Africa's wildlife wonders
South Africa's scenic beauty, magnificent outdoors, sunny climate, cultural diversity
and reputation for delivering value for money have made it one of the world's
fastest growing leisure - and business - travel destinations.
The country is highly diverse in terms of its climate, culture, tourist activities
and infrastructure, catering for every tourism niche, from business, eco- and
cultural tourism through to adventure.
International travel to South Africa has surged since the end of apartheid. In
1994, the year of South Africa's first democratic elections, only 3.9-million
foreign visitors arrived in the country.
The Big Five
Best known are the mammals and the best known of these are the famous Big Five:
elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo. Not that giraffe, hippo or whale
are small ... South Africa's bushveld and savannah regions are still home to
large numbers of the mammals universally associated with Africa.
The Kruger National Park alone has well over 10 000 elephants and 20 000 buffaloes
- in 1920 there were an estimated 120 elephants left in the whole of South Africa.
The white rhino has also been brought back from the brink of extinction and now
flourishes both in the Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park in
KwaZulu-Natal. Attention now is on protecting the black rhino.
Both these parks are home to all of the Big Five, as are other major reserves
in South Africa – such as Pilanesberg in North West province – and
numerous smaller reserves and private game lodges.
Lesser known wildlife
Other quintessentially African large animals are the hippo, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest
(the famous gnu) and zebra, all frequently seen in South Africa's conservation
areas. Heightened awareness, however, has created an increased appreciation of
lesser known animals. A sighting of the rare tsessebe (a relative of the wildebeest)
may cause as much excitement as the sight of a pride of lion. And while one can
hardly miss a nearby elephant, spotting the shy little forest-dwelling suni (Livingstone's
antelope) is cause for self-congratulation.
On the really small scale, one could tackle the challenge of ticking off each
of South Africa's seven species of elephant shrew - a task that would take one
all over the country and, probably, a long time to accomplish.
Over 200 mammal species
With well over 200 species, a short survey of South Africa's indigenous mammals
is a contradiction in terms. A few examples will help to indicate the range.
In terms of appeal, primates rate highly. In South Africa they include the nocturnal
bushbabies, vervet and samango monkeys, and chacma baboons which - encouraged
by irresponsible feeding and under pressure through loss of habitat - have become
unpopular as raiders of homes on the Cape Peninsula.
Dassies (hyraxes, residents of rocky habitats) and meerkats (suricates, familiar
from their alert upright stance) have tremendous charm, although the dassie can
be an agricultural problem.
The secretive nocturnal aardvark (which eats ants and is the only member of the
order Tubulidentata) and the aardwolf (which eats termites and is related to
the hyaena) are two more appealing creatures, and both are found over virtually
the whole country.
And for those who like their terrestrial mammals damp, there is the widely distributed
Cape clawless otter, which swims in both fresh and sea water. The spotted-necked
otter has a more limited territory. Both are rare, however, and difficult to
One mammal whose charm is recently acquired is the wild dog or Cape hunting dog,
one of Africa's most endangered mammals. Once erroneously reviled as indiscriminate
killers but now appreciated both for their ecological value and their remarkably
caring family behaviour, wild dog packs require vast territories.
They are found in small numbers in the Kruger National Park and environs, northern
KwaZulu-Natal (including the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park), the Kalahari, and the Madikwe
reserve in North West province.
More common canine carnivores are the hyaena, jackal and bat-eared fox. Feline
carnivores - besides the big cats mentioned above - include the caracal with
its characteristic tufted ears, the African wild cat and the rare black-footed
cat. Other flesh eaters include the civet, genet and several kinds of mongoose.
The plant eaters are well represented by various antelope, from the little duiker
to the large kudu and superbly handsome sable antelope, which is found only in
the most northerly regions.
Mammals take to the air, too: South Africa is well endowed with several bat