Destinations Magazine

South African Wildlife: Beyond the Big 5

By Monkeys And Mountains Adventure @Laurel_Robbins

south african wildlife baboon treeWhen you think of South African wildlife, what’s the first animal you think of?  Elephant?  Lion?  Or a rhino perhaps?  These are part of the “Big 5″ a term originally coined by game hunters that identify the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot, but today the “Big 5″ usually refers to a check list that tourists on safari are looking to tick off.  (The other two are the Cape buffalo and leopard.)

During my trip to S. Africa I saw lots of wildlife, but not a single one of the “Big 5″ – not one, although I did see leopard poop!  Contrary to popular belief, lions and elephants are not freely roaming around the country.  They are enclosed in national parks or private game reserves.  Given that the purpose of my trip was to hike in Golden Gate National Park and the Drakensberg, I found it rather reassuring to know that I wouldn’t be running into any lions or cheetahs while hiking.  My time in South Africa also opened my eyes to the abundance of wildlife that goes way beyond the Big 5:

south african wildlife black wildebeest herd

Herd of Black Wildebeest in Golden Gate National Park.

Golden Gate National Park is a great place for hiking and is famous for its golden colors(see Hiking in Golden Gate National Park).  It’s also home to an abundant of herd species, including the Black Wildebeest.  I love the idea that you can be hiking and come across a herd of wildebeest, although I saw these ones while we were driving.  Note, when in South Africa, keep your long camera lens nearby at all times.  You never know what you’ll see.  Unfortunately mine was packed away for this shot.


Sprinbok in Golden Gate National Park.

Springbok are also frequently seen in Golden Gate National Park as are a variety of other antelope species and even the occasional zebra! I did see a zebra while we were driving, but it was outside of the park.

south african wildlife termite mound

Termite mound

I couldn’t believe the size of some of the termite mounds we passed, they were huge!  Like most of the world’s most impressive buildings, the mounds are built by the low ranking worker termites, defended by the soldier termites.  Naturally there is also a king and queen termite who enjoy the fruits of the other termites labors.

south african wildlife ostrich

Ostrich in South Africa

I saw this ostrich somewhere between the Drakensberg and Johnesburg.  Ostriches are famously known for the false fact that they put their head in the sand to avoid danger, but with predators like lions these birds are so much smarter than that.  They have even been known to kill lions in self defense, especially if there are chicks around.

south african wildlife cobra hole
Look real hard at the above photo.  See anything?  Look harder!  Just kidding, there’s nothing there, but inside the hole is a different story.  On our hike to Orange Peel Gap in the Drakensberg we saw several snakes, including three cobras.  I am petrified of snakes, especially large, venomous ones like cobras.  But even I can admit my fear was unfounded.  On each occasion the snake wasn’t too happy to see our group either and slithered away.  My apologies for the blurry photo, my hands were shaking with fear as I took it and I took it quickly in case the cobra should make a dramatic reappearance, which he thankfully didn’t.

south african wildlife baboon

Just one of the many baboons I saw, much to my delight while in South Africa.

It should come as no surprise to you that someone who has named her blog “Monkeys and Mountains” was beyond thrilled to see so many baboons!  I saw them in Golden Gate National Park, while hiking in the Drakensberg Amphitheater, while driving through the Drakensberg and even at mother and baby baboon at the Didima Chalets.  I have the proof in over 300 baboon photos if you want to see them


I loved South Africa so much that I’m going back in August to dive with sharks, see more monkeys and maybe this time even spot one of the  Big 5.  But if I don’t I know there are lots of other species to observe.  Oh who am I kidding, I really want to see an African elephant…and a lion….and a cheetah…

Thank you to South African Tourism (for hosting me during my visit to Golden Gate National Park and the Drakensberg.  Visit Dein Südafrika for info in German.

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