Wildlife Encounters

Amazing Facts About South Africa’s Wildlife

Updated Saturday, 9 February 2019

South Africa is a land abundant in the weird and wonderful, beautiful and a little strange at times.

There are around 300 mammalian species in South Africa alone, as well as hundreds of amphibians, insects, reptiles, and bird species.

With this variety and scope, it is no wonder that some of the animals found in South Africa have some peculiar characteristics…


South Africa’s Wildlife – Did you know?

  • The African elephant can be distinguished by the Asian elephants by its ears, which are in the shape of Africa. (Of course, there are a few other differences too.)
  • Crocodiles can go for months without a meal, thanks to their efficient digestive system.


  • An ostrich egg equals 24 chicken eggs in size.
  • Dungbeetles use the Milky Way to guide them as they roll dung.
  • Lions hate swimming, like most cats.

African Elephant

  • An ostrich can kill a grown man with its kick.
  • Giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their neck that humans do. They are just much bigger.
  • Hippos can run really fast, despite being bulky and rotund. In fact, they can reach speeds of about 32 kilometres (or 20 miles) per hour.


  • Anteaters have a really sticky tongue that they retract into the cavity in their chests when they are not using them to pick up delicious ants for a meal.
  • The black mamba is the fastest snake on the continent. It can reach about 16 kilometres an hour, but does not maintain this speed. Rather, it is only used for short bursts in order to escape danger or capture prey.
  • An elephant calf may suck its trunk as a comfort, in much the same way that a human baby sucks its thumb.

Ground squirrel

  • Lions sleep for about 20 hours a day.
  • Elephants undergo menopause.
  • Cats have 32 muscles in each of their ears.


  • Hippos secrete a pinkish-brown substance to protect themselves from sunburn. Many think that this is pink sweat.
  • Even a blind chameleon will take on the colours of its environment.
  • Elephants favour one tusk over the other, making them either right-tusked or left-tusked.

Blue Crane

  • Crocodiles can hold their breath under water for about 10 minutes at a time.
  • Ants do not have lungs.
  • The giraffe needs special valves and vein structures in its neck to prevent it from fainting when it bends down to drink water.


  • Hippos cannot jump.
  • A crocodile’s brain is a similar size to a cigar.
  • A very small proportion of cheetah cubs actually survive to adulthood – only around 10%, in fact.

Elephants on the move

  • Individual dolphins communicate by make unique whistling sounds.
  • Penguins can leap six feet out of the water to land on terra firma.
  • African elephants only have four teeth with which to chew their food.


  • The mosquito is one of the deadliest animals in Africa, killing more than a million people every year by transmitting dengue fever, malaria and other diseases. There are very few places in South Africa that are affected by malaria, though.
  • Female lions do almost all of the hunting, and will make up to 20 kills in their lifetime.
  • A python can dislocate its jaw to allow it to swallow an entire rabbit in one mouthful.


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