Below you can find a complete guide to the types of animals in South Africa. We currently track 311 animals in South Africa and are adding more every day!
South Africa is among the richest biodiversity hotspots in all of Africa. Located at the southernmost tip of the continent, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, the country shares a land border with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to the north. It also completely surrounds the tiny kingdom of Lesotho. Central plateaus dominate the interior of South Africa. Meanwhile, the mountainous region known as the Great Escarpment forms the plateau edge and slopes downward toward the oceans.
The Official National (State) Animal of South Africa
The national animal of South Africa is the springbok. This small brown and white antelope is native to South Africa and prevails as the national symbol in post-apartheid thanks to the intervention of Nelson Mandela and the country’s tremendous win at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
The national animal of South Africa is the springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis). This small brown and white antelope is native to South Africa and prevails as the national symbol in post-apartheid thanks to the intervention of Nelson Mandela and the country’s tremendous win at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Also referred to as the springbuck this graceful antelope is known for its athletic ability and its habit of pronking or leaping to heights of two meters. These ruminants prefer arid areas and can be found in a range which extends from northern South Africa, through the Kalahari Desert. They handle those harsh conditions quite capably thanks to an ability to survive without drinking water for years, and a preference for munching on succulents.
South Africa also has a national bird, the blue crane (Grus paradiseaI) which lives in southern and eastern Africa. This slender bird covered in a dusky pale blue plumage prefers elevated dry grasslands and is known for having a particularly belligerent streak during breeding season – even cattle and humans are not above getting attacked if they wander too close.
Fun fact: South Africa is home to 99% of the world’s blue crane population which is currently about 13,000.
The Rainbow Nation also has a national fish, the galjoen (Dichistius capensis). Also known as the black bream it is endemic to the coasts of South Africa and Angola and is capable of growing to lengths of 31 inches and weighing 14 lbs.
Where to Find the Top Wild Animals
Since its independence, South Africa has established 19 national parks to protect its natural beauty and wildlife. Together they comprise about 3% of the country’s total landmass.
- Kruger National Park, located along the northeastern border with Mozambique, is the oldest and most famous protected area in all of South Africa. It’s also the largest park located entirely within the borders of South Africa. Designated by UNESO as an important biosphere reserve, the park contains some of the most popular wildlife native to South Africa, including elephants, zebras, rhinos, leopards, cheetahs, lions, hyenas, hippos, and antelopes.
- The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park encompasses some 15,000 square miles of sparse red sand dunes and dry river beds around the Kalahari Desert. Most of the park is actually located on the other side of the border with Botswana. Courageous visitors can expect to find migratory herds of wildebeests, springboks, and elands. Predators also roam the area, including cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards. There are also more than 200 species of birds, including vultures and eagles.
- The Addo Elephant National Park, located close to Port Elizabeth, is one of the best places on the entire continent to find the magnificent giants amidst other animals, namely lions, rhinos, and leopards. The park also encompasses St. Croix and Bird Island, where visitors can see cute penguins, whales, and even great white sharks in their natural habitat.
South Africa sits at the tip of the continent, encompassing quite a large area of land made up of various environments. The availability of differing climates and habitats allows refuge to almost 1,000 bird species. Avifauna is fun to look for and relatively easy to spot in South Africa, though some species are rare. Here are the top places for birdwatching in the country:
- Walvis Bay (Namibia) – Holding the place as one of South Africa’s most important wetlands, the bay is shallow and well shielded. Waterfowl, specifically waders and shorebirds, as well as sea birds, fly or roam the shores of the bay. Most commonly seen are greater and lesser flamingoes, chestnut-banded plovers, black-tailed godwits, red-necked phalarope, pelicans, petrels, and skuas. The spot is perfect for spotting palearctic and intra-African migrants from October to April.
- Okavango Delta (Botswana) – The star of a recent National Geographic documentary, the Okavango Delta is truly one of a kind, branching from the Okavango River in Botswana. Over 500 species of bird occupy this area, most notably the slaty egret, Hartlaub’s babbler, Pel’s fishing owls, white-backed night herons, and lesser jacanas. Commonly seen species include cormorants, kingfishers, and rails. During the rainy season of November to April, many migratory species reside in the delta.
- Bazaruto Archipelago (Mozambique) – Better known for marine species and scuba diving, the archipelago is also a popular migrational rest stop for exciting avifauna such as lesser sand plovers and grey plovers. Residential species include Narina trogons and African green pigeons, as well as the Madagascar bee-eater which is a rare species on the islands.
The National Parks, Wildlife Management Areas, and Game Reserves of South Africa are always good options for bird watchers. However, there are many other sites that may be underestimated for the unique species found at these spots.
Many fishermen from around the world visit the country to experience the many different styles of fishing offered by South Africa, bordered by two oceans and home to various lakes and waterways. Fishing is not only an exciting pastime, but also allows for unique sightseeing and exploration opportunities.
Freshwater fish commonly caught in lakes and rivers of the country include:
- Tilapia (locally known as Blue kurper)
For a mix of species, the natural and man-made lakes of Western Cape are a good place to start. Rietvlei is also relatively diverse in catching opportunities. Otherwise, hop over to Gauteng for a peaceful and fruitful spot to catch any of the mentioned species and more.
Bass fishing is also highly encouraged in the country, as conservationists deem the fish as invasive to local waters and a danger to native fish species. Bass range from largemouth and small mouth to spotted bass and are relatively easy to catch.
Potentially most sought after in freshwaters of South Africa are trout, both brown and rainbow, secured by fly fishing, a beloved pastime of fishermen around the world. While the Eastern Cape is quite the setting for productive fly fishing, the Western Cape and mountains pose appealing as well.
Bordered by two large oceans, it’s no surprise that around 15% of marine species worldwide is found in these waters. Coral reefs span the eastern coast, bringing pelagic species close to the shore and more accessible. In places such as Port Shepstone, Wahoo, Tuna, Marlin, Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, and other incredible game species can be caught right from the shoreline. Northern close fishing produces Snoek, Yellowfin Tuna, Kobold, and Elf.
Fishing is primarily allowed with permits in the country and, as Africa is a special place for conservation and preservation, it is important for visiting anglers to respect South African guidelines and regulations.
Among the plethora of animal species found in South Africa are some more threatening species, though they are a fascination for some. Snakes fall into this category, as several of the species found in the country pose as highly dangerous, while others are non-venomous and avoid humans for the most part. Below are several species of both venomous and non-venomous species listed along with some facts and features.
- Black Mamba – Renowned throughout Africa as the continent’s deadliest snake rightly so, as their neurotoxic venom poses as fatal without treatment. Not commonly found in the Eastern and Western Capes but still present and mostly so in wildlife reserves and parks.
- Cape Cobra – Preferring dry, arid environments, these dangerous snakes are more common to the western parts of South Africa. Appearing in various colorations, this cobra species does not spit its neurotoxic venom but injects through fangs.
- Boomslang – Another snake well-known to the continent of Africa as a threat from above, boomslangs inhabit trees and rarely venture to the ground. Adult males are primarily green while females are brown, exhibiting sexual dimorphism.
- Brown House Snake – Distinguished by a white stripe running on either side of the head, these snakes are prominent in South African environments ranging from urban and suburban to grasslands and forests. While harmless, these snakes may still bite if startled.
- Rhombic Egg Eater – These snakes are highly common and not a threat to South African people even though they may resemble other venomous species. A rasping sound can be produced by the snake rubbing its scales together in order to ward off predators.
- Spotted Bush Snake – The green with black stripes coloration of this small snake let it stand out among other commonly found species in the country. However, when coming upon this species some mistake it as a black mamba or boomslang and kill the shy snake.
Out of the 160 snake species found in South Africa, most are considered not dangerous. However, harmless snakes can still retain teeth bite and strike a painful bite, so maintain respectful boundaries of these magnificent creatures even if deemed not a threat.
Trees Native to South Africa
South Africa has flora and fauna suited to a variety of different climates from desert to subtropical creating a very diverse ecosystem. Flowering plants include the goat’s foot, the ground morning glory, the impala lily, and the kudu-lily and the rock jasmine. Even though only 1% of South Africa is considered forest it is filled with a beautiful selection of native trees.
They include the giant baobab which looks like an upside-down tree with a thick trunk, the Natal Mahogany with its dense foliage and its ability to grow to impressive heights, and the knob thorn with its slender trunk and silvery green foliage. Also included in that illustrious list are the beautiful Lala palm, the sickle bush with its feathery foliage and lovely blooms, as well as the somewhat diminutive wild date palm.
Read more on the incredible trees native to South Africa from towering baobabs to butterfly trees.
The Most Dangerous Animals in South Africa Today
South Africa contains its fair share of interesting but dangerous wildlife. Of the 100 species of snakes found here, about a quarter of them are venomous. Many of the world’s largest mammals are also found here.
- Puff Adder – On account of its widespread distribution, toxic venom, and camouflaged coloring, the puff adder is probably responsible for more attacks than any snake in Africa, especially because it’s so often accidentally stepped on. The symptoms of its venom include pain, swelling, and bleeding, but death only occurs in a small number of untreated cases.
- Black Mamba – This brown or olive green snake is actually named for its inky-black mouth, which it opens wide as part of its threat display. It’s a good thing that this snake will only tend to strike when cornered or threatened because if left untreated, the venom is often fatal.
- Hippopotamus – The hippo is responsible for a surprising number of deaths every year, usually as a result of someone accidentally stumbling on its territory. These large and aggressive mammals will take great strides to defend themselves from any perceived threats.
- Nile Crocodile – With its very powerful jaws and sharp teeth, this common freshwater reptile is responsible for more attacks than almost any other crocodile in the world.
- Lions – While they are large and formidable, attacks from lions are very rare; they almost always occur from people wandering alone across the wilderness.
- Rhinoceros – As one of the largest animals with horns, the rhino could easily harm a human, but it will only attack once it feels threatened.
As a result of human encroachment, habitat loss, and climate change, many types of South African wildlife is threatened with endangerment or extinction. Most significantly in danger are the following species:
- Black Rhinoceros – The large and imposing figure of the black rhinoceros, with horns emerging from the head, is one of the great natural sights in all of Africa. But this species is now in critical danger of becoming extinct from habitat loss and (in some countries) being caught in the middle of warfare. As one of the few species with horns, it’s also a target for illegal poachers. Despite strenuous conservation efforts, only a few thousand of them remain, mostly existing in isolated pockets across all of Africa.
- African Bush Elephant – These large, magnificent creatures are now endangered from illegal poaching, habitat loss, diseases, and even conflicts with humans. It is estimated that some 400,000 remain in the wild.
- Riverine Rabbit – Native to a small section of the Karoo Desert, this cute rabbit has suffered greatly from habitat loss. With only about 1,500 remaining, it is in critical danger of becoming extinct.
- Cape Gannet – Sporting black and white plumage and a distinctive yellow crown, this sea bird is native to the coasts of sub-Saharan Africa, but numbers have declined precipitously from their height.
- Cape Vulture – This scavenging bird has become endangered from poisoning, electrocutions, collisions, and loss of natural foraging habitat. It’s estimated that only about 10,000 mature individuals remain in the wild and are in danger of becoming extinct.
The Largest Animal in South Africa
The largest animal in South Africa is the African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana). The mighty herbivore revered in Southern African mythology is also the largest land mammal on the globe. Males are capable of reaching heights of 13 feet at the shoulder and of weighing 10.4 tons.
These giant pachyderms are highly social forming groups of females, babies, and youngsters, under the authority and watchful gaze of the family matriarch.
They are also renowned for their exceptional intelligence and their ability to tuck away phenomenal quantities of water (about 230 liters per day) and food (about 330 lbs per day). However, that gargantuan appetite and a fondness for human crops means that a visit from a lone individual can result in an entire season of crops vanishing in a single feeding session.
Elephants are also pretty fond of water and love taking a cooling dip following which they protect their skin by sprinkling it with a fine coating of dust.
South Africa’s population of these lovable pachyderms is about 10,000, however, elephants continue to face threats such as encroachment of their habitat, conflict with humans, and poaching for their tusks.
The Rarest Animal in South Africa
The riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is the rarest animal in the Rainbow Nation. A cousin of the European, and Amami rabbits, it is distinguishable from most other members of its wider family by its longer ears and torso. Its soft, satin-like fur is a combination of greys, browns, and reds, and its large dark eyes are surrounded by white circles.
The rodent which lives in the Karoo desert is rather fond of living in river basins. There the soft dense soil is just right for creating extensive burrows where it can birth its young, and the dense vegetation provides its favorite foods such as flowers, leaves, and grass which it nibbles on during nightly feeding sessions.
About 500 adults live in the wild, the numbers of the species having plummeted by 67% within the last seven decades owing to human encroachment.
Zoos in South Africa
While many may deem it unnecessary for zoos or aquariums to exist in such a place of natural wonders and animals, the zoos of South Africa are in place to not only educate locals and visitors on native and exotic species but also serve conservation efforts within the area and worldwide. Here are some of the top zoos to visit while in South Africa:
- Pretoria Zoo (National Zoological Zoo) – Founded in 1899, the zoo has since become the largest in the country, housing roughly 10,000 different species of animals. Pretoria Zoo aims to provide a window into biodiversity of the country while aiding in preservation of important local species. A large aquarium and reptile area also add to the inclusivity of the zoo. Species of the park include mammals such as lemurs, hippopotamuses, and wild dogs, reptiles such as the green mamba and Macklot’s python, and bird species including penguins, ibises, and cape vultures.
- Lory Park – Lory Park was created by bird and cacti enthusiast, Eddy Van Eck. The park originally began as a bird sanctuary for species within South Africa but quickly grew as other injured or threatened animal species were brought in to be treated and given refuge. Now, the zoo participates in wildlife conservation and restoration in South Africa and is a haven for visitors who desire an up close and personal view of animals as well as interactions with them.
Supporting zoos and other facilities that house animals in a beneficial and supportive way can help further future reintroduction, reestablishment, and conservation of wildlife, as well as their natural habitats.
Flag of South Africa
The flag of South Africa is designed with bright colors of red and blue which are divided by a green “Y” shaped band with a white outline and a black isosceles triangle trimmed in gold. This unique “Y” shape represents the country’s history and symbolizes unity and hope. The South African flag was adopted in 1994.
The flag was designed by Frederick Gordon Brownell who incorporated the colors of the African National Congress (black, gold, and green), the colors of Great Britain and the Netherlands (blue, red, and white), and the colors of the formerly used flag, (blue and white). Brownell also incorporated religious symbolism from his Anglican faith as well.
South African Animals
South African Animals List
- African Bullfrog
- African Clawed Frog
- African Fish Eagle
- African Jacana
- African Penguin
- African Sugarcane Borer
- Agama Lizard
- American Cockroach
- Angora Goat
- Armadillo Lizard
- Asian Lady Beetle
- Banana Spider
- Barn Owl
- Barn Swallow
- Bat-Eared Fox
- Bearded Vulture
- Bed Bugs
- Beewolf wasp
- Biscuit Beetle
- Black Mamba
- Black Rhinoceros
- Black Widow Spider
- Blind Snake
- Blue Dragon Sea Slug
- Boer Goat
- Box Jellyfish
- Brahminy Blindsnake
- Brazilian Treehopper
- Brown-banded Cockroach
- Brown Dog Tick
- Brown Hyena
- Bush Baby
- Cape Lion
- Carpenter Ant
- Christmas Beetle
- Codling Moth
- Common Buzzard
- Common Furniture Beetle
- Common House Spider
- Crab Spider
- Desert Rain Frog
- Dog Tick
- Dung Beetle
- Dusky Shark
- Eastern Green Mamba
- Egyptian Goose
- Electric Catfish
- Elephant Shrew
- European Bee-Eater
- European Starling
- Fallow deer
- False Widow Spider
- Fiddler Crab
- Fire Ball Python
- Fruit Bat
- Fruit Fly
- Fulvous Whistling Duck
- Gaboon Viper
- German Cockroach
- Giant Golden Mole
- Giant Trevally
- Glass Lizard
- Golden Mole
- Golden Oriole
- Green Bee-Eater
- Green Mamba
- Grey Heron
- Guinea Fowl
- Gypsy Moth
- Hawk Moth Caterpillar
- Honey Badger
- Honey Bee
- Horned Adder
- Huntsman Spider
- Jumping Spider
- Kitefin Shark
- Kori Bustard
- Lappet-faced Vulture
- Leopard Tortoise
- Lesser Jacana
- Long-Winged Kite Spider
- Madora Moth
- Marabou Stork
- Monitor Lizard
- Mozambique Spitting Cobra
- Myna Bird
- Nguni Cattle
- Night Adder
- Night Heron
- Nile Crocodile
- No See Ums
- Olive Baboon
- Oranda Goldfish
- Orb Weaver
- Perch Fish
- Peregrine Falcon
- Pompano Fish
- Praying Mantis
- Puff Adder
- Pyjama Shark
- Red-Billed Quelea Bird
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Rinkhals Snake
- River Turtle
- Rock Hyrax
- Rock Python
- Sable Ferret
- Sand Crab
- Saturniidae Moth
- Savanna Goat
- Sea Eagle
- Sea Snake
- Senepol Cattle
- Six-Eyed Sand Spiders
- Skink Lizard
- Smallmouth Bass
- Smokybrown Cockroach
- Snouted Cobra
- Spider Wasp
- Spitting Cobra
- Spotted Garden Eel
- Stick Insect
- Stiletto Snake
- Swallowtail Butterfly
- Tarantula Hawk
- Thornback Ray
- Tiger Beetle
- Tree Cricket
- Tree Frog
- Twig Snake
- Vervet Monkey
- Vine Snake
- Water Buffalo
- White Ferret / Albino Ferrets
- White Rhinoceros
- Wolf Spider
- Woodlouse Spider
- Yellow Cobra
- Yellow Crazy Ant
- Zebra Snake
- Zebra Spitting Cobra
South Africa FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What kind of animals live in South Africa?
South Africa is home to quite a few mammals, including rodents, moles, shrews, bats, carnivores, elephants, and hoofed animals (like zebras and antelopes). The country is particularly rich in birds, from penguins to eagles. It also has a lot of snakes.
What animals are unique to South Africa?
The cute riverine rabbit, golden moles, Cape elephant shrew, Cape horseshoe bat, and Cape genet are all unique or mostly unique to South Africa.
What dangerous animals live in South Africa?
South Africa is home to venomous snakes, large crocodiles, carnivorous lions, very aggressive hippos, and even some spiders.
How many animals does South Africa have?
South Africa is home to more than 200 species of mammals, 450 species of reptiles, 130 amphibians, and 800 species of birds.