South Africa Safari and Wildlife

Giraffe and Rhino spotted on game drives in South Africa.

Introduction

South Africa is the best safari destination in the world. With the third highest biodiversity in the world (variety of fauna and flora) there is just so much to see. And unlike many other countries whose herds of elephant and rhino are declining South Africa has a very healthy populations of both the big five as well as smaller mammals, birds and insects. And, of course, with the wonderfully long and unspoiled coastline, the opportunities to watch marine animals are unparalleled. Adventures on a South African holiday may allow you the sheer wonder in watching something as small as a dung beetle laboriously rolling its handy incubator up a hill, a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, or a chameleon slowly creeping up a branch. Keen birders will have a field day with so many new and beautiful species they won't quite know where to focus their binoculars. There is something absolutely wondrous in every corner of this astoundingly lovely country.One of the newest and exciting developments is thee creation of vast transfrontier conservation areas with South Africa's Southern African neighbours. The removal of these artificial fences between conservation areas means that animals can return to their hereditary migratory routes and increasing areas are under conservation.

Currently more than 6% of the land space is under conservation management and the government has plans to increase this to over 8%, which makes South Africa a world leader. South Africa's amazing wildlife offers enquiring travellers endless material for discovery and provides an incomparable backdrop to those seeking either adventure or luxury and pampering. Wildlife is an important component for most market segments and there are wildlife experiences and facilities to suit every pocket and preference.

The Big Five

Many visitors decide on a South African holiday to see the big five, but there's so much more. As well as the hundreds of species of birds and marine animals, the small animals like the incredibly cute bushbaby, the curious meerkat and the ubiquitous dassie or rock hyrax are - to some - more interesting than the big guys. But, for the record, the big five are lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant. Now this grouping is certainly not because they are the most interesting animals in the bush, or even the biggest, in which case we would have to include hippos and giraffes. Even eland are much bigger than leopards. They're certainly not the prettiest - and not even the most dangerous.

What's Where

Broadly speaking - the Limpopo Province, Mpumalanga, the Province and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal are the classic safari destinations. Here your client will see elephant, giraffe, buffalo, rhino, impala and numerous species of antelope and smaller predators. In the Western and Northern Cape, the faunal assemblage is different. There are no impala, as their ecological niche here is filled by the beautiful, and iconic, springbok. In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (found in the Northern Cape), for example, there are lots of springbok, many elegant gemsbok (or oryx) and plenty of the famed Kalahari black-maned lions. Other unusual antelope such as bontebok are plentiful in the Western Cape and especially in the Bontebok National Park. In the mountainous areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, the blue wildebeest of the Kruger National Park and other bushveld areas is represented by the smaller black wildebeest. The Eastern Cape is well known for elephant and rhino are represented in almost all the provinces, but they are most prolific in the classic safari areas.

National and Provincial Parks

The National Parks are administered by the South African National Parks Board and are primarily conservation areas but they do have excellent tourist facilities. The accommodation in the parks range from camping sites and quite basic self-catering chalets to very luxurious lodges. Most camps have small shops, restaurants and other facilities, while some of the larger camps, e.g. Skukuza which is the main camp in the Kruger National Park, are sizable villages. Provincial parks are run on similar lines to the national parks, but are administered by the provincial authorities. However, if you are keen on seeing animals, and not particularly concerned about fancy décor and haute cuisine, then the national or provincial parks are the best bet. The game viewing is as good, if not better, than that offered by the private lodges.

Private Game Reserves

Private game reserves, as the name suggests, are owned and run by private enterprises and many are adjacent to the larger national parks, particularly the Kruger National Park. As a rule, the private lodges have far more luxurious accommodation and offer world-class service and cuisine at a correspondingly higher price. If you want to be pampered and have an exclusive experience, the private game lodge is the way to go.

Sanctuaries and Parks

Obviously, the best way to watch game is in the wild, but that isn’t always possible or practical. Perhaps your clients only have limited time, or need to stay close to a city. In these situations, it is worth visiting a small game park or sanctuary, where you can at least see something. The area near Johannesburg has a number of small game farms and parks with a large concentration of animals running free in a smallish area but it’s not the full big experience of the wilderness areas that South Africaoffers. Parks and sanctuaries are also a good idea if you want to see specific animals for example, cheetahs or wild dogs that are bred in captivity to be released into the wild later. Some parks allow visitors on their South African holidays, to cuddle baby cheetahs or go for walks with young lions, elephants and other animals. Ostriches and other birds can be seen in show farms or bird sanctuaries. Our oft maligned, misunderstood, slithery friends are also best observed in the security of a snake or reptile park. Some sanctuaries are set up to offer a refuge for exotic animals that have been abused, for example, Monkeyland near Plettenberg Bay.
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