animals you can see in south africa

Animals You Can See in South Africa: A Wildlife Guide

If you’re wondering what animals you can see in South Africa, you’re in for a treat. South Africa is a wildlife lover’s paradise with an incredible variety of animals and stunning landscapes. When I visited, I was blown away by the diversity and beauty of the animals I encountered, not to mention the scenery. From the majestic Big Five on safari to the unique creatures along the coast, South Africa has it all.

South Africa is a country brimming with wildlife and breathtaking scenery. Whether you’re exploring the vibrant city of Cape Town, driving along the picturesque Garden Route, or embarking on a safari in Greater Kruger National Park, you’ll encounter an array of fascinating animals. These were the three main areas that I visited on my trip and all provided amazing experiences and opportunities to see South African animals.

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One of the highlights of my trip, and the main reason I visited South Africa, was to go on a safari. The Greater Kruger National Park is renowned for their wildlife and the diverse savanna. The experience of seeing wildlife in their natural habitat was unforgettable, especially for my first safari.

You also have the option of self guided safaris in Kruger National Park, located in northeastern South Africa; or in Addo Elephant National Park, located in the Eastern Cape. We did a self drive in Addo Elephant National Park, as it is a smaller area, but I recommend doing a guided safari in Greater Kruger.

If you have ever been on a safari in Tanzania, you will understand that there are quite a few differences between safaris in these two countries. You definitely spend more time ‘looking’ for the animals in South Africa. Enjoy the thrill of the chase!

These animals you can see in South Africa may require a bit of work. With each species I included the best locations that you may see them. But remember, nothing is guaranteed when you are looking for animals in South Africa. Sometimes they can be found outside of these areas as well.

Kruger NP

Big Five Animals in South Africa


Lions are iconic predators known for their strength, agility, and social structure. They live in prides led by dominant male lions, with females typically doing most of the hunting. Lions are found in various habitats from savannas to dense bushveld.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

Lion in Klaserie


The African elephant is the world’s largest land animal, distinguished by its tusks, large ears, and trunk. They live in family groups led by older females and are crucial to maintaining savanna and forest ecosystems through their browsing and seed dispersal.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

Elephant in Greater KNP


Both the white and black rhinoceros are heavily poached for their horns, which are erroneously believed to have medicinal properties. Rhinos are large herbivores that play a critical role in shaping their habitats. Locations of rhinos are often not publicized to protect them.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

Rhino in KNP


Leopards are solitary and secretive big cats known for their adaptability and strength. They are skilled climbers and are found in diverse habitats, from forests and mountains to savannas. Their rosette-patterned coats provide excellent camouflage.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

leopard in Klaserie

Cape Buffalo

African buffalos, or Cape buffalos, are known for their unpredictable behavior and formidable horns. They live in herds led by older females and are known to be one of Africa’s most dangerous animals when threatened.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

Cape Buffalo

Other Wildlife


Known for their incredible speed and slender build, cheetahs inhabit open savannas and grasslands across South Africa. They are solitary hunters and rely on bursts of speed to chase down their prey, primarily small antelopes.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park (rare)


Despite their herbivorous diet, hippos are considered one of Africa’s most dangerous animals due to their territorial behavior and formidable size. They inhabit rivers, lakes, and wetlands in South Africa, where they spend much of their time submerged in water to stay cool. 

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

Hippo in Klaserie


They are the world’s tallest land animals, known for their long necks and distinctively patterned coats, and can be found in savannas and open woodlands. 

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park (rare)

Giraffe in Klaserie

Burchell’s Zebra

Zebras in South Africa are primarily known for their striking black-and-white stripes, which serve as camouflage and social signaling. These animals are found in a variety of habitats, from grasslands to mountainous regions.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park (rare)

Zebra in Klaserie


Warthogs, native to South Africa, are recognizable for their distinct facial warts and tusks. They inhabit savannas and grasslands, where they forage for roots and vegetation, often seen kneeling to feed.

Where: Safari, most national parks and reserves


Wild Dogs (African Painted Dogs)

These highly social predators are known for their colorful coats and cooperative hunting strategies. They are found in packs across various habitats, including grasslands and woodlands, and are one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores due to habitat loss and human conflict. I did not see any in South Africa but I was lucky enough to find them in southern Tanzania.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park (rare)

African Wild Dogs


Hyenas play a crucial role as scavengers and hunters, known for their distinct cackling calls and complex social structures within their clans. They are often competing with lions for food and adapting to various habitats from savannas to coastal areas.

Where: Safari, Addo Elephant National Park

Vervet Monkeys

These agile primates are common in South Africa’s woodlands and forests. Known for their distinctive blue faces and tails, vervet monkeys live in troops and are omnivorous, feeding on fruits, leaves, insects, and sometimes small animals.

Where: Eastern half of country; most national parks, reserves and rural areas

Vervet Monkeys

Greater Kudu

The kudu is an antelope with spiral horns that roams the woodlands and savannas of South Africa, known for its agility and striking white stripes.

Where: Safari in Greater Kruger, most national parks and reserves

Greater Kudu


One of the most graceful and common antelope, thrives in both wooded and open habitats, renowned for its incredible leaping ability and characteristic lyre-shaped horns.

Where: Safari in Greater Kruger, most national parks and reserves



Found primarily in the arid regions of the Kalahari Desert, meerkats live in social groups called mobs or clans, led by an alpha pair. They are small carnivores known for their upright posture and keen foraging abilities. This was one of the best sightings of the animals you can see in South Africa!

Where Could You See Them: Kalahari Desert near Oudtshoorn


Honey Badger

Honey badgers are one of the most fierce and fearless animals in South Africa. They inhabit a variety of environments, from savannas to forests, demonstrating remarkable adaptability.

Where: Safari, most national parks and reserves

Rock Hyrax (Dassie)

Often mistaken for rodents, rock hyraxes are small, herbivorous mammals found in rocky habitats across South Africa. They are adept climbers and can often be seen sunning themselves on rocks.

Where: Most national parks and reserves, especially Tsitsikamma National Park and Betty’s Bay

Rock Hyrax

Marine Wildlife

Great White Sharks

Great white sharks, apex predators of the ocean, are commonly found in the waters around South Africa. They are known for their powerful jaws, speed, and ability to breach the water surface while hunting seals. These areas offer prime conditions for observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The best way to see them is to do a shark diving experience.

Where: Off the coast of Cape Town or Gansbaai

Cape Fur Seals

Cape fur seals are abundant along the coast of South Africa, particularly around rocky shorelines and islands. These social and playful marine mammals are known for their agility both in water and on land and are known for their distinctive fur coats.

Where: along the Western Cape, Cape Town

Cape Fur Seal

Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales

These whales migrate along the South African coastline during winter, providing excellent opportunities for whale watching. They are known for breaching, lobtailing, and their hauntingly beautiful songs. They can be spotted from boat tours during the winter months when they migrate to warmer waters to breed and  calve.

Where: Western Cape, from Hermanus or Cape Town


here are over 845 species of birds in South Africa, and over 160 are endemic. Whether you are an experienced birder or just starting to birdwatch, you can’t help but notice the amazing birds everywhere. Below are just two of the most common birds you must see.

African Penguins

Formerly known as Jackass Penguins due to their braying calls, African Penguins are found along the southern coastlines and islands of South Africa and are rarely afraid of humans. Though the general rule is to watch from a distance, you can’t help but be amazed by them. They are worth seeing! I recommend going to Betty’s Bay for the best experience.

Where: Betty’s Bay or Boulders Beach

African Penguins


The Ostrich is the world’s largest bird and is found in open savannas and semi-desert regions of South Africa. It is flightless but is incredibly fast, capable of running at speeds up to 70 km/h. Ostriches are omnivorous, feeding on plants, insects, and small animals.

Where: Oudtshoorn, Safari, some national parks & reserves


My journey through this beautiful country was filled with incredible sights and unforgettable moments, and I can’t wait to return. The animals you can see in South Africa offer an unparalleled wildlife experience and opportunity. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to find the animals of South Africa.

Sunset South Africa

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