I first visited South Africa in 2002 for a two week mammal trip. I went back for another 10 days in 2007, a few more days – just to Plettenberg Bay – in 2008, and I spent two weeks working there in 2009 (and squeezed in a couple of weekends for mammal watching). I returned for a fortnight over Christmas 2016 and spent about half that trip chasing mammals.
I love South Africa. The crime problems I’ve heard so much about aren’t apparent out of the cities (or perhaps I am just blissfully naive); the national parks in the south were stunning and quite different to the more traditional bushscapes of the Kruger, and southern Africa generally. The desert is glorious; the food can be delicious and is always cheap and there is excellent wine. It is a much easier and cheaper country to travel round than the few other places in Africa I’ve been. And, last but not least, some great mammals too!
In June 2002 I spent only a couple of weeks in South Africa. But I crammed heaps in. After 2 nights in Pilanesburg (near Pretoria), I flew to spend 3 nights with family in the Kruger. From there, I flew down to Cape Town, hired a small car and drove 6,000 km in 8 days. Budget Rentacar were surprised when they took the odometer reading on my return. After diving with White Pointer Sharks (Great Whites) at Gaansbai, those 8 days were spent north of the Cape on an Aardvark finding expedition. Aardvarks are seldom seen in the places I visited. But ‘seldom’ is pretty good when it comes to Aardvarks. Indeed I came frustratingly close to seeing one, leaving Addo NP the night before they saw one, to arrive in the Karoo NP the night after they had see one. I had to wait until 2007 to finally see one.
Addo Elephant National Park
I spent four nights here in July 2002. Not the greatest national park in the world, but some good species here like Suricate (common), Zorilla (one seen during a night drive) and Black Rhino. I also saw Elephant, Cape Porcupine (the guide was putting effort into finding me an Aardvark, and got much more excited about the 2 porcupines we found – a more unusual than Aardvarks he proudly told me – d’oh), Hartebeest, Cape Genet, Yellow Mongoose.
Cape Mountain Zebra National Park
I was here for just four hour in July 2002. I stopped here to see Black Wildebeest which were pretty easy to find. I also saw Bontebok and Mountain Zebra. The park is reputedly good for Caracal.
Cape Town Area
I was here for four nights at the very start of 2017. Apart from feral North American Grey Squirrels I didn’t see any mammals in Cape Town. But I caught a Greater Red Musk Shrew in a garden in Simon’s Town but couldn’t find the Cape Rock Elephant Shrews I was told were easy to see near the Cape of Good Hope.
De Hoop Reserve
I spent a night here in June 2002. What a fabulous little nature reserve, with stunning coastal scenery, a heap of Right Whales in the winter and some nice mammals. The accommodation was excellent too. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Yellow Mongoose, Mountain Zebra, Rhebok, South Arican Vlei Rat (Otomys irroratus) were all around. And a highlight were a group of African Clawless Otter at both dusk and dawn below the small ‘cliffs’ near the Tierhoek picnic site (prolonged viewing sometimes from only 10m above the animals and this is a regular spot for them). There were Four-striped Grass Mouse, Zorilla, Southern Right Whale, Bontebok (Blesbok), Chacma Baboon, Eland, and Scrub Hare too.
I was here for two nights in June 2002. The Fernkloof Nature Reserve here is worth a look and a bush walk. I saw Cape Gray Mongoose and Egyptian Mongoose there during the day time and spotlit a Cape Grysbok in the scrubland outside the park. Southern Right Whales were cruising off the beach and Cape Serotines were flying around the streetlights outside the restaurant near the harbour (I recommend their Cajun Squid if only I could remember the name of the restaurant!).
Karoo National Park
I visited for two nights in July 2002. This park was rumoured to be an Aardvark hotspot, I arrived here the night after one had been seen (‘the first in months’) and took the regular night drive then chartered a second longer private one (a very cheap option). During my 2 nights and 1 day stay I saw Mountain Reedbuck, Aardwolf (the Karoo is one of the best spots for seeing these), Gemsbok, Springbok, ‘Quagga’ (not genetically a Quagga but the closest approximation on the planet – selective breeding of Zebras in the Karoo is well on the way to producing something that looks very like the extinct Desert Zebra), Rhebok, Bat-eared Fox and Cape Hare .. but no Aardvark.
I have visited several times. I took two boat trips July 2002. This beautiful bay is famous for its whale watching. Bryde’s Whales are resident there and seen on 70% of trips (but neither of the trips I took in 2002). Did see Bottlenose and Humpbacked Dolphins though as well as South African/ Australian Fur Seals.
In November 2007 I returned and saw the same species plus Humpback Whales. Bryde’s Whales were around but not the day I was out. In April 2008 I was back and saw lots of Bryde’s Whales plus the first Southern Right Whale of the year.
Tsitsikamma National Park
I spent a night here in July 2002 at Storm’s River. There are Cape Horseshoe Bats in the cave at the end of the Mouth Trail, while Blue Duiker and Clawless Otters are often reported here. In November 2007 I spent two nights in Nature’s Valley, a section of the park near Plettenberg Bay: Bushbuck and Chacma Baboons were common here and I saw a Bushpig plus what was probably a Blue Duiker. During a quick stop at Storm’s River I also saw a Small Grey Mongoose.
North West Province
I spent three nights here in June 2002. I dipped on Brown Hyena and Caracal during my first visit, though both are often reported from here. It’s a nice national park, and although many of the animals were introduced in the late 1970s it feels genuinely wild now. I did see Leopard, Wild Cat, White Rhinoceros, Rock Hyrax, Black Rhinoceros, Scrub Hare, Elephant, Common Slender Mongoose, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, Eland, Hippo, Mountain Reedbuck, Greater Kudu, Waterbuck, Topi (Tsessebe), Steenbok, Warthog, Chacma Baboon, Burchell’s Zebra and Southern Giraffe.
In August 2009 I returned looking again for Brown Hyenas and saw one, along with three Caracals, most of the stuff I saw in 2002 (other than Leopard, Wild Cat, Eland and Mountain Reedbuck) plus Red Hartebeest, Klipspringer, Springbok, Common Reedbuck, Grey Duiker, Jameson’s Red Rock Hare, Vervet Monkeys, Tree Squirrels, Black-backed Jackal, Cheetah and Lions.
Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
I was first here for two nights in November 2007 and then back for a night in 2009. In 2007 I saw Greater (Thick-tailed) Bushbabies, Suni (False Bay only), Red Duikers,Vervet Monkeys, Red Squirrel, Large-spotted Genet (either Cape or Rusty-spotted, they overlap about here I think), White Rhinoceros, Bushpig, Buffalo, Nyala (False Bay only), Kudu, Bushbuck, Burchell’s Zebras, Leopard, Slender Mongoose (False Bay only), Banded Mongooses, Warthogs, Oribis, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Blue Wildebeest and Peter’s/Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bats.
Blue/Sykes (Samango) Monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis albogularis) are common at Cape Vidal here. I missed them in 2007 but saw them when I spent a night there in August 2009, along with a few of the species I had seen in 2007.
I spent a night here in August 2009. Adam Riley from Rockjumper was good enough to give me a bed for a night and take me looking for mammals. He found me a fleeting glimpse of the back half of a Greater Cane Rat (in a nearby cane farm surprisingly) but problems with the spotlight put an end to our quest for a Natal Red Rock Rabbit. We also saw a Feline Genet, Porcupine, Grey Duikers and a Black-backed Jackal along the highway. The next day I had an abortive attempt for Spot-necked Otters and Sloggett’s Ice Rats.
Thanda Private Game Reserve
I spent a couple of nights here in August 2009. Simply fabulous accommodation and great game viewing with Wild Dogs, Cheetahs, Lions, Black-backed Jackals, Elephants, White Rhinos, Warthogs, Nyala, Red Duikers, Water Buck, Greater Kudu, Impalas, Steenboks, Buffalo, Blue Wildebeest, Southern Giraffes, Zebras and Vervet Monkeys.
Angolan Free-tailed Bat, Tadarida condylura, Letaba Camp 2017.
In June 2002 I spent two nights at Mopani camp and two at Skukuza June 2002. Leopard, Lions, Elephants, African Civet, Smith’s Bush Squirrels, Vervet Monkeys, White Rhinoceros, Namaqua Rock Rat, and Whalberg’s (and possibly Peter’s) Epauletted Fruit Bats. These small pteropus are resident at Skukuza camp where they roost under the eaves near the shop and the two species look pretty much identical to the naked eye. Chris and Mathilde Stuart confirmed – through researchers they know – that Wahlberg’s were far more common there. As well as Scrub Hares, Hippopotamus, Southern Giraffe, African Buffalo, and a Brown Greater Galago (spotlit in Skukuza camp).
In January 2017 I visited Letaba Rest Camp for a night and saw similar species as well as Klipspringers and Spring Hares near Letaba, with Angolan Feetailed Bats, African Yellow House Bats, Mauritian Tomb Bats and Schleiffen’s Twilight Bats all roosting in the rest camp.
I spent two nights at Sabi Sands in January 2017. Some of the more unusual animals included a Serval, Wild Dogs and many Nyala as well as African Yellow House Bats in a bat box at Nkorho Lodge. We also had great Lion, Leopard and Elephant encounters along with many typical Kruger mammals.
Spotted-necked Otter, Hydrictis maculicollis, Wakkerstroom.
I was here for a night in January 2017 to see Spotted-necked Otters. Other than a Scrub Hare the only other mammals were a couple of rodents which I have not yet been able to identify.
Kimberley Area (Marrick Safari Camp and Benfontein Farm)
I spent four nights November 2007. A really great area for some special mammals and my 40th birthday. I finally saw an Aardvark (yay!), as well as Aardwolfves Rock Elephant Shrew, Smith’s Red Rock Rabbit, Black-footed Cats, Yellow Mongoose, Suricates, Cape Porcupine, Scrub Hares, Spring Hares, Grey Duiker, Steenbok, Cape Ground Squirrels, Steenbok, Large-eared Mouse, Cape Short-tailed Gerbil, Bushveld Gerbil, Namaqua Rock Mouse, West Central South African Four-striped Mouse, Bat-eared Foxes, Black-backed Jackals, Feline (Small-spotted) Genet, Warthogs plus several species of reintroduced antelope in the game farms.
Large-eared Mouse, Malacothrix typica
I was here just for two nights December 2016 but could have stayed longer. I saw a Riverine Rabbit, Hewitt’s Red Rock Rabbit, Scrub Hares, African Wild Cat, Steenbok, Bat-eared and Cape Foxes, a probable Small-spotted Genet, Large-eared Mouse, Karoo Bush Rats, Cape Short-eared Gerbil and Rock Hyraxes. There were some nice bats too including Lesueur’s Hairy Bat, Geoffroy’s Horseshoes and Egyptian Freetails. I caught a Spectacled Doromouse and a Namaqua Rock Rat too.
West Coast National Park
I spent just a morning here July 2002 and returned for two nights in November 2007. In 2002 I stopped in at this scenic park to try to see the Caracal that had been recently reported hanging around. I also wanted to look for the endemic Heaviside’s Dolphin (regular but not every day). Saw neither, but did see a few antelope, some Rock Hyrax, as well as Four-striped Grass Mice.
In November 2007 I returned for 2 nights and saw Caracals, Four-striped Grass Mice, Heaviside’s Dolphins (off Yzerfontein), Dusky Dolphins and Cape Fur Seals (Saldhana), Southern Right Whales, Vlei Rats (not sure if they were Otomys irroratus or O. unisculatus), Large-spotted (Cape) Genet, Cape Porcupines, Red Hartebeest, Grey Duiker, Steenbok, Cape Hares, Springbok, Gemsbok, Bontebok, Rock Hyraxes, Cape Mountain Zebra and a possible Water Mongoose.
The World’s Best Mammalwatching
There are so many of my top places and mammals in South Africa that it is hard to pick just one or two. But Marrick Safari near Kimberley (see my 2007 report and multiple reports since then) and Dunedin Farm in the Karoo (see my 2017 report) stand out. They are both home to a some hard to see and cool species, like Aardvarks and Black-footed Cats at Marrick and Riverine Rabbits and Spectacled Dormouse in Dunedin. Great people in both places, who give you freedom to look for the animals away from the rules and the crowds of the national parks. See more of the World’s Best Mammalwatching.
Western and Eastern Cape, 2022: Hugh Lansdown, 2 weeks & species including Meerkat, Egyptian Mongoose and Western Rock Elephant Shrew.
Dunedin Farm (Western Cape), 2022: Paul Carter’s latest update to his comprehensive notes on 3 visits to the fantastic Dunedin Farm, where the mammal list now stands at 54 species including Riverine Rabbit, Large-eared Mouse and Lesueur’s Wing-gland Bat.
South Africa, 2021: Tropical Birding, 3 weeks and 50+ species including Cape Mole-Rat, Pygmy Mouse, Aardwolf, Aardvark and Zorilla.
Small Mammals in Wildnerness, Western Cape, 2021: Paul Carter’s notes of 5 species including Brants’s Climbing Mouse and two species of Mole Rats.
Strandfontein, Western Cape, 2021: Paul Carter’s report of Heaviside’s Dolphins and Brants’s Whistling Rats.
Shelley Point, Western Cape, 2021: Paul Carter’s report of Dusky Dolphins.
South Africa, 2019: Ian Merrill, 17 days & 60+ species including Forest Shrew, Brant’s Whistling Rat, Brown Hyena and Black-footed Cat.
South Africa, 2019: Mark Hows, 18 days & 64 species including plenty of bats and rats.
Kruger area, 2019: John Van Niel, a 2 week ecology course (especially track and sign identification) with species including Wild Dog and Sable.
Serval Central, 2019: Stuart Chapman’s visit to the Sasol Synfuel reserve at Seconda, 3 days & 9 species including several Servals.
South Africa, September 2018: Richard Webb (WildWings), 11 days & 58 species including both rhinos, Caracal, Black-footed Cat, Large-spotted Genet and both otters.
Mokala, Marrick and Madikwe, 2018: Samuel Marlin, 10 days & 53 species including Pygmy Mouse, Black-footed Cat and Aardvark.
Zimbabwe, Botswana and Marrick (South Africa), 2018: Félix Serrano López, 2 weeks and about 60 species including Sable, Honey Badger, Spot-necked Otter, Black-footed Cat and mating Aardvarks.
Marrick and Malamala, 2018: Mattia Altieri, 15 days & 57 species including Sable, Black-footed Cat, South African Hedgehog, Cheetah and Aardvark.
South Africa (Western Cape), 2018: Hugh Lansdown, 1 week & 20 or so species including Aardwolf and Cape Clawless Otter.
South Africa (Northern Cape), 2018: Hugh Lansdown, 1 week & 25 or so species including Black-footed Cat, Aardvarks and Brants’s Whistling Rats.
Some Selective South African Mammaling, 2017: Jon Hall, one week & 50 species including Riverine Rabbit, Spectacled Dormouse, Spotted-necked Otter and Lesueur’s Hairy Bat.
The Cape, 2017: Philip Precey, 2 weeks & 30+ species including Marsh Mongoose and Cape Grysbok.
South Africa, 2017: Richard Webb, 12 days & 55 species including Aardvark, Black-footed Cat, Southern African Hedgehog and Brown Hyena.
South Africa and Namibia, 2017: Vladimir Dinets, 3 weeks & many mammals including White-tailed Mouse, several molerat species, some nice bats and an apparently good spot for Brown Hyenas.
Northern Cape, 2016: Sjef Ollers, 3 weeks & 60 species including Brown Hyena, Honey Badger, some nice rodents and many spectacular encounters.
South Africa, 2016: Mark Hows, 2 weeks & 80 species or so, including South African Hedgehog, Black-footed Cat, and a bunch of nice bats and rodents.
South Africa, November 2016: Richard Webb (WildWings), 12 days & 56 species including Brown Hyenas, Spotted-Necked Otter, South African Hedgehogs, Aardvarks and Black-footed Cats.
South Africa, 2016: Tomer Ben-Yehuda, 3 weeks & 75 species including Marsh Mongoose, Brown Hyena, South African Hedgehog and Aardvark.
South Africa & Namibia, 2016: Stuart Marsden, 60 species including Aardvark and Zorilla (both at a site that I hadn’t heard of but seems to give Marrick a run for its money), Brown Hyenas and Honey Badgers.
South Africa, 2016: Richard Webb (Wildwings), 11 days & 54 species including Smith’s Red Rock Hare, Cape Clawless and Spotted-necked Otters, Black-footed Cat, Zorilla, Aardvark and Brown Hyena.
South Africa, 2016: Naturetrek, 10 days & 54 species including Caracal, Dassie Rat, Western Rock Sengi, Southern African Hedgehog and a Brown Hyena.
Riverine Rabbit Quest, 2016: Paul Carter, 3 days & 19 mammals including Riverine Rabbit, Hewitt’s Red-rock Hare, Aardwolf, Round-eared and Cape Sengis. Great report.
South Africa, 2015: Royle Safaris, 3 weeks & 62 species including Aardvark, South African Hedgehog, Black-footed Cat, Ground Pangolin and Striped Polecat.
Port Elizabeth & the Cape Peninsula, 2015: Mike Hoit’s notes of mammals seen, including Spectacled Dormouse, Common Molerat and an Aardvark.
South Africa, 2015: Juan Luis Ortega, 2 weeks & 50 species including Wild Dog, Ratel, Serval and Acacia Rat.
South Africa, 2015: Romain Bocquier, 12 days & 61 species including Aardvark, Aardwolf, Wild Dog, Honey Badger, South African Hedgehog and some nice bats in his tent!
South Africa, 2014: Van Harris, 10 days & 35 species including Large-spotted Genet and Leopard.
South Africa, 2014: Juan Luis Ortega, 10 days & 44 species including Black-footed Cat, Cape Clawless Otter, Aardwolf and Cheetah.
South Africa and Swaziland, 2013: Dominque Brugiere, 5 weeks & many species including Water Mongoose, Natal Red Rock Rabbit, Aardvark, Black-footed Cat, Honey Badger and Brown Hyena.
South Africa, 2013: Juan Luis Ortega Herranz, 2 weeks & 58 species including Honey Badger, Aardwolf and Aardvark.
South Africa, 2012: Jordi Palau, 2.5 weeks & 59 species including Aardvark, Wild Dog, Brown Hyena and Aardwolf.
South Africa, 2012: John Wright, 2 weeks & 40 species including Water Mongoose, Caracals, Aardwolves, Smith’s Red Rock Rabbits and a Zorilla.
South Africa, 2012: Mike Richardson, 2 weeks & 65 species including Black-footed Cat, Caracal, Wild Dog, Honey Badger and Aardvark.
South Africa, 2012: Bob Berghaier, 1 week and the mammals included Caracal, Honey Badger and Brown Hyenas.
South Africa and Botswana, 2012: Juan Luis Ortega Herranz, 2 weeks and 54 species including Brown Hyena, Caracal, Honey Badger and Black-tailed Tree Rat.
South Africa, 2012: Curtis Hart, 3 weeks & 72 species including Black-footed Cats, Brown Hyenas and Heaviside’s Dolphins.
South Africa, 2011: Leon Marais (Naturetrek), 10 days & 39 species including Wild Dogs and 5 species of cats.
South Africa, 2011: Leon Marais (Naturetrek), 10 days & 37 species including Wild Dogs and 4 species of cats.
South Africa, 2011: Sjef Ollers, 3 weeks & 50+ mammals including Black-footed Cat, Aardvark, Cape Dune Mole-rat and Cape Fox.
South Africa, 2010: Leon Marais (Naturetrek), 10 days & 35 species including a Honey Badger and 4 species of cats.
South Africa, 2010: Leon Marais (Naturetrek), 10 days & 33 species including a Honey Badger and 3 species of cats.
Namibia and Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, 2010: Steve Babbs, 1 month & 42 species including Caracal, Honey Badger and Black Mongoose.
Western Cape to Kruger, 2010: Matt and Maureen Steer, the second installment of a round the world wildlife trip. Some nice species including a Spotted-necked Otter.
Northern Cape, 2010: Matt and Maureen Steer, the first installment of a round the world wildlife trip. Some nice species including Black-footed Cat and a Honey Badger.
South Africa, 2010: Richard Webb, 2 weeks & 60 species including Black-footed Cat, Cape Fox, Aardvark, Cape Dune Mole Rat and Spotted-necked Otter.
South Africa, 2009: Jon Hall, 5 days and 40 or so species including Brown Hyena, Caracal and a Greater Cane Rat.
South Africa, 2009: Alain Guillemont, 12 days & 41 species including an Aardvark, a Caracal and Heaviside’s Dolphins.
Southern Africa, 2009 (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa): Coke Smith, 7 weeks and 118 species and subspecies including Caracal and Aardvark.
Southern Africa, 2008-09: Vadimir Dinets’s notes of a long trip through 9 Countries. Many mammals including South African Hedgehog, Riverine Rabbit and a lot of bats, shrews and rodents in South Africa.
South Africa, 2007: Jon Hall, 10 days & 63 species including Aardvark, Caracal, Suni and Heaviside’s Dolphin.
Kruger National Park, 2007: Derek Shingles, 2 weeks and plenty of mammals including both Rhinos.
Western Cape, 2007: Olli Haukkovaara’s account of a few mammals around Cape Town.
South-west Africa, 2005: Don Rohttps://www.mammalwatching.com/wp-content/uploads/OH-Western-Cape-2007.pdfberson, 1 month and lots of mammals (including an Aardvark).
South Africa, 2004: Richard Webb, 1 month & 80 mammals (including Blue Duiker, Brown Hyena, Caracal and another Aardvark).
Around the World (South Africa), 2003: Richard Webb, 3 weeks & 57 mammals.
Mkuze, 2003: Richard Webb, 3 days & 20 + mammals (including a Red Duiker).
South Africa, 2002: Stefan Lithner, 1 month & 60 mammals.
The Kalahari and the Cape, 2002: Richard Webb, 2 weeks & 40 or so mammals including a Brown Hyena and a Caracal.
South Africa, 2000: Richard Webb, 2 weeks & 40 mammals including a Pangolin.
South Africa & Namibia, 1999: Richard Webb, 3 weeks & 50+ mammals including an Aardvark.
South Africa (general): Trevor Hardaker’s website has some great pictures of many South African Mammals as well as info on where they were taken.
Sabi Sands Leopards: Phil Perry’s site has some fabulous pictures, focusing on leopards in the Sabi Sands reserve.
RFI Aardwolves in Karoo NP, October 2022
I can help with Molerats and Golden Moles, August 2021
Striped Weasels on the Western Cape (and Kenya), August 2020
Bryde’s Whales dying in False Bay, June 2019
Bryde’s Whale from the shore at False Bay, April 2019
RFI Servals in Secunda, South Africa, November 2018
Cape Clawless Otters near Capetown (primarily a Namibian trip report but with information on otters near Capetown), Nov 2017
Cape to Kgalagadi via the Karoo: RFI, July 2017
The South African National Parks website is a useful read and you can book accommodation online.