South Africa is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. There is an incredible number of animal species roaming, swimming, or scuttling through South Africa’s plains, mountains, and oceans. Whether you are interested in animals great or small, you’ll find a creature to fascinate you in South Africa.
Here’s a look at 5 of the most interesting South African animals:
Lions are the quintessential African animal. They might seem fairly commonplace, but their numbers in the wild are dropping dramatically. As one of the Big Five animals, they are also targets for big game trophy hunters, which has put pressure on their populations and led to the canned hunting industry. Conservation efforts are critical to ensure the future of lions remaining in the wild in South Africa.
Lions are rewarding animals to volunteer with – you’ll be awed by their power, grace, and intelligence. In South Africa you can work alongside the Lion Whisperer Kevin Richardson at a rescue sanctuary. As GoEco only supports ethical volunteer projects, you won’t be interacting directly with the lions. However, through your work maintaining their enclosures and working on the grounds you’ll learn a lot about biodiversity and animal management and care.
The tufty ears and sandy coat of the caracal makes it look like a small lynx. It’s one of the smallest of the African wild cats. Its size, combined with nocturnal habits, make it a difficult animal to spot. If you’re lucky enough to see a caracal on the hunt, you’ll be in for a treat. One of the most impressive facts about caracals is that they can leap three meters into the air to catch prey.
You can work with caracals and a range of other African cats at the South Africa Wild Cat Sanctuary. It can be physically demanding work, as you’ll need to prepare food for the cats, clean their enclosures, and carry out maintenance on the sanctuary grounds. However, there will also be moments when you feel thrills run down your spine – like when you wake up to the sounds of the big cats calling, and when you see these great carnivores up close.
3. South African Penguins
Seeing penguins trotting around on a sunny beach, with the blue ocean behind them, seems a little surreal. African penguins completely contradict everything you thought you knew about these adorable birds. There are only two mainland penguin colonies in South Africa. The majority of South Africa’s penguins live on a cluster of islands in Algoa Bay, just east of Port Elizabeth. There are only 25,000 breeding pairs of African penguins left in the world, and 20,000 of those are found around Algoa Bay. Oil spills from boats in the bay and increasing water temperatures as a result of climate change are threatening the remaining penguin populations.
Volunteers at GoEco’s Penguin and Marine Bird Sanctuary can help conservation efforts by caring for sick or injured penguins. The wildlife sanctuary rehabilitates birds to help aid in their conservation. As well as helping to clean and care for penguins and other birds directly, you could get involved in the administration of the sanctuary for a behind the scenes look at an active conservation efforts.
No animal will make you stop and stare like an elephant. The largest creature to walk the earth, elephants have an air majesty and wisdom. This might be because they have are emotionally intelligent. Elephants have high levels of empathy and have been observed grieving for their dead, aiding a relative or friend in distress, and upholding certain greeting rituals. Experts consider elephants one of the world’s most intelligent animals. This makes their destruction all the more tragic. Currently, around 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year. If this trend continues, elephants could be wiped out by 2050.
Coming into close proximity with these massive, magnificent animals is a once-in-a-lifetime experience – unless you volunteer on a wildlife sanctuary can animals in a unique environment that gives you a chance to experience wildlife while helping to protect them.
5. The Great White Shark
Great whites might be the most misunderstood of all South Africa’s animals. The gigantic fish are found off the coast of South Africa, particularly near Gansbaai. Great whites are feared largely because they are responsible for the greatest number of unprovoked attacks on humans. However, these sharks are thought to only bite people out of curiosity, as a method of tactile exploration. Researchers are trying to understand this behavior and more about the mysterious beasts. One important way of collecting data on great whites is through eco-tourism activities such as cage diving. Great whites are one of the most thrilling animals to encounter in South Africa, as you have to don a wetsuit and dive into the deep even to get a glimpse.
To uncover more of the great white’s secrets and build up important bodies of research to further direct conservation efforts, volunteers can participate in GoEco’s Great White Shark Conservation project. This involves taking tourists cage diving, so you’ll get up close and personal with some of the scariest creatures on the planet.
There is a wide variety of wildlife in South Africa – and a wide range of conservation projects. Many of South Africa’s most interesting animals are under threat. Join the movement to help protect wildlife and take a look at our South Africa animal volunteer projects today.