Animal Senses - Sight
Botswana Wildlife Guide

© Leopard moving in for the kill at Savute
Animal senses are far more developed than humans and they are constantly alert to the environment around them as their survival depends on this. We as humans have lost much of our sensory ability as we have made things so much easier for ourselves.There are those who will argue that due to human development we do not need our senses to be as developed as they were and that if disaster strikes then our hidden sense will arise from our subconscious.

When we talk of the senses we think of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch and base animal behavior studies on these. The five senses are used by animals to aid them in the most important aspects of survival - feeding, mating and avoiding danger. All animals possess an advanced form of one or more of these senses.

Sub-terrestrial animals such as the Mole have undeveloped sight but advanced sense of smell and touch whereas the animals of the open savannas will usually have a developed sense of sight to scan the plains for predators. Nocturnal animals probably have the most advanced senses as they operate under the most extreme conditions.


For terrestrial and arboreal animals sight is probably the one sense that most cannot do without as it is important in movement, finding food and seeking out danger. An animal may be able to hear and scent danger but the problem will arise when it tries to flee and cannot see where it is going.

Animals rely on sight to find food, seek signs of danger and to check sexual readiness. Spotting something suspicious will result in an alarm call that will alert all the in the groups and in the vicinity. This will then ensure that all the animals in the area are alert and looking out for the danger allowing for a better chance of locating the danger.

Sight is used in the mating game when Baboon females swell on their rear ends when they are in heat. This allows the males to check their readiness. The swelling reddens as the female comes into heat and she may be mated by a number of subordinate males during this time.

There is no chance of her falling pregnant from them for when she is at time her swelling is at it reddest and the dominant male will then prevent all others from mating with her. Scent will also play a part here.

Black Rhino are known to run toward sounds and movement. They have good hearing and scent but as they do not have good eyesight they run toward a disturbance to get a closer look. This behaviour may be one of the causes of their decline in the past 50 years. Poachers will make a noise to attract the Rhino closer for a better shot at it.

Night vision

It took humans until the 20century to find the solution to interfering night vision. Nocturnal animals have various ways of 'seeing in the dark' from the echolocation of Bats to the light sensitive rods in the retinas of other nocturnal creatures.

Insectivorous Bats will hunt by echolocation where they produce very high frequency pulses and listen for the echoes. They can pinpoint the distance and size of their prey. The Bush Baby has large immovable eyes that allow for maximum light to penetrate. It is able to jump between trees without problem.

By Leigh Kemp

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