South Africa :
Where to go?
The exceptional abundance of wildlife in South Africa is one of the country’s main tourist attractions. It is home to the three largest terrestrial mammals – the elephant, the white rhinoceros and the hippopotamus –, as well as the tallest (giraffe), the fastest (the cheetah), and the smallest (the pygmy shrew). You have most likely heard of the “Big Five” wild animals most sought-after by safari hunters: elephants, lions, leopards, rhinoceroses and buffaloes are still found in the main wildlife parks. But more common species, such as giraffes, zebras and gnus as well as the many members of the antelope family are always a pleasure to observe. The springbok, which lends its name to the famous South African rugby team, is the only gazelle living in southern Africa. Observers have identified 900 species of bird, nearly 80,000 insects, 800 butterflies … and new discoveries are made every year. As for aquatic life, 13% of the world’s fish swim in South African waters.
Wildlife is most abundant and best protected in the provinces of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. Kruger National Park, which is about half the size of the Netherlands, and will probably double in size in the near future, hosts 147 species of mammals and 507 different varieties of birds. The smaller natural reserves of Hluhluwe and iMfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Kalahari Gemsbok), at the border of Namibia and Botswana, offer precious refuge to animals that were over-hunted and badly managed in the past.
When the first Europeans landed on the Cape in the 17C, they found a multitude of elephants, giraffes and rhinoceroses throughout the region. Less than one hundred years later, the big game had disappeared from the region. Hunting, extensive farming, uncontrolled deforestation and the massive culling of game suspected of transmitting malaria remained a threat to wildlife well into the 20C. Today, South Africa is one of the countries that does the most to protect the natural environment and its wildlife.