Dec 19
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ARKive Geographic: South Africa

South Africa is a nation rife with natural beauty. Found on the southern-most tip of the African continent it is bordered by five other countries including Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland.

Famous for its captivating and exquisite wildlife, South Africa is a popular travel destination for travellers wanting to experience spectacular flora and fauna. To help you save on the air fare, we thought we would showcase just some of the amazing species found in South Africa as part of this months installement of ARKive Geographic.

Sandy Serpent

Photo of Namaqua dwarf adder camouflaged in the sand

Sometimes the best things come in small packages, or perhaps the most powerful! The Namaqua dwarf adder is one such example, being the smallest venomous snake in the world. Reaching a maximum of 28 centimetres, this true viper has an attractive broad and triangular head, a heavy body covered in protruding scales, and retractable hollow fangs used to inject venom into its prey. This dune-dwelling reptile is classified Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, primarily due to mining activities and collection for the pet trade.

Rooted in Riches

Silver tree leaves

The silver tree is a shining beauty, growing on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. What makes this tree unique is its silver sheen and velvety leaves, which are covered in tiny hairs to protect it from desiccation and being eaten. The fruit of the silver tree will ripen over several months and is sometimes not released from its woody sheath for several years. This hearty plant can live for up to 80 years, yet is considered Vulnerable due to excessive leaf collection and other invasive plant species.

Shy Guy

Brown shyshark on seabottom

Lacking the fierce predatory nature of its larger relative, the great white shark, this brown shyshark is much less dominating in appearance and behaviour. In fact, its name comes from its tendency to coil its tail around its eyes as a defense against predators when it is caught or picked up. It prefers to feed on lobsters and smaller fish, and is endemic to waters around South Africa in the western Indian Ocean.

Stately Stepper

Male secretary bird displaying

The secretary bird is a large bird of prey from the African grasslands, whose name stems from the peculiar long feathers on the back of its neck which are said to resemble the quill pens that secretaries used over a century ago. This unique bird is also known as the ‘marching eagle’ as it prefers to move around on foot. It can easily cover 20-30 kilometers a day hunting opportunistically for food, taking mongooses, hares, snakes, lizards, squirrels and even freshwater crabs! The secretary bird has an intricate courtship routine that involves pendulum displays in flight.

A Rare Hare

Riverine rabbit

The critically endangered riverine rabbit is one of the rarest terrestrial mammals endemic to South Africa. What makes this lagomorph unique is that it typically produces only one kitten (baby rabbit) a year. The riverine rabbit is nocturnal and feeds on flowers and grasses at night. Over the past century, two-thirds of its habitat has been lost and it is estimated that only 250 individuals remain in the wild.

A horse of a different colour

Cape mountain zebras

What would a zebra be without its stripes? While zebras may all blend together in a herd, different zebra species have distinguishing characteristics, and each individual has a unique stripe pattern. The mountain zebra is discernible from other zebra species by the thin and relatively closely spaced vertical black lines on its neck and torso, and the ‘grid iron’ pattern of narrow stripes across the rump. The Mountain zebras also has a square flap of skin, or dewlap, on its throat. Hunting and habitat loss are primary threats to this black and white beauty.

Savannah Sovereign

African lioness covered in blood from a kill

While the range of the lion is not restricted to South Africa, it is difficult to overlook this ‘king of beasts’. An iconic species, lions inspire us with their courage, strength and spirit. This magnificent big cat is built to prey on animals many times its size, including African buffalo, hippos, and even elephants while hunting cooperatively! Male lions are larger than females and possess a mane of hair around their heads, a unique feature unique amongst the cat family. Some of the biggest threats that lions face are habitat loss, human conflict and over-hunting.

While these species are truly magnificent, they are only a small sample of what you can see in South Africa. Haved you visted before, or is it on your travel wishlist? Let us know, and please share your favourite South African species with us on our Facebook or Twitter page!

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant

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