Bat-eared foxes are nocturnal, insect-loving members of that secretive society, the Shy Five. But if you look for them in mid-winter, when they’re likely to still be about looking for insects after dawn, you’ve a good chance of seeing them, especially in the dry Karoo and Kalahari regions.

Did you know?

Bat-eared foxes have 9 different calls, ranging from whistles to chirps, hisses, growls, yaps and woofs.

Early on a winter’s morning in the Karoo or Kalahari, or even in the late afternoon, you may be lucky enough to encounter a bat-eared fox.

They are unmistakable, with their outsized Mickey Mouse ears, robber masks and fluffy tails.

Usually travelling in little groups of two or three trotting on neat black legs, these nocturnal animals use their massive dish-antennae ears to locate the faint stirrings in the earth that might indicate juicy beetle larvae.

Like aardwolves, also members of the Shy Five (which also includes the meerkat, the aardvark and the porcupine), these strange foxes mostly eat insects.

They’ll lap up harvester termites wherever they can find them, but also are swift diggers, even through the hardest soil. And they certainly won’t turn down a mouse or a lizard, pouncing on them with relish.

They don’t only dig for their food – they’ll leap acrobatically to snatch flying termites (alates) or grasshoppers, too. And they won’t turn up their cute noses at berries, spiders or millipedes either.

Bat-eared foxes are found in the drier western side of the country, and can be seen almost everywhere in these parts except in very wet and green areas.

They thrive in overgrazed areas, conditions that favour termites – their favourite food. A study has shown that bat-eared foxes typically eat more than 40 000 termites per hectare per year.

An endearing trait is that they generally mate for life, and fathers share parenting duties, looking after the young so that the mother can forage (and sustain her all-important milk production).

Another endearing trait is that bat-eared foxes are particularly playful. In the late afternoons, they’ll come out of their dens to groom one another and play.

Then they hunt insects quite intently until around midnight, when they pause for a rest before resuming foraging.

At dawn, they return to their burrows, bask in the rising sun and play again until it gets too hot for them. They frolic with feathers and sticks and each other.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

Bat-eared foxes are most often seen in the dry centre of the country, in the Cape fynbos and the Kalahari. They don’t occur in the Kruger National Park – although you have an outside chance of seeing them in the far north. They are often seen on private nature reserves like Samara, near Graaff-Reinet.

Best time to visit

As with most nocturnal animals, the best time to see them (apart from after dark) is in the very early morning in mid-winter (between May and August), when they may still be out foraging for food.

Get around

Your best chance of seeing bat-eared foxes is on the back of a game-drive vehicle, with a guide and a tracker.

Length of stay

It’s best to stay at least 2 or 3 nights at a private game reserve for a fair chance to see bat-eared foxes.

What to pack

Bring beanies, gloves and blankets if you’re hunting for these lovely animals in the winter months.