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  • Photograph of Orange-breasted Sunbird

    The beautiful Orange-breasted Sunbird by Dubi Shapiro.

    WESTERN SOUTH AFRICA

    Best Wildlife in Western South Africa

    Mammals
    Southern Right Whale (Jun-Nov, mostly Sep-Oct), Meerkat, Gemsbok, Bontebok, Roan, (Cape) Mountain Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Chacma Baboon, Bat-eared Fox, Spring Hare, Springbok, Klipspringer and Cape Fur Seal. Also a chance of Aardvark, Aardwolf, African Wild Dog, Brown Hyaena, South African Crested Porcupine, Black-footed Cat, White Rhinoceros, Humpback and Bryde's Whales, and Bottlenose, Common, Dusky, Humpback and Risso's Dolphins. Also, off the beaten track, Lion (black-maned Kalahari), Leopard, Cheetah, Spotted Hyaena and Blue Wildebeest, and a chance of Honey Badger.

    Birds
    Ostrich (reintroduced), Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Black-browed, Yellow-nosed and White-capped (Shy) Albatrosses, some of the 35 or so species endemic to South Africa including Cape Rockjumper, Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird, some of the 140-150 species endemic to Southern Africa including Jackass Penguin, Blue Crane, Black Harrier, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub's Gull, Bokmakierie and Fairy Flycatcher, as well as Great and Sooty Shearwaters, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Pintado (mostly May-Nov) and White-chinned Petrels, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Cape Gannet, Great White Pelican, Cape Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, several bustards, Blacksmith and Chestnut-banded Plovers, Sabine's Gull (mostly Oct-Mar), Burchell's and Namaqua Sandgrouse, mousebirds, Narina Trogon, Golden (European) and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Hoopoe, Cape Batis, African Paradise Flycatcher, the greatest diversity of larks in the world, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Malachite Sunbird and canaries. Also a chance of African Fish and African Crowned Eagles, Secretary Bird, Hamerkop, Kori Bustard, Giant Kingfisher, African Darter, Damara Tern and seabirds such as Wandering (mostly May-Oct) and Northern Royal (mostly Jun-Aug) Albatrosses, Great-winged and Soft-plumaged (mostly May-Nov) Petrels, and Antarctic Prion (mostly May-Aug). Also, off the beaten track, Lilac-breasted Roller, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Groundscraper Thrush.

    Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
    Great White Shark (mostly mid-Apr to mid-Sep).

    Plants
    The Cape (South African) Floral Kingdom is one of six such kingdoms covering the whole world. The remaining five cover huge areas including whole continents whereas the Cape Floral Kingdom is relatively tiny. It still contains about 8700 plant species though and in parts of the Cape Region there are more plant species than in comparable areas of tropical forest. The most famous flora in the Cape Region is the Fynbos, the richest flora in the world, containing over 2600 species of flowering plant in just 500 sq km (200 sq miles). Also present in Western South Africa is the greatest diversity in the world of the succulent plant family Mesembryanthemaceae, of which there are over a thousand species, the greatest diversity in the world of succulent stone plants (Argyroderma), known locally as 'babies bottoms' (around Knersvlakte), and the highest diversity of bulb plants in the world (around Nieuwoudtville). The best time for wild flower displays is usually late August-early September, especially if the rains have been good.

    Other Natural Wonders of Western South Africa

    Witsand An island of white sand dunes up to 60 m (197 ft) high and covering an area 10 km (6 miles) by 3 km (2 miles) in the red sand Kalahari Desert, trapped by a row of rocky outcrops known as 'kopjes'.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Western South Africa

    type alt tag for photo here

    Cape Sugarbirds by Simon Colenutt.

    Photograph of Southern Right Whale

    Southern Right Whale by Lee Dingain.

    Photograph of Meerkats

    Meerkats on the lookout in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park by Coke & Som Smith.

    Best Times for Wildlife in Western Southern Africa

    The wet season in the Cape Region usually lasts from April to August, the best time for Great White Shark (to October) and penguins which are usually at their colonies from February to October, with peak numbers from April to June. The rains normally arrive earlier farther north, as early as February in Kgalagadi for example. The southern spring usually begins in late August-early September, the best time to see the Fynbos and other flowers in full display. Most resident birds breed in spring and are therefore at their most active, usually until October at least, the best month for birding. Southern Right Whales are usually present from June into November.

    Recommended Books etc. for Western South Africa

    Travellers' Wildlife Guides: Southern Africa by B Branch et al. Interlink Books, 2013.

    Bradt Travel Guide: Southern African Wildlife by M Unwin. Bradt, 2011 (Second Edition).

    Watching Wildlife: Southern Africa by M D Firestone et al. Lonely Planet, 2009 (Second Edition).

    Stuarts' Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa by C and M Stuart. Random House Struik, 2015 (Revised Edition).

    The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals by J Kingdon. Bloomsbury, 2015 (Second Revised Edition).

    The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals by J Kingdon. Bloomsbury, 2016 (Second Edition).

    SASOL Birds of Southern Africa by I Sinclair et al. C Struik, 2011 (Fourth Edition).

    Birds of Africa south of the Sahara by I Sinclair and P Ryan. C Struik, 2011 (Second Edition).

    Newman's Birds by Colour by K Newman. C Struik, 2011 (Third Edition).

    Newman's Birds of Southern Africa by K and V Newman. C Struik, 2010 (Tenth Edition).

    Roberts Bird Guide edited by H Chittenden. Africa Geographic, 2007.

    Southern African Birdfinder by C Cohen and C Spottiswoode. New Holland Publishers, 2005.

    Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa by S Woodhall. C Struik, 2005.

    Photo Guide to the Wildflowers of South Africa by J Manning. Briza Publications, 2012 (Revised Edition).


    Apps etc.

    eGuide to Mammals of Southern Africa

    The Kingdon Guide to African Mammals.

    Audubon African Wildlife.

    SASOL eBirds of Southern Africa.

    Newman's Birds of Southern Africa.

    Roberts Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa.

    Where to watch birds in Africa by N Wheatley. Helm, 1995.

    Don’t know which country/countries to visit in Africa? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them on the continent, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Western South Africa

    Many trip reports, some for Western South Africa, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Western South Africa. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Western South Africa' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Western South Africa

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.


    Accommodation in Western South Africa

    Some Organized Tours to Western South Africa

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours or can arrange custom tours to Western South Africa include the following.