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Top 15 Animals of South Africa and Where to See Them

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Cheetahs drinking at a watering hole in the Kalahri Desert, South Africa

Cheetahs in the Kalahari Game Reserve, South Africa

South Africa is a wild and wonderful destination for wildlife and offers one of the world’s most comprehensive safari experiences. The wide variety of animals in close proximity creates an unparalleled, intimate experience, whether witnessing the Big Five or enjoying the sensational views of the landscape from the comforts of your lodge. 

From big cats to antelopes, the diverse range of wildlife only captures the natural beauty enhanced by the dramatic setting. For optimum game viewing, consider the cooler months of May through September for your safari, and here are just some of the wildlife you may encounter during your South Africa safari.

1. Lion

Lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Spend a few days on safari, and the layers of survival are peeled away to reveal the power and prowess of the lion. Think of Africa, and these kings and queens of the landscape immediately spring to attention. They are also the easiest large predator to find and gracefully move across the grassland or peer out from an elevated rock. A photo can't prepare you for their size, as they are bigger and broader than most people anticipate and can be found in most parks and reserves across South Africa.

Where to See Lions: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park | Shamwari Private Game Reserve | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

2. Leopard

Leopard lounging in tree, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

Leopard in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

Like lions, leopards are found all across South Africa, and their elusive habits make them that much more mysterious and graceful. A leopard’s intelligence is matched by inspiring power and jaw strength as they effortlessly camouflage into their surroundings until their neck dips, coldly, solemnly, and the leopard stalks with astute expertise only to once more disappear from the panorama. They rest and hide in the trees, whether in an isolated acacia on an open grassland or in the heart of a thick woodland with a large range that is controlled and patrolled with fierce precision.

Where to See Leopard: Kruger National Park | Karoo National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Londolozi Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

3. Elephant

Elephants in Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

Elephants in Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

One elephant is always an impressive sight, and a herd of elephants offers something wonderfully intimate and enigmatic. Elephants feed on the bounty from a multiplicity of trees, which naturally lures them to woodland and denser savanna leaving evidence across vast plains marked by uprooted trees or forests gaping with open pathways. They are continuously on the move, following the matriarch with reliable behavior, generally making it easy to find the herd for an exhilarating parade of enormity.

Where to See Elephant: Kruger National Park | Greater Addo Elephant National Park | Knysna Elephant Park | Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve

4. White Rhino

White rhinos in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, South Africa

White rhinos in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, South Africa

The white rhino, actually gray in appearance, gets its name from the Afrikaans word “wyd” or “wide,” referring to the shape of its mouth. White rhinos create an enticing spectacle as a gracious exemplar of Africa's natural splendor and measure around four meters and weigh over two tons. Their straight lip indicates that they are grass grazers, preferring the grassland and savanna found across South Africa, with over half of their total population found around Kruger National Park and South Africa’s northeast. They aren’t shy and are common to see generally unperturbed by your presence. This helps make spotting a white rhino an undoubted highlight during your safari.

Where to See White Rhino: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Private Game Reserve | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park | Madikwe Game Reserve

5. African or Cape Buffalo

Cape buffalo in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Cape buffalo in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Found in both small and large herds, these somewhat stern looking animals command attention and respect in the bush. They have a perfectly symbiotic relationship with their surroundings and prefer the long grasslands of the South African bushveld. Their horns are impressive, with the bulls presenting a heavier boss with horns curving upwards, their weight ranging up to a ton.  A buffalo will often come to the rescue of another herd member if necessary, displaying a true sense of community.

Where to See Buffalo: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park | Lalibela Game Reserve

6. Giraffe

Small herd of giraffes in Sabi Sands

Small herd of giraffes in Sabi Sands

The giraffe ascends above the landscape with serene grace. As another iconic African image, they are easy to find as their heads poke above the woodlands with their long necks visible for miles across the plains. While giraffes exude an effortless tranquility, they are not easy prey. Their strong hind legs make only the babies realistic targets for predatory cats. They can stand over 16 feet tall, the astonishing necks providing access to the bounty of the landscape's more towering trees. On a walking safari, they seem even taller, standing like giant sentinels above the landscape.

Where to See Giraffe: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Greater Addo Elephant Park | Shamwari Game Reserve | Tsitsikamma National Park | Kariega Game Reserve | Phinda Private Game Reserve

7. Cheetah

Cheetah in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Cheetah in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Beautiful, elegant, and quietly on watch, the cheetah can be seen in several South African Reserves. Regal in stature, they are built for speed, the fastest mammal on earth. They love to rest under small bushes or simply in the grass in open savannas. You can follow the cheetah for miles in your open safari vehicle as they move from one part of the reserve to another. They eat small antelopes and hunt at dusk and dawn.

Where to See Hyena: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Phinda Private Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Lalibela Game Reserve | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve

8. African Wild Dog

African wild dog

African wild dog

The African wild dog is virtually extinct around the world, but South Africa is home to several havens where the dogs can live in large packs. As ravenous hunters, they represent the wild world of yesteryear as they bare teeth and show an appetite for marauding across the savanna. Shabby and wide-eyed, the pack creates a surreal and understated beauty that generally shows little similarity to a domesticated pet, yet there's something indelibly intriguing and playful about their behavior, both within a pack and within the environment.

Where to See African Wild Dog: Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve | Kruger National Park | Madikwe Game Reserve | Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

9. Hyena

Female spotted hyena with her cubs in morning light, Timbavati, South Africa

Female hyena with her cubs in Timbavati, South Africa

These entertaining animals are a delight to spot on any game drive. While some think the hyena is related to a dog, it’s more closely related to cats. Some say ugly, some say cute, but the way they move with their howling call and giggle are simply fascinating. They live in territorial clans and protect their homes at all costs. Females are dominant, and overall the hyena is a proud scavenger who rarely goes hungry.

Where to See Hyena: Kruger National Park | Kalahari Gemsbok National Park | Phinda Private Game Reserve | Thanda Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve

10. Zebra

Cape mountain zebras in South Africa

Cape mountain zebras in South Africa

While these sweet animals can be seen in many parts of the world, there is something about spotting a zebra out on the open African plains that never gets old. Drinking from a watering hole or grazing on a grassy patch, they stand strong and bold against their savanna backdrop. Social animals, zebras live in family groups of up to 20 members and are often found during any game drive.

Where to See Zebra: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Welgevonden Park | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park | Timbavati Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Greater Addo Elephant Park

11. Impala

Two impalas face off in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Impalas in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Known as the “McDonalds of the bush,” these beautiful bucks are scattered all over the safari reserves of South Africa. They are graceful and agile and can spring and run at amazing heights and speeds. Their horns are impressive, and a male can have several females in his harem. They make for easy prey but also sound an alarm when nearby danger is present to help them make a quick escape.

Where to See Impala: Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Welgevonden Park | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park | Timbavati Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Greater Addo Elephant Park

12. Kudu

Kudu in South Africa

Kudu in South Africa

Impressive twisted horns mark out a kudu bull, a large antelope found in the acacia and savannas. Their striped brown body provides camouflage in the shrubs and trees, meaning you will rarely see them roaming in the open. You will find the greater kudu in parks and reserves all across South Africa, including bachelor groups that may result in a fight for a camera's attention. The bachelors lock horns and push heads in a tentative display of strength.

Where to See Kudu : Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Kapama Private Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park | Greater Addo Elephant Park | Lalibela Game Reserve

13. Warthog

Warthog in South Africa

Warthog in South Africa

Fascinating and funny creatures, the warthog is a delight to spot on any game drive. You cannot help but laugh when you watch them run with their tails in the air. A good snack for lions, leopards, and crocodiles to name a few, they are always alert. Wallowing in mud is one of their favorite activities, and they live in abandoned aardvark burrows.

Where to See Warthog : Kruger National Park | Sabi Sands Game Reserve | Timbavati Game Reserve | Kapama Private Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park | Greater Addo Elephant Park | Kwandwe Game Reserve

14. Meerkat

Meerkats in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa

Meerkats in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa

The meerkat is an iconic image of a small, brilliant, and somewhat mischievous predator of South Africa’s untamed wilderness. Typically found in the arid desert landscape among the sands and dry savanna crossing between South Africa and Botswana, they are considered part of the “shy five,” a term that describes their disposition and elusive behavior. They essentially burrow beneath the surface and build underground networks for colonies as large as 30 members feeding on insects and scorpions.

Where to See Meerkat: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

15. Gemsbok

Gemsbok in South Africa

Gemsbok in South Africa

The large gray-brown antelope has extremely impressive ringed horns that can grow to almost a meter in length. Like a tree, their horns rise straight and true, with dignified markers signifying an individual's age and status. The species is an ode to adapting to desert conditions, able to roam for long distances without water in landscapes you may have thought was utterly desolate. They typically feed on coarse grasses and browse through thorny shrubs often found in arid areas.

Where to See Gemsbok: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | Camdeboo National Park

See Wildlife Your Way

Wildebeest in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa

Wildebeest in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa

South Africa is a wild ride of untouched and preserved environments that immerse you in eclectic wildlife experiences. From lion prides to elephant herds, grazing giraffes to laughing hyenas, by knowing what you want to see, you can better understand the best time for a South Africa safari. Find helpful tips and more information with Zicasso’s South Africa Travel Guide or speak with a South Africa travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.

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