Endangered Animals in South Africa and Where to See Them

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So many wild animals worldwide are endangered and at risk of becoming extinct. This is also true for South Africa. In this article, you can discover some interesting facts about the endangered animals in South Africa and where you can see them before they become extinct. 

Endangered Animals in South Africa

What are the Most Endangered Animals in South Africa?

The IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has a Red List listing endangered animals worldwide. These are the animals in South Africa that are on the endangered list:

1. Pickersgill’s Reed Frog

This frog species was first classified as endangered in 2004 and reclassified in 2016. The Reed frogs live on just 9 km of the world’s surface, and that is in South Africa. 

Why are They Endangered?

Climate change and habitat fragmentation have caused these little frogs to become more endangered yearly. They are specific to wetland areas on a narrow 16 km stretch on the KwaZulu-Natal province’s coastline in South Africa. This coastline is undergoing commercial development, meaning human intervention increases the risk of these frogs becoming extinct in the future. As the weather gets warmer yearly because of global warming, this wetland and frogs are disappearing fast. 

Where Can You See Them?

These frogs are difficult to spot. They only live in a specific area in South Africa, but they are tiny. They are endemic to the coastline of Kwa-Zulu Natal and live in scattered areas from St Lucia to Warner Beach in the south. Some people have spotted them at the Umlalazi Nature Reserve in the past. 

2. Riverine Rabbit

These little rabbits have been on the endangered list since 2003. It’s currently predicted that only 230 pairs of them are currently breeding, and that number is quickly declining year upon year. 

Why are They Endangered?

Farmers often hunt these rabbits for food. As South Africa becomes more commercial, farmers cultivate the Riverine Rabbits’ natural habitat to turn it into areas used for livestock farming. This results in the rabbits needing to find a new home.

Where Can You See Them?

You can find these rabbits near the rivers in Nama and the central and small Karoo regions of South Africa. You can also find them in the Western Cape Province at the Anysbery Nature Reserve near MontaguThis is the only place in the world where you can see the Riverine Rabbit! 

3. African Wild Dogs 

The second most endangered carnivore in South Africa is the African Wild Dog. Other names for the African Wild Dog are the Painted Dog, Painted Wolf or Cape Hunting Dog. There are only 450 of them alive in the wild today.

Why are They Endangered?

African Wild dogs live in small groups. The two main threats to the African Wild Dog are infectious diseases and human contact. These diseases spread quickly between the packs, killing them rapidly. Also, as many people have a misconception about wild dogs, they often kill them with snares to cull them. 

Where Can You See Them?

Although not the most eye-catching animals, these dogs are fascinating to watch as they stroll around in their family pack. You can see them in the Kruger National Park and Waterbury Biosphere Reserve, where special programmes are helping these animals repopulate. 

4. Cape Vulture 

Many people are not familiar with the importance of vultures. The Cape Vultures, for example, are essential to South Africa, as they help clean up the environment by eating dead animals. The carcasses of the dead animals would otherwise spread disease between animal species. You can only find the Cape Vultures in South Africa and some of its neighbouring countries in Southern Africa.

Endangered animals in South Africa - the Cape Vulture
Endangered animals in South Africa – the Cape Vulture

Why are They Endangered?

As South Africa becomes more commercial and with its growing population, there is an increased demand for electricity. South Africa’s electricity provider builds more towers to distribute electricity throughout South Africa. Unfortunately, many people don’t realise the importance of these vultures. Although there are still 8000 Cape Vultures, many are non-breeding, and the number of Cape Vultures is not increasing. This species struggles with the newly built towers and often gets electrocuted in the lines.

Where Can You See Them?

You can see the breeding populations in the Blouberg Nature Reserve in the Limpopo province of South Africa. There are other populations of Cape Vultures in Namibia and Zimbabwe, but these are non-breeding populations. 

5. Cheetah

You may wonder how the fastest land animals on Earth became endangered.

Why are They Endangered?

Cheetahs are not only fast, but they are brilliant, too. Many have realised that it’s much easier to attack farm animals than hunt in the wild. As a result, farmers shoot or poison them to protect their livestock. Poaching, which is illegal hunting, is another factor in their numbers declining.

One of the endangered animals in South Africa - the cheetah
Photo by David Groves on Unsplash

Where Can You See Them?

You can see cheetahs in many of the national parks in South Africa, such as the Kruger National Park, where you can find the largest population of cheetahs in all of South Africa. There are a few populations in other national parks and reserves and South Africa’s private game reserves. 

6. Blue Crane

The Blue Crane is a unique type of bird. It is also South Africa’s National bird. They are interesting, but they are not the most intelligent birds, and they struggle with their eyesight. Read more about the national animals of South Africa here!

Why are They Endangered?

Like the Cape Vulture, power lines and pylons are the biggest threat to these birds. Blue Cranes have a blind spot in their vision, and this, combined with the commercialisation of South Africa, means that many of them are electrocuted. 

Where Can You See Them?

You can see the Blue Crane in the southern and eastern parts of South Africa, from the south and east of Mpumalanga’s Highveld, across the Free State and the Eastern Cape

7. Golden Mole

A cute-looking animal, the golden mole, is one of the most endangered animals in South Africa. There are five subspecies, all of which are in the top ten most endangered animals in South Africa. 

Why are They Endangered?

South Africa’s grassland is becoming smaller each year because of mining and agriculture. This may cause the GOlden Mole to become extinct soon.

Where Can You See Them?

You can only find these moles in Sub-Saharan Africa. The best place to spot them is in the southwestern Cape, down to the peninsular region. People have spotted them extending from the peninsular to the Namaqualand coastal plains. 

8. Yellow-breasted Pipits

These beautiful birds are endemic to South Africa.

Why are They Endangered?

These birds are losing their natural habitats because of increased commercial livestock farming. Farmers have turned the grasslands where they used to live into vast farms. The Yellow-breasted pipits are shy birds, so they must find another habitat to settle in. 

Where Can You See Them?

You can find the Yellow-breasted Pipits in the highland area of the Drakensberg. You may also see some near Dullstroom in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. People have reported seeing them in Lesotho and Swaziland as well. Read more about South Africa’s location and its neighbours.

9. Oribi

The Oribi is an endangered breed of antelope in South Africa. The Oribi have specific dietary needs and only eat a particular type of grass.

Why are They Endangered?

The grasses they eat have become less available because of the commercialisation of South Africa. Climate change has affected the amount of grass that grows on the plains. This has resulted in the Oribi slowly starving. As they only eat special grass, it may take them a long time to find the right food. Poachers and trophy hunters also kill the Oribi as they are fast animals and are considered a challenge for hunters. 

Where Can You See Them?

They roam the South African plains. The best places to see the Oribi are in the northern parts of the Eastern Cape Province and KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Small populations exist in the northeastern Free State, but it’s rare to see them there. 

10. African Elephants

Elephants are the biggest endangered mammal on Earth and are the largest animal that walks the planet. They wander through 37 countries in Africa, adapting and changing as they go. In South Africa, you can find the savanna elephant in grassland and bushveld.

Why are They Endangered?

The main reasons for the endangered status of the African elephant are trophy hunting, poaching and human contact. Hunters from around the world travel to South Africa to hunt an elephant as they consider it an enormous achievement to kill one.

Another major threat to the African elephant is poachers. Poachers hunt these elephants for their teeth and tusks, which they can sell for sizeable sums in the black market. Although elephants are relatively harmless, they sometimes wander into towns and villages to eat plants and trees. Unfortunately, farmers and locals may then kill the elephants.

Where Can You See Them?

Your best chance to see the African elephant is in South Africa’s national parks, including the Kruger National Park and the Addo Elephant Park. The Kruger Park safaris are popular with overseas tourists. You can see African elephants in zoos and other reserves, such as the Elephant Sanctuary in Hartbeespoort or the Johannesburg Zoo.

11. South African Penguins

We also know the South African penguins as the African penguin. Although penguins may not be the typical animal when you think of South Africa’s wildlife, the African Penguins are the only penguins breeding in South Africa. Unfortunately, in recent years, their numbers have declined rapidly.

African penguins - an endangered animal species
African penguins – an endangered animal species

Why are They Endangered?

The major threats to these penguins are commercialisation and overfishing. Humans take the penguins’ food, and they struggle to find anything to eat. Many starve to death. Also, oil spills and ocean pollution are other reasons for the African penguin’s high risk of extinction.

Where Can You See Them?

You can only find this species on the southwestern coastline of Africa. They live in separate colonies occupying 24 islands between Namibia and Port Elizabeth. Some of the best spots for African penguins in South Africa are Boulders Beach near Cape Town and Stony Point, a delightful day trip from Cape Town.

12. Rhinoceros

Many people don’t know some of the most interesting facts about rhinos. Rhinos play a critical role in their ecosystem as they consume large amounts of vegetation, which shapes and maintains balance in the landscape and benefits other animals. Tourists love seeing rhinos, and ecotourism has increased the local people’s income.

See a rhinoceros with a horn in Johannesburg Zoo
See a rhinoceros with a horn in Johannesburg Zoo

Why are They Endangered?

The major threat to African rhinos is the poaching of rhino horns. In traditional Asian medicine, powdered rhino horn can treat various illnesses, such as fever, hangovers and cancer.

For the residents of some Asian countries, such as Vietnam, owning a rhino horn is a sign of wealth. As human populations rise and urban development occurs, agriculture, logging and new settlements and roads destroy the natural habitat of rhinos.

Where Can You See Them?

You can find African white and black rhinos in South Africa. The Kruger National Park houses both types of rhinos. You can also see rhinos in the Johannesburg Zoo.

13. The Knysna Seahorse

The Knysna Seahorse is a delicate sea creature that reaches only 12 centimetres. It is currently at great risk of extinction. Their colour depends on their environment and each seahorse’s mood, ranging from pale green to brown.

Looking for an interesting place to stay while exploring the Garden Route of South Africa? Consider staying at the Wild Spirit Lodge near Plettenberg Bay, where you can truly connect with nature!

Why are They Endangered?

The Knysna estuary is an important place for the fishing industry in South Africa. Industrial developments here are threatening the survival of the Knysna Seahorse as they cause a loss of its natural habitat. The urban expansion in South Africa contributes to the loss of habitat for this tiny creature.

Where Can You See Them?

You can only find the Knysna Seahorse on South Africa’s south coast. It lives in only three brackish water habitats: the estuary of the Keurbooms River in Plettenberg Bay, the Knysna Lagoon, and the estuarine portion of the Swartvlei system in Sedgefield.

You can often see many endangered animals in South Africa in one of the many zoos in South Africa. For example, the Johannesburg Zoo has some endangered animals, including rhinos, elephants and blue cranes.

Why are there more endangered animals in South Africa than ever before?

There are several reasons for the higher number of endangered animals in South Africa, including:


South Africa has a significant problem with poachers. High levels of poaching have caused several animal species to be on the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, poaching is lucrative and challenging to stop. Poachers kill animals for their horns, fur, teeth or tusks. For example, poachers poach African Elephants for their ivory tusks. They can sell these tusks for large amounts in markets across the world. Elephant teeth are also worth a lot of money. Poachers also kill Cheetah for their skins, which the local communities use for blankets and rugs. 

Trophy Hunting 

Hunters from the rest of the world visit South Africa for trophy hunting. Some of the most famous trophy animals are African elephants, lions, buffalo and Oribi.

Climate Change

Climate change has caused the population decline of several animal species in South Africa, such as the reed frog. If global warming continues at the same rate, the reed frog will become extinct in less than 2 years.

Habitat loss due to commercialisation

Another major cause of the higher number of endangered animal species in South Africa has been an increase in the country’s commercialisation. Although this benefits South Africans with better infrastructure, it harms the animal kingdom. The animal species most affected by commercialisation are the Blue Crane and the Cape Vulture. For these species of birds, commercialisation and infrastructure expansion caused many deaths as these birds are adapting slowly to the change in their natural environment. South Africa has experienced increased farming land in the last 10 years. With an increase in the human population of South Africa, there is an increased demand for farm produce. Farmers buy more land to house their livestock and plant crops to earn a better living. Unfortunately, this means a habitat loss for several wildlife species, such as the Riverine Rabbits and the Golden Mole. 

Conservation efforts in South Africa

Endangered Animals in South Africa

There is good news, though. South Africa has started wildlife conservation efforts to protect South Africa’s wildlife, especially the conservation of endangered species. Many of these conservation projects focus on protecting the wildlife in marked estuaries, game reserves and national parks. Where the endangered species is not in a protected area, efforts focus on curbing the impact of urban development and commercialisation. South Africa is making a significant effort, including using technology to catch the poachers. Preventative action includes removing rhino horns surgically to prevent the rhinos’ deaths when poachers kill them for their horns.


10 endangered animals in South Africa and how you can help

Knysna seahorse


African Rhinoceros

Sabs | South Africa Travel Blog

By Sunelle

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.

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