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South Africa Safari: 10 Zany Creatures You Never Even Knew Existed

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When you book a South Africa safari, it’s natural to have lions and elephants and rhinos on your mind.  But there is so much more to South Africa than these charismatic creatures.

The truth is, many slightly less-famous (but equally impressive) wild animals and birds also call South Africa home.  So let’s celebrate the strange, the uncanny, the zany.  Here are a handful of South Africa’s creeping curiosities.  I bet you didn’t even know most of these creatures even existed. 
Without further ado, I present to you South Africa’s outcasts.  Their weirdness is in no particular order.

Galago or Bush Baby

Photo: Wilderness Safaris

The galago, also known as the bush baby, is a nocturnal primate with eyes the size of saucers.  The galago is keenly adapted to catching insects in the dark, while in mid-flight, high up in the tree canopy.  An extremely agile force in the trees, the galago can jump upwards of 6 feet.  Some people keep the bush baby as a pet, but we don’t condone keeping exotic and otherwise wild animals in captivity as pets. 


This marine creature is closely related to the manatee, but unlike the manatee, the dugong will only be found in salt water.  The dugong can live for more than 70 years, and because they are slow to reproduce, the dugong is listed as a vulnerable species.  It is said that the dugong was the seed of inspiration for the fabled mermaid. 

Lilac-Breasted Roller 

Photo: Dana Allen

The lilac-breasted roller is the national bird of Kenya and Botswana.  The brilliant and alternating pastel colors of this bird make for a real treat to spot in the wild.  To see the lilac-breasted roller you should look to the tops of trees and tall poles.  You will see them scoping out and swooping down for scorpions, small rodents, lizards and insects.  This bird is so widely distributed throughout South Africa, and Kruger National Park, that you’re likely to see its antics from the front porch of your safari lodge.


Photo: Dana Allen

The greater kudu is among the largest species of antelope.  They range from South Africa to Eastern Africa.  The male kudu carries a fascinating pair of antlers that rise and twist several feet into the air.  Unfortunately, the antlers are a blessing and a curse – on one hand they help to fight off predators, but on the other hand they make for a poacher’s prize.  The kudu’s numbers have declined in recent years at the hand of poachers, but you still stand a chance to see a kudu on your South Africa safari.


Photo: Wilderness Safaris

The pangolin is in the anteater family and is truly a unique looking critter.  Dressed from head to toe in thick armored scales, the pangolin goes about the South African savannah grasslands on the hunt for ants.  But the pangolin has a neat way of procuring these sweet little treats – they first catch the scent of an underground ant colony, and then proceed to dig a tunnel with their shovel-like claws until they reach their meal.  Unfortunately, the pangolin is an endangered species due to poaching and habitat loss.

Long-Tailed Widowbird

Another beautiful bird, the long-tailed widowbird is common among its habitat that ranges from the Eastern Cape north through Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and reaching into Botswana.  Most striking about this bird is – you guessed it – its excessively long tail.  The male widowbird boasts 20” long tail feathers that trail behind him in flight.  You’ll want to put the long-tailed widowbird on your South Africa safari checklist. 


Photo: Dana Allen

The gemsbok is another large antelope that roams the wilds of South Africa. Typically a desert-dweller, the gemsbok can survive long periods without water.  Their most unique characteristic is their long, straight horns, which they use for defense against the unsavory lion.  Otherwise, the gemsbok assumes a cartoon-like countenance that makes them very likeable by safari-goers. 

Elephant Shrew

This little insectivore has a wide distribution throughout South Africa.  They are considered a member of “The Little 5” which also includes the buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, lionant and the rhino beetle. Although the elephant shrew is a small rodent, they are more closely related to elephants than shrews.  Their elongated snout is a testament to this fact!  Keep an eye out for the elephant shrew while in Kruger National Park.

African Civet 

Photo: Wilderness Safaris

The African civet is a solitary and nocturnal creature that physically resembles a raccoon in the face and muzzle.  But the similarities end there.  The civet’s coloration is highly varied with spots and bands and stripes across their coarse fur. Because the civet lives such a reclusive lifestyle, little information has been gathered on them.  But if you’re out looking for the civet you’ll want to stick near established water systems.  Look for the little black and white polka-dotted fellow with his hind quarters raised in the air and a crest of hair standing up on his back.

Secretary Bird 

Photo: R. Friedman

Another visually striking bird of South Africa is the secretary bird.  This bird of prey with a stately stature has been described as possessing the body of an eagle but the legs of a crane.  The secretary bird moves about the grasslands and savannah flushing out potential prey.  They are known to inflict serious injury and death with front-kicks and foot-stomps.  In fact, their kicks are thought powerful enough to completely crush the hand of a grown man.  Needless to say, while on a South Africa safari, keep on this impressive bird’s good side. 

So how many of these zany critters did you recognize?  If you recognized even one, then well done, I tip my safari hat to you.  While on a South Africa safari, if you keep positive and alert, you just might see one of these stunning animals.  And when you do, hopefully you’ll cheer for the underdog and come to really appreciate the less-famous wonders of this beautiful country.

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