Lesser Known Wildlife of South Africa

Some facts on the lesser-known wildlife of South Africa!

With the cheetah, we move away from well-known wildlife such as the Big Five. Other quintessentially African large animals of the wild are hippo, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest (the famous gnu) and zebra, all frequently seen in conservation areas, so here we mention a few of the scarcer wildlife of South Africa.

Heightened awareness, however, has created an increased appreciation of lesser-known animals. A sighting of the rare tsessebe (a relative of the hartebeest) may cause as much excitement as the sight of a lion pride stretched out under a bushveld thorn tree. And while one can hardly miss a nearby elephant, spotting the shy little forest-dwelling suni (Livingstone’s antelope) takes sharp eyes.

On the really small scale, one could tackle the challenge of ticking off each of the seven South African species of elephant shrews, a task that would take one all over the country and, probably, a very long time to accomplish.

With well over 200 species, a short survey of South Africa’s indigenous mammals is a contradiction in terms. A few examples may 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 the loss of habitat, have become unpopular as raiders of homes on the Cape Peninsula. Image

Other lesser-known wildlife of South Africa are the 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 immensely appealing creatures and both are found over virtually the whole of the country.

The widely distributed Cape clawless otter swims in both fresh and seawater. The spotted-necked otter has a more limited territory. Both are rare, however, and difficult to spot.


The wild dog or painted dog is one of the mammals whose charm is in a sense newly acquired. They are one of the most endangered mammals on the continent. Once erroneously reviled as indiscriminate killers but now, as a result of environmental education, appreciated for both their ecological value and the remarkably caring family behaviour in the pack, wild dogs require vast territories. A single pack needs on average several hundred square kilometres.

We find them in small numbers in KNP and environs, northern KZN (including the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park), the Kalahari, and the Madikwe reserve in North West.

More common canine carnivores are the hyaena, jackal and bat-eared fox. Other felines include the caracal with its characteristic tufted ears, the African wild cat and the rare black-footed cat.  Other flesh eaters include civet, genet and several kinds of mongoose.

Various antelope particularly represent the plant-eaters well. From the little duiker to the large kudu and handsome sable antelope is found only in the northerly regions.

Mammals take to the air, too: there are many bat species in South Africa.

You may see the animals mentioned above on the following tours:

3-Day Kruger Park Explorer – SCJK

4-Day Kruger Park Explorer – SCJL

6-Day Kruger Park, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Zululand Wildlife Reserves and lake St Lucia, Durban – SCMD 

Southern Circle Tours & Safaris
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