Taffeta Gray

TRAVEL SPECIAL:  Other animals

There’s more to South African wildlife than just the ‘big five’, says Taffeta Gray

There’s more to South African wildlife than just the ‘big five’, says Taffeta Gray

Anyone who has been on safari in South Africa will boast that there is nothing like seeing the ‘Big Five’. Even if you are in the bush yourself, thrilled at having just spotted one of the great beasts, you’re bound to find someone who insists they’ve seen better. The trick is not to compete with the naturalist know-alls, but to outsmart them. And the way to do that is to swot up on lesser-known creatures, and stalk them instead. Here’s my alternative five.

Meerkats The adverts on TV make out that meerkats come from Russia and have names like Aleksandr and Sergei. That’s rubbish, obviously. The only place you’ll find meerkats in their natural habitat is in the Kalahari desert and its surrounding basin (which spans Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.) These are highly social rascals — much funnier in the flesh than on the screen — and they hang out in groups of as many as 50. They don’t lack self-confidence: they flick their heads arrogantly from side to side like Mancunians on a night out. The way to guarantee a meerkat encounter is by going with the Kalahari Meerkat Project in the Kuruman River Reserve, in South Africa’s Northern Cape.

Jackass penguins are called jackass penguins because they bray like donkeys: ‘Eey-ore! Eey-ore!’ It is thought that the first pair settled on Boulders beach, Simon’s Town, near Cape Town, in 1982. In 30 years, the population has rocketed. There are now more than 3,000 of them on the beach. Just imagine the noise and the mess.

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