Live Tenrec Members of Superorder Afrotheria have an incredibly wide range of physical forms, but have been found almost certainly to have a common ancestor. The diversity apparently resulted from rapid evolution into many niches left vacant on an island Africa by the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction that destroyed the dinosaurs. It is thought that living in underground burrows and being able to hibernate enabled some mammals to survive.

There are two Clades within Afrotheria, Paenungulata and Afroinsectiphilia. We have covered culinary members of both clades on this page. No member of the Afrotheria is kosher.   Photo of Lowland Streaked Tenrec by Frank Vassen distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.0 Generic.

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General & History

The Afrotheria evolved from a small mammal in an almost vacant island Africa. With few competitors, they evolved rapidly to fill a wide range of niches that required a wide range of physical attributes. Eventually, Africa attached to other continents, and the larger Afrotheres spread far and wide. Meanwhile, an influx of predators from other continents forced further rapid evolution. Today, the largest Afrotheres have a contracting range, and many are threatened with extinction.

Clade Paenungulata

Members of this clade are notable for their incisor teeth, which have, even in the tiny (by comparison) Rock Hyrax, the nature of tusks. They also have many more subtle similarities.

Elephant   -   [Loxodonta africana (African Bush Elephant)   |   Loxodonta cyclotis (African Forest Elephant)   |   Elephas maximus (Asian Elephant)] African Elephant

Elephants are found in patches of Africa, India and Southeast Asia. The earliest known ancestor of Elephants was about the size of a fox, and lived in what is now Morocco. The male African Bush Elephant is the largest, usually weighing in at around 13,330 pounds, but the largest on record weighed 22,000 pounds.

Elephants have long been eaten by people, particularly in Africa. Today African Elephants, are under great risk from poachers, not for food, but for the illegal ivory trade. Most of this ivory is shipped to Asia. So vicious is this poaching that in 2013 over 1000 park rangers were murdered while trying to protect the elephants.   Photo of Black Agouti by T-34-85 contributed to the Public Domain.

Rock Hyrax   -   [Dassie (Africaans), Procavia capensis (Rock Hyrax)   |   Heterohyrax brucei (Bush Hyrax)   |   Dendrohyrax dorsalis (Western Tree Hyrax)   |   Dendrohyrax arboreus (Southern Tree Hyrax)] Live Hyrax

Yes, they are closely related to Elephants - they even have little tusks, but not long enough to project out. One variety or another of the Hyrax is found over most of Sub-Saharan Africa, but the Rock Hyrax also extends into the southern mountains of Algeria, along both sides of the Red Sea, and north into Israel. Adult Hyraxes range from about 5 pounds to 8 pounds, with the Rock and Bush Hyraxes heavier than the Tree Hyraxes.

Hyraxes have a host of predators, everything from eagles to snakes, and are also hunted by humans for food, though not intensively. The Rock Hyrax (Dassie) was much eaten by early Dutch settlers in South Africa due to the serious shortage of meat animals available to them. Their guns were too clumsy and ineffective to go after big game. The Rock Hyrax is safe from humans in parts of its northern range because it isn't kosher or halal.   Photo of Rock Hyrax by User25384 distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.0 Germany.

Sirenia   -   [Sea Cows; family Trichechidae (Manatees)   |   family Dugongidae (Dugong)] Live Manatee

These almost entirely vegetarian, fully aquatic animals eat large amounts of water plants, thus are restricted to warm, shallow regions with plenty of vegetation. Manatees are found in estuaries and rivers on both sides of the Atlantic. They inhabit the entire Caribbean region and the Amazon basin deep into the center of South America. In Africa they live along the west central coast and far up the rivers almost to central Africa. A full grown Manatee can weigh more than 3,900 pounds. Dugongs live in waters along the east coast of Africa, including the Red Sea, and through the islands of Southeast Asia. The largest Dugong recorded weighed 2,200 pounds.

At the time of the Spanish arrival, the natives of the Caribbean region were hunting Manatees for food, and they were similarly hunted in Africa. Today, these animals are legally protected through much of their ranges, but poaching for food is still a problem. The main risks to these animals are from other human activity: ships, boats, fishing nets, oil spills etc. With manatees, damage from ships is very common because they don't hear low frequency sounds well.   Photo of Manatee from U.S Fish and Wildlife Service = Public Domain.


While it's hard to imagine that creatures weighing just a couple of ounces could be fairly closely related to Elephants, the DNA evidence is pretty clear. One family (Macroscelididae), not shown here because they are all too small to eat, was given the name "Elephant Shrews". They were tiny and shrew-like, but with long, mobile noses suggestive of elephant trunks. It was not at all suspected they were actually related to elephants.

Common Tenrec   -   [Tailless Tenrec; Tenrec ecaudatus] Live Tenrec

Tenrecs are small insect eating animals native to Madagascar and parts of Africa. This Tenrec, found throughout Madagascar, is much larger than most, growing to 15 inches long and weighing up to 5-1/2 pounds. It is covered with fur, but also long sharp spines. It not only eats insects, but also small frogs and mice. It lives in burrows and can hibernate for long periods. Despite the "tailless" designation, it does have a tail, but a very short one.

This Tenrec has been taken from Madagascar to other islands in the Indian Ocean, and it is eaten on the island of Mauritius. This is not easy, as it is hard to catch and difficult to prepare properly, especially with all those sharp spines. The Common Tenrec is IUCN red listed LC (Least Concern).   Photo by Elias Neideck distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Aardvark   -   [Cape Anteater, African Ant Bear; Orycteropus afer of order Tubulidentata]
Live Aardvark

The Aardvark is a nocturnal burrowing insect eater that roams over the southern 2/3 of Africa. It avoids rocky areas because it can't burrow there. It is rather large for a burrowing animal, weighing up to 180 pounds. It has a very long snout containing an even longer tongue, coated with stick saliva and used to gather ants and termites. The only other thing the Aardvark eats is the Aardvark cucumber, the only cucumber that matures its fruit underground. The meat, which is similar to pork, is eaten by some African cultures. The Aardvark is IUCN red listed LC (Least Concern).   Photo by MontageMan (cropped) distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.0 Generic.

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