Cape Ground Squirrel

Cape Ground Squirrel

South African ground squirrel, South african ground squirrel

Xerus inauris
Population size
Life Span
11.5 years
g oz 
mm inch 

The Cape ground squirrel or South African ground squirrel (Geosciurus inauris ) is found in most of the drier parts of southern Africa from South Africa, through to Botswana, and into Namibia, including Etosha National Park.

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The name Cape ground squirrel is somewhat misleading as it actually has a much wider area of habitation. This common name may have been arrived at to distinguish it from a tree squirrel (the eastern grey squirrel) found around Cape Town, which was imported from Europe by Cecil John Rhodes.

The species has also been known as the fan-tailed squirrel.

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Cape ground squirrels have black skin with a coat is made of short stiff hairs without underfur. The fur is cinnamon on the back while the face, underbelly, sides of neck and ventral sides of limbs are white. Each side of their body has a white stripe that stretches from the shoulders to the thighs. Cape ground squirrels ahve fairly large eyes and white lines around them. Their tail is flattened on the back and underside and is covered with white hair and 2 black bands at the base.




Cape ground squirrels live throughout southern Africa; through Botswana, South Africa and Namibia, including Etosha National Park. They inhabit central and southwestern Kalahari in Botswana. In South Africa, they can be found in central and north-central areas. Cape ground squirrels live mainly in arid or semiarid areas. They prefer to live in velds and grasslands with hard ground. They can also be found in scrub along pans, on floodplains and in agricultural areas.

Cape Ground Squirrel habitat map

Climate zones

Cape Ground Squirrel habitat map
Cape Ground Squirrel
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Habits and Lifestyle

Cape ground squirrels are diurnal and do not hibernate. They are burrowing animals that dig and live in clusters of burrows. Burrows protect them from extreme temperatures and from predators. These animals spend around 70% of they day feeding, 15-20% being vigilant and around 10% socializing. Cape ground squirrels live in groups of 2-3 adult females, up to 9 sub-adults of either sex and with the females’ offspring. Groups that have more than 3 females split into smaller groups. Adult males live separately from females and only join to breed. Males groups number up to 19 individuals who are not related and are not agonistic. Cape ground squirrels communicate with each another vocally. When threatened, they will emit a whistle-like call as an alarm call which comes in two forms; the short by shrill "bi-jo" which signal serious danger, and a medium-pitched "bi-joo" sound which is used for lesser dangers. During agonistic encounters, squirrels emit deep growls as signs of aggression. Juveniles make play calls, nest-chirpings, and protest squeaks.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Cape ground squirrels are omnivorous. They eat bulbs, fruits, grasses, herbs, insects and shrubs.

Mating Habits

42-49 days
1-3 pups
52 days
pup, kit, kitten

Cape ground squirrels are polygynandrous (promiscuous). This means that both males and females have multiple partners during a breeding season. The breeding season lasts year-round. Females give birth to 1-3 pups after the gestation period that lasts around 42-49 days. Young are born altricial, hairless and blind. A lactating female isolates herself in a separate burrow to care for her young but she returns to her group after weaning or if her litter is lost for some reason. The pups stay in the burrows for their first 45 days. By 35 days, the eyes are open. Seven days after emerging from the burrows, young can eat solid food. Lactation ends at around 52 days. Males reach reproductive maturity at eight months and leave their natal groups while females mature at 10 months and remain in their groups.


Population threats

There are no major threats to Cape ground squirrels at present. However, in some areas, they are persecuted as an agricultural pest. In addition, humans have used poisonous grass to control ground squirrels due to crop damage and rabies.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Cape ground squirrel is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Cape ground squirrels play an important role when digging burrows. Their burrows are used by meerkats and yellow mongooses as protection from predators and from cold temperatures. Cape ground squirrels also have another relationship with meerkats as their alarm calls warn squirrels of potential danger from predators. In turn, Cape ground squirrels provide meerkats burrows for shelter.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • “Squirrel” comes from the Greek “skiouros”, which means “the shadow tail” (“Skia” is “shadow” and “oura” is “tail”). The reason for the name is thought to be due to the ability of a squirrel to create its own shade by lifting its tail.
  • When threatened by predators, like snakes, Ground squirrels will engage in mobbing behavior. Multiple squirrels will rush at the predator while using their bushy tails to block it. When the predator strikes back, all the squirrels back off. However, such multiple mobbings are generally successful in driving away predators.
  • For thermoregulation, Cape ground squirrels shade their head and back with their bushy tails. They also do dust bathing.
  • Cape ground squirrels do not hoard food so foraging is their daily activity. They usually don't have to drink and get moisture from the food they eat.
  • These squirrels use the position of the sun as an orientation marker to hide and recover their food.


1. Cape Ground Squirrel on Wikipedia -
2. Cape Ground Squirrel on The IUCN Red List site -

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