Southern Africa is very fortunate to have the largest variety of animals in the world. It is home to more than 800 bird species, 150 mammal species, about 50 snake and lizard species, 11 tortoise species and thousands of invertebrate animals like insects and arachnids.

South Africa is in the fortunate position that it is home to the largest landbased mammal (the elephant), the tallest (the giraffe), the fastest (the cheetah), the smallest ("dwergskeerbek"-mouse, the largest non-flying bird (the ostrich) and the largest flying bird (the kori bustard).


The larger mammals can be divided into three groups: herbivore, carnivore and omnivores. Elephants, hippopotamus, rhinosorous, buffaloes and elands are the largest herbivores found in the country. The herbivore group with the largest number is the impala the small red buck that is found almost everywhere.

The cat family, dog, hyena, otter and mongoose families all form part of the carnivore group. Almost all carnivores are hunters except for hyenas that are scavengers. Apes, baboons and the pig family are omnivores with the exception of the warthog. Surprisingly the ugly warthog lives from grass and leaves.


Reptiles are cold blooded, scaly animals. More than 400 reptiles are found in Southern Africa. About 130 snake species occur in Southern Africa but only a tenth is poisonous.

The smallest land tortoise (speckled "padloper") that is only up to 8,5 cm long and the largest land tortoise (mountain tortoise) that weighs up to 40 kg, are both found in Southern Africa.

The well-known "leeurugseatortoise" (the largest tortoise in the world) which weighs up to 600 kg, is found in the coastal areas of Northern-Zululand. It grows up to 2 metres tall and the female lays her eggs on the beaches. They lay up to 1000 eggs in a breading season.


The South African coast is home to a variety of seabirds. Many are indigenous to this part of the world whilst others migrate mainly from Europe to stay here during summer. There are 16 different penguin species living in the southern hemisphere but the Jackass penguin is the only one that lives in the coastal areas of South Africa. They lay their eggs in holes in the ground or under a layer of rock to protect it from the sun.

The largest bird on earth, the ostrich, is found in large numbers in South Africa. It is mainly farmed for its feathers, skin, eggs and cholesterol-free meat. The ostrich is unique, although it can't fly, it runs up to 50km per hour over short distances.

Marine life

Although a fairly large variety of marine life is found around the South African coast, only a limited number of species of fresh water fish (100) occur in South African rivers. This is mainly due to the fact that South Africa is a dry country.

The South African coast is very rich of edible fish types. Some of these are unique to South Africa like snoek, kabbeljou and kingklip.

The Southern Right Whale is the largest mammal in the Southern Hemisphere and breeds around the southern coast of South Africa.

Insects and arachnids

Insects are the most abundant animal species on earth. The are more than a million insect species on earth and more than 100 000 can be found in South Africa. Many insects are useful but they can also be pests.

The praying mantis is one of the interesting insects found in South Africa. For centuries it was a symbol of holiness for the San people - the first people that lived in South Africa.

The Baboon spider is a ground dwelling hairy spider and considered one of the largest spiders in the world. It ranges in size from 2 to 6 cm in body length, but is not poisonous.


Frogs, toads, water salamanders and salamanders form the group of amphibians. The only type of amphibians that occur in South Africa is frogs and toads.
The smallest frog is the micro-frog, which is only 1,8 mm long and is on the list of endangered species.

Surprisingly the ghost frog is only found on Table Mountain. It lives in the fast flowing streams on the mountain, is very scarce and endangered. The name ghost frog stems from the fact that it is only seen at night.