All About the African Polecat

The African polecat might look like a North American skunk, but it is a completely different species.

Striped polecats are also known to locals as zorillas and have several defense mechanisms that help them to thrive.

What You Should Know

The Striped polecat lives within Africa throughout an extensive range. It’s located from the west coast to Somalia and Ethiopia. They are found up until the South African shore. They can be so widespread because they aren’t picky about their environment. All that desire is to find a steady food supply. That’s why they are found in grasslands, woodlands, savannas, forests, deserts, and some semi-mountainous areas.

The Striped polecat also eats a variety of animals. This includes insects, lizards, frogs, snakes, birds, rodents and eggs. Because it has a small stomach, it is forced to eat frequently. They use their clawed paws to dig in the earth for any nearby food to consume. Most of their hunting is done at night.

What Sound Do They Make?

Striped polecats communication to one another through calls and verbal signals. They’ve been heard growling, screaming and making softer calls. An African polecat is known for its high pitch scream used to keep predators away. If it wants to surrender to an enemy, it responds with a softer-pitch scream instead. Young polecats have their own set of signals and calls to express joy or sadness.

Group Characteristics

The African polecat is a solitary animal, except during mating season. The only other polecats it will associate with is its family, although the male doesn’t typically do that either. When two males meet up, it tends to be a hostile situation. One typically walks away with some sort of injury. Reproduction occurs before the African summer, usually during December through February. Most of the offspring is then born during the summer, allowing them the highest chance of survival. The female is pregnant for just four weeks and gives birth to a litter ranging from one to five babies.

How Many Are There?

The IUCN Red List has the African polecat (zorilla) as Least Concern with a stable population. The main threat includes natural predators. Domesticated dogs located in the agricultural areas regularly kill polecats. Cats and jackals are also common predators. While foraging, the striped polecat periodically changes direction. This looks like a game, but it’s meant to throw off potential predators. They are also able to defend themselves with a strong odor they spray from behind, just like the skunk. If need be, they will fend off a predator or attempt to distract them.

Other threats include the hunting and trapping of these polecats. Furthermore, they are subject to some diseases, which reduce the population even more.

Pop Culture

The Guinness Book of Animal Records records a time when the zorilla kept nine lions away while it was looking to eat its recent kill. All it did was use its power of smell to defend them. Aside from that, the African polecat is rarely discussed in popular culture. 

Interesting Facts

The African polecat looks remarkably similar to the skunk. It’s striped black and white and sometimes looks like it has some brown coloring. The underparts and legs are completely black along with its tiny face. They are much smaller than the skunk at just under three pounds and short stature.

The name zorilla comes from the Spanish word “zorro” which simply means fox.

African polecats mark their territory by spraying it, in the same way the skunk does. This keeps them protected from predators and they will also use their spray to ward them off directly.

Image courtesy of discoveranimals.org