-inspired ‘beach’ offers further relaxation. Of course, the expected game drives happen twice daily, with families of four having the option of their own private vehicle, and there is an array of activities especially tailored for the kids – including wildlife shows, survival in the bush and flower pressing. Mum and dad will appreciate the luxurious treatments offered at the spa, as well as a gym with a view like no other – over the African bush.
Price Guide: From £1330 per night for a family of four, including accommodation, meals and game drives.