The world is full of unique wildlife across every continent. While some are easy to spot, others are much harder to find. Some are elusive by nature, nocturnal, or live underground or in high altitudes. Others just generally like to avoid humans. Given the rate of poaching, that’s a good thing! From rare cats to unique ground-dwelling creatures, here are 6 of the most elusive animals in the world!
Scouting grasslands across Central Africa, the Serval is hard to spot thanks to its impeccable camouflage. Its tan body and dark markings blend in seamlessly amongst the tall grasses in which it hunts. Servals are well adapted to savanna life with long legs for walking amongst the tall grasses and leaping an impressive 10 feet in the air. They also have larger ears than most other cats to aid in their excellent hearing.
At just 40 pounds, Servals are much smaller than other African wild cats, but as highly skilled hunters, they can be just as fierce. In fact, Servals are known to have a higher kill rate than lions when it comes to hunting prey. They mainly prey on small mammals and birds but will also fish and catch frogs when the opportunity presents itself.
Spotting a serval in the wild can be an incredibly rare occurrence. Unfortunately, you are more likely to spot them in a domestic setting as these cats have become victims of the illegal pet trade. As one can imagine, keeping a wild Serval as a pet can lead to disastrous outcomes. All animal agencies advise against owning servals as they do not thrive in captivity and pose a danger to humans, pets, and native wildlife.
Native to sub-Saharan Africa, aardvarks are ground-burrowing mammals with peculiar features that resemble an anteater, although the two are not related. They are also referred to as “earth pig” for their long, pig-like snout and ability to dig deep burrows into the earth.
While aardvarks are widely distributed, and their population is not believed to be under threat, they are rarely seen. Aardvarks are quite shy and solitary animals, only congregating when mating or rearing their young. They mostly stay in their burrows during the day, only coming out at night to feed on ants and termites.
Aardvarks have excellent hearing and are fast runners. They will often bolt quickly back into their burrows upon hearing a potential threat. Aardvark sightings are incredibly rare except during times of drought when they are forced to travel farther for food, sometimes making these treks during daylight hours.
Widely distributed but rarely seen, the jaguarundi is one of the most elusive cats in the world! Jaguarundis have an expansive range throughout forests and grasslands in North, Central, and South America, but their population size is unknown. They are so rarely seen that they have been deemed extinct in some areas.
Whether or not jaguarundis still exist in the United States has led to much scientific debate. Alleged sightings of jaguarundis have occurred in Texas, Arizona, and Florida, but even those actively searching for the elusive jaguarundi have been unable to find it.
Little is known about the jaguarundi, and attempts to study it have only been relatively successful with the use of trail cameras. Most humans will never come close to a jaguarundi, but if they are so lucky to spot this rare cat, it will most likely be in Costa Rica. Jaguarundis have been spotted in Costa Rica in recent years, and it is believed they have a thriving population in the lush jungles and rainforests.
Often mistaken for reptiles, pangolins are a bit of an anomaly in the animal kingdom as these small mammals have scales. Their scales act much like a suit of armor, and when threatened, the pangolin will roll itself into a ball, leaving only its “armor” exposed.
These rare scaly mammals are found throughout forests and grasslands of Asia and Africa. They spend most of their days curled up in hollow trees or underground burrows, emerging at night to eat insects.
Pangolins were already elusive by nature, but sightings have been further decreased from their dwindling population. You likely won’t spot a pangolin unless you really go searching for them, and even then, it’s a rarity. Sadly, there are many people searching for pangolins, mostly poachers. Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals in the world and are listed as critically endangered. Multiple conservation organizations have taken up the plight of the pangolin to help reduce poaching and protect this vulnerable species.
2. Inland Taipan
Found deep in the Australian outback, the inland taipan is not a snake that most people will ever cross paths with. Nor would they want to, as these snakes are known as the world’s most venomous! Inland taipans have one of the most toxic venoms of any snake. A bite from an inland taipan packs a double punch, their highly toxic venom coupled with an enzyme that increases the absorption rate of the toxin.
Thankfully, although these snakes hold such a dangerous status, inland taipan bites on humans are incredibly rare due to their remote habitat and elusive nature. Most bites that have occurred throughout history have been the result of humans attempting to handle the snake.
Inland taipans spend most of their time underground in burrows and clay crevices. They come out to hunt small rodents, breed, or briefly bask in the sun during cooler times. When they are rarely spotted, it’s most often in the winter when they will have to spend more time basking to warm up.
Living high up in the mountains of the Himalayas, snow leopards are considered one of the most elusive cats in the world. They are often referred to by locals as “ghosts of the mountains” due to their elusive nature and appearance that blends seamlessly with their rocky, snowy environment.
It’s extremely rare to spot a snow leopard, even if you are looking for them. They typically reside at elevations above 18,000 feet and rest in rocky crevices where they are perfectly camouflaged. Scientists estimate there are between 4,000 and 6,500 snow leopards in their mountainous home range, but tracking and studying them remains challenging.
Snow leopards are well adapted to their harsh environment. They have thick fur to keep them warm and large padded paws that protect them from sharp rocks and act as snowshoes of sorts. They are also very agile, can run at speeds over 30 mph, and jump up to 50 feet. These attributes help the snow leopard chase down its prey like wild sheep, marmots, hares, and other small to medium-sized mountain-dwelling mammals.