When it comes to South African wildlife, you probably hear a lot about lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo, but inches away, at the feet of the “big five” (or running away from them) are 10 tiny species to spot in South Africa. These sometimes-rare, fascinating and, let’s face it, adorable tiny species are worth seeking out.
Suricates (commonly called meerkats) are playful, furry creatures that can be spotted in the dry bush and always look like they’re up to no good. Your favorite meerkat might be Timon of Timon & Pumbaa from “The Lion King.” Abercrombie & Kent tours offer a seven-day South Africa itinerary and two of those days are spent in Tswalu—home to two large colonies of meerkats.
Spotting one of these endangered mammals is like hitting the safari jackpot. They’re nocturnal, timid and sadly disappearing as a species. The creature is about a meter long with little eyes, no noticeable ears and a long tongue. Find it in the savannah woodlands, particularly in the Kruger National Park where they hang out near termite mounds.
At first glance, you’ll think this little creature is a mouse, but its long, thin nose (used to sniff out insects in the grasslands) sets it apart. Measuring just 30 centimeters, the elephant shrew can leap up to three feet at a time. Also nocturnal, these creatures are hard to spot but your best bet is at private reserve Elephant Point. The reserve borders Kruger National Park and is a major roaming site for the elephant shrew.
Named for the peculiar sounds it makes, this bird can be found exclusively in South Africa. In spite of its bright hue, it is still difficult to spot because it’s extremely shy. The Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, near Mtubatuba, is home to 450 bird species, including the bokmakierie.
One of the easier small species to spot, African penguins roam Boulders Beach in Cape Town by the hoards. They hardly acknowledge your presence so snapping pictures is easy! The animal is known for its donkey-like sounds and is, unfortunately, endangered. See them on safaris put together by the One and Only Cape Town resort.
It’s hard to be afraid of this carnivore with the endearingly large ears, but it does have around 50 sharp teeth, so don’t pet it! Those trademark ears are between 11-14 centimeters long and they help it listen for prey such as insects and small mammals, as well as predators. Spot these in arid and semi-arid areas like the famous Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the African savanna.
A lovably, finicky creature in the movie “Madagascar” was created based on the bush baby. Its ears can move independently of each other and its eyes are enormous, giving a permanently shocked appearance. Spot this nocturnal animal on safaris with the Ultimate Travel Company in KwaZulu-Natal. Its large eyes will light up in the night and sometimes large packs of them will look like red twinkle lights in a tree.
Named after the spotted cat, the second largest tortoise is very slow and leaves unmistakable odd tracks in the dirt. Spot them in grassland areas near water or in the bushveld in the North West Province.
The larvae of antlions dig pits in the sand in which they trap ants with their fierce jaws. You can spot them anywhere in South Africa, but the most entertaining way is on the bug safari offered by Cellars Hohenort Hotel in the Constantia region of the Cape.
This comical creature looks just like a tiny rhinoceros, with a long horn and pronounced forehead. Coincidentally, this beetle hangs out in the feces of rhinos, when its not flying towards light sources at night. See them all over South Africa.
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