Wildlife of South Africa – Unusual Species

From the tiny shrew to the mighty African elephant, wildlife on the tip of the continent is simply spectacular.

South Africa is endowed with an extremely rich mammal and fauna, comprising some 230 land and 43 marine species. Put it in another way, 7 percent of the world’s known mammals can be encountered on just 1 percent of the earth’s land mass.

This variety stems from the country’s great ecological diversity, which includes two major oceanic currents and no less than six major land biotic zones. These range from dessert in the northwest to the Cape fynbos region with its winter rainfall in the south.

Nearly all of Africa’s classic big-game species can be found in South Africa’s parks and reserves. The Kruger National Park boasts the widest selection, but many of the country’s smaller parks contain almost as many species often with peculiar regional specialties.

20+ Species of Mole

About 60 percent of species are small and each has adapted to suit a particular environmental niche. The 20-plus species of mole found in the country are endemic to African and all have short cigar shaped bodies, underdeveloped eyes and no external ears. Their presence in an area is conspicuously confirmed by mounds of excavated earth pushed to the surface from newly constructed tunnels.

75 Species of Bats

Bats are the only mammals to have achieved the ability of true flight – they are the masters of the night skies. They cannot fly as fast as birds but are more agile and acrobatic, thanks to their wings – elongated forelimbs with a double layer of tough skin between the fingers and between the forearm and torso. All bats become active a night and the insectivores species manage navigation by means of echo location – emitting ultrasonic pulses through the mouth. In South Africa, there are at least 75 species. Eight are fruit-eating, the others feed on sects. Insertivorous bats removed thousands of tones of harmful insects from the environment, while fruit bats are important pollinators and seed-dispersers of endemic trees.

Elephant Shrews

Elephant shrews are so-named because of their movable, elongated snouts. They have large eyes and soft pelts, and satisfy their voracious appetite on insects. These timid creatures are active during the cooler parts of the day and their slender and elongated limbs facilitate lightning movement. In spite of a superficial resemblance to mice, they are not rodents.


Rodents are distinguished by their protruding curved upper incisors. South Africa’s wide array of species have had to adapt to their diverse environments. At 25 kg, the porcupine is by far the largest African rodent, while cane rats can grow to a mass of 3-5 kg, making them a delicacy among some local peoples. Other species are small – less than 100 gm and unobtrusive, but they form an important link in the ecosystem, both as consumers of large quantities of vegetable material and as prey for medium-sized carnivores.

Rock-dwelling hyraxes or dassies

Rock-dwelling hyraxes or dassies are found where there are suitable rock crevices for safe retreats, and boulders to provide basking places in the sun.


Hares are also quite common, the plains species distinguishable by long, well developed hind legs. The riverine rabbit is very rare and only occurs in the Karoo.

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