Wildlife in South Africa

Several Big Five reserves protect the more charismatic large mammals associated with the African savannah. Foremost among these is the Kruger National Park and abutting private reserves, but other key safari destinations include iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Madikwe, Pilanesberg, Addo Elephant National Park and a variety of smaller and more exclusive private reserves.

These premier reserves all support healthy populations of lion, elephant and buffalo. South Africa stands as the world’s most important stronghold for rhinos (around 90% of the global population of white rhino and black rhino is concentrated there), while the private reserves bordering Kruger have few if any rivals when it comes to intimate leopard encounters.

Wildlife in South Africa_Leopard Leopards are elusive and shy animals so spotting one on safari is a magical experience

Other wildlife associated with these reserves includes African wild dog, cheetah, spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey. The country supports around two dozen species of antelope, ranging from the outsized eland and stately spiral-horned greater kudu, to the gregarious blue wildebeest and impala, to arid-country specialists such as gemsbok and springbok and the diminutive forest-dwelling red and blue duikers.

Wildlife in South Africa_wild dog The African wild dog is one of the most endangered predators in Africa, but also the most efficient hunters in the bush

A number of large mammal species are endemic to South Africa. The black wildebeest and blesbok are associated mainly with grassy habitats in the highveld, while the Cape mountain zebra and bontebok are fynbos-dwellers more-or-less confined to the Western Cape.

Wildlife in South Africa_Zebra Karoo National Park The iconic Mountain zebra in the Karoo National Park

Marine wildlife is a strong feature of South Africa. The clifftop town of Hermanus offers the world’s finest land-based whale-watching, while other marine wildlife attractions range from caged shark dives at Mossel Bay and turtle-nesting excursions in iSimangaliso to the penguin colony at Cape Town’s Boulders Beach and dolphins that frequently visit many of the country’s bays.

whale watching in South Africa A Southern right whale breaks the water near the coastal town of Hermanus in the Western Cape

South Africa is a key bird watching destination. The national checklist comprises around 840 species, and includes the world’s largest bird (ostrich) and what is reputedly its bulkiest flying species (kori bustard) along with a dazzling variety of bee-eaters, turacos, parrot, rollers and waxbills. Around 35 bird species are more-or-less endemic to South Africa (some have a range extending into the small bordering kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho) and several more are near-endemics with a range that extends a small way into Namibia and/or Botswana. Avian variety is greatest in the southern summer (Nov-Mar) when several resident species assume a colourful breeding plumage and dozens of migrant species arrive from Europe or elsewhere in Africa. There are several sites in South Africa, most notably perhaps Kruger, where a moderately skilled birder could tick 100 species in a day.

Wildlife in South Africa_Birds_Knysna Turaco The Knysna turaco is confined to the lush forests of Southern Africa


Popular South Africa Safaris

These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates

Stunning view from the Rovos Rail | The Ultimate Luxury Safari in South Africa (11 days)

The Ultimate Luxury Safari in South Africa (11 days)

Combine Cape Town chic with Africa's most luxurious train and an elegant Big Five safari for a stylish South African holiday...

Aerial View of Sun City | Sun City and Madikwe Family Safari (6 days)

Sun City and Madikwe Family Safari (6 days)

From Sun City's hedonistic pleasures to the majesty of nature at Madikwe Game Reserve, this journey combines the best of two very different worlds...

 | Cape Town, the Winelands and Kruger Luxury Journey (9 days)

Cape Town, the Winelands and Kruger Luxury Journey (9 days)

Experience Cape Town, the lush Cape Winelands and a safari in the Kruger National Park and you'll fall under South Africa's spell...

 | Cosmopolitan Cape Town and Kruger Tour (7 days)

Cosmopolitan Cape Town and Kruger Tour (7 days)

Discover the Big Cats in the Kruger National Park and enjoy the bustling harbour, world-class beaches and top-notch vineyards in Cape Town...

Exterior view of Ngala Tented Camp | Delightful Cape Town and Kruger Luxury Safari (12 days)

Delightful Cape Town and Kruger Luxury Safari (12 days)

Combine Cape Town and the surrounding Cape Winelands with a safari in the Kruger National Park for a relaxing and exhilarating South African safari...

 | Nature, Romance and Exclusivity - A Complete African Honeymoon (14 days)

Nature, Romance and Exclusivity - A Complete African Honeymoon (14 days)

This exclusive African honeymoon through East and Southern Africa is the perfect way to celebrate the start of your new journey together...

 | Luxurious Cape Town and Victoria Falls Tour (8 days)

Luxurious Cape Town and Victoria Falls Tour (8 days)

Two countries in 8 days may seem like a lot but with this well thought out itinerary you will see some of the regions most iconic destinations without feeling like you are rushing through it…

Mountain Walk | Cape Town, Whale Coast and Victoria Falls Tour (10 days)

Cape Town, Whale Coast and Victoria Falls Tour (10 days)

Experience a safari adventure that combines the very best of Victoria Falls with the undeniable highlights of Cape Town and the Whale Coast....

 | Kruger to the Mozambican Coast (7 days)

Kruger to the Mozambican Coast (7 days)

Combining the bush and the wildlife found in the famous Sabi Sand in the Kruger National Park with a tropical stay in one of the sublime lodges of Mozambique's Ponta Mamoli...

 | Big Five Safari in the Kruger National Park (3 days)

Big Five Safari in the Kruger National Park (3 days)

Encounter the Big Five safari and discover the elusive leopard...

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