Aallure of a safari is what draws many people to head to Africa, the promise
of hunting game with nothing but eager eyes and a camera. The image of being bounced along dirt tracks across the Africa savannah spotting the big names and collecting memories, heading back at the end of the day to compare notes and raise anticipation for the morning’s game drive. With South Africa alone boasting 299 species of mammal, and 858 species of bird (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_of_South_Africa) visitors will be bowled over by the sheer quantity of sightings.

The Big Names of Southern African Wildlife

Within moments of browsing different safari options you’ll find yourself eager to tick off the Big 5. The elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo have found themselves the stars of the safari. Whilst there is no guarantee of seeing all the Big 5 in one trip, you can certainly maximise your chances by carefully selecting where you go. Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, both in South Africa, will give you a good chance.

However, whilst the elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo have their names in shining lights, other big game is just as spectacular and worthy of tracking down. The quintessential image of a family of giraffes nibbling the uppermost shoots of an acacia tree, or vast numbers of zebra grazing on a verdant plain, are both stereotypical images of Africa in its natural glory. To see these animals in vast numbers, or perhaps even to witness a hunt, then consider the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

Don’t forget the wallowing hippo. Seeing these creatures often requires a slightly different tactic, perhaps enjoying a leisurely lunch al fresco overlooking a pool from your safari lodge. When you’re least expecting it, a grey face will rise from the water, perhaps glance in your direction, or twitch as a bird lands nearby, before heading back under the surface.

Likewise the gorilla requires a targeted trip to Rwanda or Uganda.

The Big Cats

For many it is the big cats who hold the power and excitement. Southern Africa is home to not only the lion and leopard, but also the cheetah, caracal, serval and wildcat. If you’re hoping to witness a lion hunt then Duba in Botswana is unique in that the lions hunt by day, affording visitors a chance to witness these majestic beasts at their most active. Lions are also plentiful in Etosha National Park in Namibia, and this park carries with it the hope of spotting the rare black rhino. If you’d like to see lions whilst soaking up the essence of Africa, then the Maasai Mara in Kenya is a popular choice.

The Hunted

Perhaps the most hunted animals of Southern Africa are the vast numbers of antelope. Southern African boasts an enormous number of different species with the more prolific and well known being the eland, kudu and impala. However, don’t underestimate the sheer joy of seeing the smallest dik-dik or a reedbuck hiding in Hwange, Zimbabwe, or of course the famed Springbok. In addition, Southern African wildlife wouldn’t be complete without witnessing the spectacularly immense numbers of wildebeest during the Great Migration. For the greatest chance of witnessing some of this spectacle head to the Masai Mara, Kenya, in July.

The Smaller Names, and Smaller Mammals

Whilst you’re likely to head off on safari with expectations of the big names, be prepared to be mesmerised and excited in equal measure about the smaller and lesser known Southern African wildlife you may see.

Whilst a sighting of some playful vervet monkeys dashing across your track, or a trotting warthog on a mission might raise a chuckle, you’ll soon become adept at spying the smallest movement in the bush and the anticipation it raises. You may see a hyrax, a cape fox, bat-eared foxed, mongoose or polecat.

Southern African Birds

The ostrich’s largest population is in South Africa, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to see these speedy land-lovers on most safaris. More unusual are the African goshawk, tawny eagle, black-chested eagle, spotted eagle owl and the ibis. Vultures will flock to a kill. For a spectacle worth seeing, go on the trail of flamingo in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Ocean and Freshwater Wildlife

The seas off the coast of Southern Africa are rich with diversity, with even the blue whale making its home off these shores. Visitors are often able to enjoy a sighting of a southern right whale, as they come to the coastal bays to have their calves. Dolphins play among the waves. For a chance to see loggerhead and leatherback turtles, then head to the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline in South Africa.

The crocodile is the freshwater king in Southern Africa. To see this Jurassic creature then consider a canoe safari in Mana Pools National Park, or if that is too ‘up close and personal’, then a sunset boat ride will also do the trick.

Southern African Wildlife, Rich and Prolific

Of course, there are also the baboons, the porcupine, the hyena, the honey badger, the aardvark, and also the myriad of Southern African snakes such as the green and black mambas. One thing is certain: your safari will be completely unique. No two excursions are the same, the continent just keeps giving.