The Rarest Animals of South Africa


There are a truly vast number of animal species you may see when on safari or travelling around South Africa. Everyone wants to spot giraffes, lions, elephants and more – but when it comes to the truly rare species, there are many (outside of the headline-grabbing large mammals) that fall under the radar. These are just a few of those rare species, as well as details of the specific circumstances that have conspire to make them so scarce in the wild today.

Cape Vultures

As carrion birds that feed on abandoned carcasses, vultures get a lot of unfair press when compared to some other killers of the animal kingdom. However, the function they fulfil in the food chain is a vital one, and the ecosystems of South Africa (and the rest of the world) will be poorer without them.

Cape vultures can be thought of as ecosystem cleaners – their robust metabolisms enable them to eat diseased animal remains and thereby remove them from the food chain. Unfortunately, this has also led to their peril as the antibiotics we use to protect our cattle have been slowly filtered through the feed chain to these imposing birds. Thousands of years of adaptation could not prepare them for the speed of human ingenuity, and our drugs, specifically Diclofenac, have been causing liver failure in Cape Vultures at alarming rates. Electric pylons have also been credited as a cause of death for these birds, that were confirmed as endangered in 2015.

African Penguin

Not a bird you would usually associate with Africa, nevertheless there are some 30,000 penguins present of the southern costs of South Africa each year and another 10,000 or so in neighbouring Namibia. This is down from roughly four million at the start of the 20th century.

Mostly living on islands off the South African coast, as few small colonies remain on the mainland – namely Boulder’s Beach near Cape Town and Stony Point near Betty’s Bay. At that latter breeding area, conservation efforts have been upped after battles with predatory leopards left 33 penguins dead in 2015.

African Wild Dogs

African Wild Dogs may not be the most glamorous of animals, but their plight certainly deserves some attention. Conservationists estimate their may only be three to five thousand left in the wild.

Unusually for an endangered animal, African Wild Dogs are not mostly at threat due to habitat loss. In fact, they can live in a wide variety of climates and biomes across Africa. Although they prefer arid or desert areas, packs of dogs have been sighted in mountainous and forest regions. There has even been a few documented sightings of a pack living near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Three factors have contributed to making this animal a rarer sighting in the modern day: human persecution (often down to the risk of rabies), other diseases and lions. In North Africa, the once abundant canines have been wiped out by human hunters. In other parts of the continent, where the large feline predators have been protected or reintroduced, wild dog numbers have fallen considerably too.

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