This lovely rabbit, with its ‘moustache’ markings, is seldom seen because it is critically endangered, nocturnal and sticks to very specific habitats along dry rivercourses in the arid Karoo. It is South Africa’s only true burrowing rabbit, and its population numbers are thought to be in the low hundreds.
Blesbok and bontebok
The blesbok and its Western Cape cousin the bontebok are handsome antelope with white blazes down their faces, chocolate berry brown markings and a complete inability to jump. Nearly wiped out by hunting, fences saved them centuries ago. You’ll find them in fynbos-rich parks and the arid interior.
Often called the 'clown of the veld', the black wildebeest is a species of gnu that adapted to the Karoo’s arid conditions. Its clownishness comes from its odd appearance – dark with a dirty white tail, meathook horns and strange facial hair – as well as a penchant for leaping and galloping around for no apparent reason.
Although distributed throughout most of South Africa, the grey rhebok’s constant state of hyper-alertness to danger makes it quite difficult to spot. Some think the grey rhebok, also called vaal rhebok or ribbok, is related to an ancient form of sheep or mouflon because it has such a fluffy coat.
Cape mountain zebra
The smallest of all the zebra species, the Cape mountain zebra is immediately identifiable because of its chocolate orange muzzle, the wattle on its neck, and its exceptionally large, donkey-like ears. It is mostly found in the mountainous Karoo and was only saved from complete extinction in the 1930s.
South Africa’s national bird is exceptionally elegant, with trailing tail feathers and a tendency to dance. You’ll find it wandering in the wheatfields of the Overberg near Cape Town and the eastern Karoo, as well as further afield. In winter, blue cranes can be seen in flocks of several dozen or even several hundred.
Only knee-high, in dapper black and white, with pink markings about the face, these are the only penguins found on the African continent. They are classified as endangered, but you can see them fairly easily, especially at Boulders Beach near Cape Town and Betty’s Bay, only an hour’s drive away.
Augrabies flat lizard
South Africa has fascinating lizards, but few so colourful and charismatic as the Augrabies flat lizard. You can see them at Augrabies Falls National Park, where they live in colonies on the edge of the perilous river gorge and around the boardwalks.
South African fynbos
There are several plant kingdoms in the world, but only one so compact that it is entirely confined within one country. Fynbos or the Cape Floral Kingdom, has 9000 species of plants, around two-thirds of which are found nowhere else. And all this in an area roughly the size of Portugal. The Cape Floral Kingdom is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
South Africa seems to specialise in succulent plants, and their flagship region is here in the Namaqualand, a hotspot of biological diversity in the arid western Karoo. Famed for its horizon-to-horizon floral displays in spring, the succulent Karoo is botanically unique.