South Africa’s wildlife is legendary. For first-time visitors, the so-called Big Five tend to hog the limelight, but an African safari provides an opportunity to see a menagerie of other wonderful creatures, from stretch-necked giraffes to bug-eyed nocturnal bushbabies.
t A leopard basking in the sunlight in Kruger National Park
A term coined in the colonial era to describe the quintet of animals most feared and sought by trophy hunters, the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino – has now become the most desired quarry on any African photographic safari. Top Big Five destinations include Addo Elephant and Kruger national parks.
In addition to ticking off the Big Five, enrich your safari experience by seeking out their lesser-known cousins. The “Little Five” are the ant lion (a small predatorial larva), the gold-and-black leopard tortoise, the nocturnal elephant-shrew, the noisy red-billed buffalo-weaver and the armour-plated rhinoceros beetle.
South Africa’s location at the continent’s southern extremity means that it hosts a high proportion of animals found nowhere else. These endemics are concentrated in three areas: the unique fynbos of the southwest Cape, the succulent-rich badlands inland of the west coast and the high Drakensberg. Go searching for Cape mountain zebra, distinguished by their narrow stripes and white bellies; black wildebeest, differentiated from their blue cousins by their white tails; and bontebok, dark brown antelopes with striking white markings.
With 850 species recorded, from outsized ostriches to dazzling bee-eaters, birds are a conspicuous presence throughout South Africa. While any protected area will offer plenty, Kruger National Park is recommended for eagles and other raptors, and Isimangaliso Wetland Park for aquatic birds.
South Africa’s sensational terrestrial wildlife is almost matched by the fauna living along and off its coasts. Enjoy land-based whale-watching at Hermanus, meet the characterful colony of African penguins on Boulders Beach and look out for the Cape fur seals that breed on numerous offshore islands.