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South Africa Wildlife Highlights

South Africa offers huge diversity of habitat, from harsh desert and high mountains to savannah woodland and coastal fynbos.

The country is therefore home to an enormous variety of natural wildlife, from the classic ‘big five’ (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) to colourful birds and ‘marine’ species such as African penguins, whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and sharks.

Fantastic big-game viewing is possible in several areas (malarial and non-malarial) and various private reserves such as Sabi Sands, Timbavati, Madikwe, Kwandwe and Phinda are the best places in Africa to view the ‘big five’ in a short period of time. The animals are very habituated to vehicles, allowing superb photographical opportunities. In particular, Sabi Sands is amazing for leopard viewing, whilst a few areas are home to a lion population with a recessive gene, making them the few places in the world where you can see ‘white lions’ in the wild. Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth is one of the best spots in Africa to view and photograph elephants.

Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, in the Kalahari region of the northern Cape, is one of the best places in Africa to see and photograph meerkats in the wild, and to see the shy and elusive pangolin and aardvark. Meerkats can also be seen in the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park (also exceptional for raptor species) and in the Karoo Desert.

The coastline is also home to a wide array of wildlife. Dolphins are prolific along the whole coastline. African penguins, Cape fur seals and great white sharks can all be seen year round close to Cape Town, whilst Southern Right whales visit the southern coastal areas from July to November to calve and raise their young. Hermanus, near Cape Town, offers the finest land-based whale watching in the world.

Other marine species, including humpback whales, ragged tooth sharks and whale sharks can be found (seasonally) further north off the KwaZulu/Natal coast, where Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles can also be seen nesting (October to December) and hatching (December to March). June/July usually hosts the ‘sardine run’ along the Wild Coast between Port Elizabeth and Durban.

South Africa is a renowned birding destination with around 900 species to be seen. Specialist birding guides can be hired throughout the country, but most notably in the Cape, KwaZulu/Natal and the Kruger regions.