South Africa is home to 243 of Southern Africa's 330 mammal species (Class Mammalia) -- 293 species of land mammals and 37 species of marine mammals.
The high species diversity is due to the many biomes that are present in this southern region of Africa. There are 17 threatened species in South Africa, including the black rhino, pangolin and giant golden mole. The riverine rabbit, roan antelope and wild dog are endangered. Two mammals have become extinct: the blue antelope and the quagga.
In spite of their adaptations, some mammals inhabit seriously reduced habitats, while others, such as the black rhinoceros, the riverine rabbit, roan antelope and the wild dog, are highly endangered. This is largely due to conflicting land use with humans: most of the larger mammals are present within game reserves only, or in the more remote parts of southern African countries.
Species that were classified as 'endangered' and are now present in greater numbers due to careful conservation measures (although some of these species are still considered vulnerable) are the bontebok, cape mountain zebra, white rhino and the tsessebe.
Due to their highly developed brains and adaptability, mammals are the dominant group of land animals in Southern Africa.
Like other animal groups, most mammals are superbly adapted to their environment, and tend to blend in with their surroundings as a survival mechanism. For the same reason, most are fairly elusive: these factors combine to make it difficult to spot many mammals, with the exception of large herds.
The best known of South Africa's mammals are the Big 5, Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and the Black and White Rhinoceroses.
In order to better observe mammals in one of the many Southern African game reserves, and to make your holiday more enjoyable and rewarding, follow these tips:
* the best time to spot mammals is dawn and dusk, particularly at waterholes
* try to stay down-wind of animals
* wear 'neutral' coloured clothing - move slowly, speak quietly
* avoid shiny jewellery (that may catch the light)
* avoid strong perfume
* don't smoke: the smell of tobacco smoke is a foreign smell to animals that signals danger
Information Guide: Mammals of Southern Africa
The "Big 5": Lion Leopard Elephant Buffalo Rhino
Large Mammals of Southern Africa Small Mammals of Southern Africa