Named as one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots by Conservation International, South Africa’s Cape Town has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any equivalent area in the world. The city is bursting with numerous luscious parks, nature reserves, and pristine beaches that will surely keep wildlife lovers busy.
Table Mountain National Park
Part of UNESCO’s Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, this 221-square-kilometre park runs along a range of glorious mountains, encompassing magnificent valleys, bays, and beaches. Some of its main attractions include:
- Table Mountain – This flat-topped, 1,100-metre-tall mountain dominates the city’s skyline and now boasts the honor of being one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It is home to a wide variety of animals. Among those most usually seen are the guinea pig-like rock hyrax, mongoose, Cape fox, porcupine, caracal, and Himalayan tahr. Many of these animals have become so accustomed to flocks of tourists that they lounge around, remarkably unperturbed, even in crowded areas where people wait for cable car rides.
There are also some small endemic antelopes, but they are extremely shy so only few, very lucky hikers have seen them. On the other hand, reptiles and amphibians are common sightings in the mountain; some of which, such as the rock agama, will even seemingly pose for the camera. While you seldom see the Cape chirping frog, you will definitely hear their calls during rainy and winter seasons. When the rare black eagles caw and the brightly colored sunbirds and starlings chime in, they create a splendidly exotic symphony.
Situated on the slopes of the mountain, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanical gardens of the world and is a favorite among locals and visitors alike for picnics, hiking, and getting intimate with nature. Aside from harboring indigenous plants, it also serves as home to plants from a different South Africa regions, including savanna, fynbos, karoo, and others. Travellers will also have a chance to witness a wide range of birdlife from gorgeous sugarbirds, fowls, and owls. There are also occasional sightings of caracals and porcupines in action.
- Cape of Good Hope – Located at the southern coast of the Cape Peninsula, this rocky headland is home to ostriches, zebras, bonteboks, elands, red hartebeest, and over 250 incredibly beautiful bird species. The chacma baboons — the largest members of the monkey family — are prime tourist attractions as well.
Since the cape is between two major ocean currents, it also abounds with a rich diversity of aquatic life consisting of seals, whales, dusky dolphins, and many others. Between June and November, this place becomes an ideal vantage point for spotting southern right whales.
- Cape Point Ostrich Farm – Just minutes from Cape of Good Hope, this 65-hectare breeding farm lies on the most beautiful part of the Cape Peninsula. Guests can take a guided tour of the farm to observe ostriches — the world’s largest flightless birds — from eggs to adult birds. There are 40 ostrich couples kept in 40 camps, so there’s always plenty of ostrich eggs to be incubated. During breeding seasons, you are likely to witness the hatching of ostrich chicks.
Seal Island, False Bay – Adrenaline-seekers shouldn’t miss the shark cage diving that lets you get close to the world’s top predators, the great white sharks and sevengill cow sharks, that are usually there to hunt Cape fur seals. There are approximately 64,000 seals on the island!
While Seal Island is primarily known for sharks, it also attracts whales, dolphins, and several bird species such as the white-breasted cormorants, kelp gulls, and Cape gannets.
- Boulders Beach – The beach’s shoreline is the famous settlement of African penguins (also known as jackass penguins), which is an endangered penguin species — the most rapidly declining of all 18 species — confined to southern African waters. Since these flightless birds are currently under the protection of CapeNature’s conservation efforts, visitors are not allowed to touch them and can only get close to them through three wheelchair-friendly boardwalks. To witness the most number of penguins, visit the beach during summertime. Otherwise, from September to October, these tuxedoed seabirds spend their time out in the sea searching for food.
World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park
This 4-hectare park is an avian, reptilian, and wildlife sanctuary in Hout Bay, primarily focused on birds and monkeys as suggested by its name. It is the largest African bird park and one of the few large bird parks in the world with over 3,000 birds of 400 different species. The birds are uniquely presented in more than 100 spacious, landscaped walk-through aviaries. A simple stroll will delight you with many birds such as eagles, owls, flamingos, hornbill parrots, and weavers. You’ll also come across mammals and reptiles like marmosets, baboons, tamarins, meerkats, monitor lizards, green iguanas, and tortoises.
Located near the small Boland town of Klapmuts, this rich tropical garden in a 1,000-square-metre greenhouse is the largest butterfly park in South Africa. It imports 500–800 butterfly pupae per week all year round from countries such as Costa Rica, the Philippines, Malaysia, and China.
All other animals living in Butterfly World were donated by owners or environmental and conservation authorities. There are displays of indigenous and exotic spiders and scorpions in locked glass terraria. The meerkat enclosures and large iguana cages are also tourist favorites, as are the free-range ducks, chickens, and goats that are just waiting for children to feed them.
Giraffe House Wildlife Awareness Centre
This 15-hectare native wildlife education centre in Stellenbosch allows interactive encounters with different animals. For example, during the reptile show, each person gets a bucket of food to feed the animals. There are also free feeds for farm animals.
While the place has outdoor areas where people can relax and enjoy picnics, Giraffe House primarily offers learning experiences about African wildlife and efforts to conserve it. It conducts educational school tours and guided family tours, and it can serve as a kiddie party venue as well with its jungle gyms and giraffe jumping castle.
As its name suggests, the centre is home to a giraffe — the tallest animal in the world — named Gerry. It also hosts the smallest antelope in the world, the blue duiker, as well as the largest antelope in the world, the eland.
Le Bonheur Reptiles and Adventures
Get very close with over 200 Nile crocodiles and a selection of local and exotic snakes through daily guided crocodile pond tours, weekend snake shows, and the Snakes in Transit exhibit. Thrill-seekers can even swim in a croc-proof cage beside half a dozen adult Nile crocodiles to intimately see them both feeding and resting.
Tygerberg Nature Reserve
Nestled on the Tyberg Hills in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, this 309-hectare nature reserve is the shelter of bonteboks, over a hundred South African birds, and an assortment of wild mammals such as honey badgers, roaming leopards, and pipe squirrels. Reptiles and amphibians are also very common sightings here. With well-maintained wheelchair paths and picnic tables, the whole family can walk along the scenic trails and enjoy meals in the great outdoors.
There’s so much wildlife to discover in Cape Town, and what better way to explore them than with like-minded adventurers? Sign up to be a Wheel & Anchor member today.