Due to a wide altitudinal range and the resulting variety of habitats, South Africa holds a lot more than just the ‘typical’ African offering of Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Giraffe and other savannah species. Although these are usually the main draw card, a visit to South Africa will include more than just the ‘Big Five’. From the insects, reptiles and amphibians to the wonderful multitude of mammals, South Africa is the ideal destination for the natural history enthusiast.
South Africa’s main wildlife region is without doubt the Greater Kruger National Park, which is made up of the Kruger National Park itself and the amalgamation of private reserves along its the western border. Here one can see an incredible variety of mammals, including the iconic Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo), smaller predators such as Serval, African Wild Cat, Honey Badger and a range of plains game such as Southern Giraffe, Burchell’s Zebra, Common Waterbuck and Impala. The private reserves and the Kruger National Park offer slightly different wildlife experiences, each with its own merit, and they work best in combination. Either way, the Greater Kruger is a must for any visitor to South Africa.
In the north west of the country the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offers another superb wildlife experience. Although the density and diversity of mammals is lower here than in the Kruger National park region, the harsh environmental conditions, open habitat and scarcity of surface water can make for some incredible game viewing.
Further south and west the numbers and diversity of large mammals decrease, though there are still some special species to be seen, such as the endemic Bontebok and Black Wildebeest of the interior plateau, and Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok of the Cape. Smaller mammals are present throughout the country, and places like the Karoo offer the best chances of seeing elusive nocturnal species such as Aardvark and Aardwolf. Rock Hyrax, Meerkat, Cape Fox, Klipspringer and Cape Grysbok are among the smaller mammals to be seen in the south and west of the country, while commonly seen marine mammals include Southern Right Whale along the Cape cost during the August – November period, several Dolphin species and Cape Fur Seal.
South Africa is also rich in reptiles and amphibians and, as is the case with birds, the north-east holds the highest number of species but levels of endemism increase to the south and west. Species seen in the Kruger National Park include Water and White-throated Monitors, Nile Crocodile, Leopard Tortoise, Mozambique Spitting Cobra and the famed Black Mamba, while in other regions an active search is required to turn up a variety of Lizards, Geckos, Snakes, Frogs and the like.