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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.
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, Long-tailed Serotine, Geoffroy’s Horseshoes and Egyptian Freetails. I caught a Spectacled Doromouse and a Namaqua Rock Rat too.
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 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, 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, 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.
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.