Want to know more about the animals in South Africa? Here’s a list of 21 South African animals that you can see in the wild:


The lion is one of the big five in Africa and is a wild cat that lives in prides led by a male lion.

In the prides it’s the females who hunt for food – usually ungulates that weight between 190-550 kg. Blue wildebeest, African buffalo, gemsbok, giraffe, and zebras are some of their favorite meals.

They are common to be seen in the grassy plains and savanna’s of the national parks in South Africa.

Among all the animals in South Africa, this is one of the most famous.

  • Name: Lion
  • Scientific name: Panthera leo
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Threatened: Vulnerable
african lion

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This animal is also known under the name suricate and is a small mammal in the mongoose family.

They live in groups of up to 50 members in underground tunnels with multiple entrances. The meerkats only leave the tunnels during the day, where they always have one or several guards who warn about predators.

Another interesting fact about the meerkat is that they babysit the young in the group. Female meerkats that haven’t got any babies on their own often take care and feed the alpha pair’s babies.

They will also do anything to protect the young meerkats, even if it means risking their own life.

  • Name: Meerkat
  • Scientific name: Suricata suricatta
  • Diet: Insectivore / carnivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
animals in south africa

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African elephant

The African elephant is one of the biggest mammals on land and can weight up to 6.5 tons.

In addition to their big size, they’re also recognized by their large ears and trunks that they use for eating, drinking and splashing water on themselves on a hot day. Their trunks are so powerful that they can pull down trees to get to the juicy roots.

In South Africa you can spot these majestic animals in the Kruger National Park. It’s one of the big five animals in South Africa that people want to see during safaris.

  • Name: African elephant
  • Scientific name: Loxodonta
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Vulnerable
african elephant

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Elephant shrew

The Elephant shrew is a small mammal that’s native to Africa.

The name comes from their long noses that looks like the trunk of an elephant. They are about 10-30 cm (3.9-11.8 in) long and weight between 50-500 g (1.8-17.6 oz).

A fun fact is that it’s said that these tiny animals are more related to elephants than shrews.

  • Name: Elephant shrew
  • Scientific name: Rhynchocyon petersi
  • Diet: Insectivore / herbivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
elephant shrew

Photo: Shutterstock

African Buffalo

The African buffalo, also known as Cape buffalo is an animal that lives in dense forests and open plains in South Africa – usually near a water source. It’s one of the “big five” animals in South Africa.

They’re characterized by their long curvy horns that they use to fight predators or to show dominance in herds. African buffalos live in large herds up to thousands of members.

They’re known to be quite unpredictable, which makes them one of the most feared animals in Africa.

  • Name: African buffalo
  • Scientific name: Syncerus caffer
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Near threatened
african buffalo

Photo: Shutterstock


In South Africa there are two species of Rhinoceros, the black Rhinoceros and the white Rhinoceros.

These strong and massive animals are one of the “big five” animals in South Africa. They cannot see very well, but have good smell.

The white rhino is known for its borad lip and to be more friendly, and the black rhino to be more aggressive.

These beautiful animals are today endangered due to hunting of their horns.

  • Name: Black rhinoceros & White rhinoceros
  • Scientific name: Diceros bicornis (black) & Ceratotherium simum (white)
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: The black rhinoceros is critically endangered, and the white rhinoceros is near threatened.

Photo: Shutterstock

Greater kudu

This is a species of antelope that are commonly found in the woodlands in Eastern and Southern Africa.

It’s characterized by its narrow body, long legs and grey-brownish to reddish-brown coat with white vertical stripes.

Males are larger than the females, and the males also have the iconic horns and large manes that run down along their throats.

  • Name: Greater kudu
  • Scientific name: Tragelaphus strepsiceros
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
Greater Kudu

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Zebra are several species of African equids and are recognized by their black and white striped coat.

There are three species of zebras; the plains zebras, mountain zebras and Grévy’s zebras, which all are found in South Africa.

The stripes of a zebra are unique to each individual, so their coats never look the same.

Zebras live in large herds and feed mainly on grass.

  • Name: Plains zebra, mountain zebra, & grévy’s zebra
  • Scientific name: Equus quagga (plains zebra), Equus zebra (mountain zebra), & Equus grevyi (grévy’s zebra)
  • Diet: Herbivores
  • Threatened: The plains zebra is near threatened, the mountain zebra is vulnerable, and the Grévy’s zebra is endangered

Photo: Shutterstock

Blue duiker

The blue duiker is another antelope that lives in South Africa. It’s the smallest of the dukier species and only reaches 32-41 cm (13-16 in) at the shoulder and weights around 3.5-9 kg (7.7-19.8 lb).

In addition to their small size, they’re also recognized by their small spiky horns.

These animals are active during the day and mainly feed on fallen fruits, foliage, flowers, and pieces of bark that’s found in the forest canopies, which is their habitat.

  • Name: Blue duiker
  • Scientific name: Philantomba monticola
  • Diet: Herbovire
  • Threatened: Least concern
Blue Duiker

Photo: Shutterstock

Spotted hyena

Also known as the laughing hyena, the spotted hyena is a species that’s native to sub-saharan Africa. This means that they are to be found in the northern part of South Africa.

These animals hunt together and run into herds to select their prey. Once selected, they can chase their prey for a long distance – usually several kilometers where they run at speeds up to 60 km/h (37 mph).

They’ve got it’s name ”laughing hyena” from the sound they make when communicating. Down below you have a video where you can hear this classic sound of a hyena ”laughing”.

  • Name: Spotted hyena
  • Scientific name: Crocuta crocuta
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
spotted hyena

Photo: Shutterstock

Vervet monkeys

Vervet monkeys are native to Africa and is a species of Old World Monkeys. They are found all over Southern Africa, as well in some eastern countries as well.

These monkeys are recognized by their light grey-colored fur and black face. They are small monkeys and can reach a body length of 50 cm (20 in). They live in groups of 10-70 monkeys and make alarm calls to communicate if they’re a predator nearby.

A fun fact about these animals is that they’re similar to humans in behavior.

  • Name: Vervet monkey
  • Scientific name: Chlorocebus pygerythrus
  • Diet: Mainly herbivores, but also eat grasshoppers and termites.
  • Threatened: Least concern
Vervet monkeys

Photo: Shutterstock

Great white shark

In the South African waters there are several species in shark. The great white shark is the largest shark in the world and can grow up to 7 m (23 ft) in body length.

They follow vibrations in the water when searching for food and also have great smell. A great white shark can smell blood from 5 km (3 miles) away.

When they’re fully fed they can live without food for about three months.

  • Name: Great white shark
  • Scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Threatened: Vulnerable
great white shark

Photo: Shutterstock

Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Among the animals in South Africa, this is one of the species that’s native to the Western Cape, the region around Cape Town.

This species of chameleon reach an average body size of 5-7 cm, but can in some rare cases grow up to 15 cm.

They are viviparous, which means that they give birth and do not lay eggs.

Like most other chameleon, they use its tongue to catch their prey. The tongue can get twice the length of their body size and is shot out from their mouths using a special muscle in the jaw.

  • Name: Cape dwarf chameleon
  • Scientific name: Bradypodion pumilum
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Threatened: Near threatened
Cape Dwarf chameleon

Photo: Shutterstock


The gemsbok is a large species of antelope and is known as the South African oryx.

This is an animals that’s native to the arid regions of Southern Africa, like the Kalahari Desert.

A gemsbok have a light brownish-grey colored coat with a black stripe from the chin down to the lower part of their necks. Their legs are both white and black, and they’re also recognized by their long horns that are around 85 cm (33 in) long.

  • Name: Gemsbok
  • Scientific name: Oryx gazella
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
animals in south africa

Photo: Shutterstock


The cheetah is a wild cat that lives in South-, East-, and North Africa. On land, it’s the fastest animal in the world and can reach speeds up to 112 km/h (70 mph).

They have slender bodies with a yellowish tan-colored fur with black spots and a white belly.

They can grow around 112-150 cm (44-59 in) in body length, 79-90 cm (28-35 in) at the shoulder, and weight around 21-72 kg (46-159 lb).

This is one of the “big five” animals in South Africa.

  • Name: Cheetah
  • Scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Threatened: Vulnerable

Photo: Shutterstock


The giraffe is the tallest terrestrial animal in the world and is characterized by their long legs and necks, as well as beautiful patterned fur.

They’re found in the Savannah of South Africa where they mainly feed on grass, shrubs, and fruit.

A fully grown giraffe can stand 4.3-5.7 m (14.1-18.7 ft) tall and weight around 828-1180 kg (1825-2600 lb).

  • Name: Giraffe
  • Scientific name: Giraffa
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Vulnerable
south africa wildlife

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There are total 5 different spices of baboons in Africa, and in South Africa you can see the chacma baboons in the wild.

Baboons are curious monkeys that often are seen along roads in South Africa.

They are known to approach people, so make sure to be careful and do not feed them or touch them. Baboons are strong and have very sharp teeth that can potentially hurt you.

  • Name: Chacma baboons
  • Scientific name: Papio ursinus
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Threatened: Least concern

Photo: Shutterstock

Cape Grysbok

This is one of the cutest animals in South Africa and is endemic to the Western Cape.

They are shy small animals with a reddish sandy-colored fur flecked in white. Cape Grysboks are small animals and stands only 45-55 cm (around 21 in) at the shoulder and weights around 8-12 kg (20 pounds).

In addition to their small size and cute looks, these animals are also recognized by their large pointy ears and small sharp horns the males grow.

  • Name: Cape Grysbok
  • Scientific name: Raphicerus melanotis
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
Cape Grysbok

Photo: Shutterstock


Hippopotamus is one of the biggest animals in South Africa and are known to be one of the most dangerous animals on earth.

These are large animals has gotten its name from Ancient Greek for ”river horse”.

They are recognized by their bulky hairless bodies, barrel-shaped torsos, wide open mouths, and large canine tusks. A male hippopotamus can weight around 1500 kg (3310lb), and females around 1300 kg (2870 lb).

Despite its short legs, the Hippopotamus can run 30 km/h (19 mph) in short distances.

  • Name: Hippopotamus
  • Scientific name: Hippopotamus amphibius
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Threatened: Vulnerable
hippo africa

Photo: Shutterstock

African penguin

This is another animal in South Africa that’s endemic to this part of the continent. The African penguins are found on Western Cape and Eastern Cape where they have their colonies.

They look quite funny when walking on land, but their are great swimmers and hunters in the water.

A famous place to spot these animals are at Boulder’s Beach in Cape Town.

  • Name: African penguin
  • Scientific name: Spheniscus demersus
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Threatened: Endangered
african penguin

Photo: Shutterstock


The aardvark is a one of the most funny-looking animals in South Africa and roams over two-thirds of the southern part of the continent.

They’re characterized by their long ears and pig-like snouts that they use to sniff out food – mainly ants and termites.

When they’re found a food source they use their powerful legs and sharp claws to dig them out.

  • Name: Aardvark
  • Scientific name: Orycteropus afer
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Threatened: Least concern
animals in south africa

Photo: Shutterstock

More about South African animals

When going on safari, you’ll most likely see some of these animals in South Africa. The “big five” animals are quite common to see, and so are the African penguins, zebras, antelopes, giraffes, and baboons etc.

Sometimes when people go on safari they only see a few, and sometimes they get to see a big variety of South African animals.

It’s all about if you’re at the right place at the right time, which is something the safari guides are quite good at. However, seeing a big variety of animals is not guaranteed.

Click here to book a guided safari tour in the Kruger National Park

What are the big five animals in South Africa?

The big five animals in South Africa are elephants, cape buffalo, rhinos, lions, and leopards.

big five south africa

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What animals do you see on safari in South Africa?

On safari in South Africa you can see many of these animals mentioned above. It’s just that you have to be lucky to see several of them in one single day.

animals in south africa on safari

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Do you have any other questions about the wild animals in South Africa? Leave a comment below!