What are the different kinds of PREDATORS found in South Africa?
These are often the first animals you think of when you imagine visiting South Africa! The exciting, beautiful, and sometimes terrifying carnivores are some of the most fun to learn about. 🙂
In this article, you’ll find interesting facts, photos, and even range maps of these amazing animals!
20 Predators Found in South Africa:
- Panthera leo
- Adults are 160-208 cm (63-82 in) long.
- They have short tawny coats, white undersides, and long tails with black tufts at the ends.
- Males have manes, while females do not.
These predators range throughout savannas and plains in South Africa.
They prefer areas with plenty of cover and prey. In the past, lions had a much larger range, and some populations still live in semi-desert, forested, shrubby, and mountainous habitats.
Though intimidating, lions aren’t very effective hunters on their own. Instead, lions usually hunt in groups, called prides, to take down large herbivores like zebras, impalas, gazelles, wildebeests, giraffes, and cape buffalo.
Lions live in groups called prides which range from 2-40 individuals, though they are rarely all together at once. Female pride members are all related, as females don’t leave their mother’s territories. Females don’t have a dominance hierarchy and instead work together to find food and care for each other’s cubs.
On the other hand, males are generally forced out of their father’s territory at about 2.5 years of age, roam for two to three years, and then attempt to take over a pride by seriously injuring or killing the current leaders and their cubs. While we often picture one male as the “king,” male lions sometimes form coalitions of 2-4 males to take over a pride. These coalitions are often brothers, and the larger the coalition, the longer they’ll be able to reign over their pride.
While they don’t have natural predators, lions are still susceptible to starvation and attacks from humans. Their worldwide populations have declined significantly throughout their range. Sadly, some subspecies of lions are critically endangered, and some are already extinct.
- Panthera pardus
- Adults are 92-183 cm (36-72 in) long.
- They have relatively short heads and long bodies, broad heads, small round ears, and long whiskers.
- Adults may be tawny, light yellow, reddish-orange, or black, and they often have black rosettes on their faces and bodies and black rings on their tails.
Leopards have the most varied coloring of any predator in South Africa.
In fact, individuals’ coat coloring is so unique it can be used to identify individuals like fingerprints. Their color patterns help these carnivores to remain camouflaged in various habitats.
Individuals found in dry habitats tend to be lighter than those living in dense forests. Interestingly, the shape of their spots seems to be determined by location. For example, leopards living in eastern Africa have circular spots, while those in southern Africa tend to have square spots. Occasionally, solid black leopards are found in humid forests.
This excellent camouflage is essential as leopards are ambush predators. They approach prey while remaining hidden, crouched low to the ground, and then pounce before the animal has a chance to react. These big cats have tremendous strength and can tackle prey up to ten times their own weight!
Leopards have incredible athletic ability, which is one reason they are an apex predator in South Africa. They can swim, climb trees and descend from them head first, run at bursts of 60 kph (36 mph), and jump 6 m (20 ft) horizontally and 3 m (10 ft) vertically. This is one carnivore that would break every record in gym class! 🙂
Sadly, leopard populations are declining due to habitat loss, range fragmentation, and hunting. Today, they are listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.
#3. Spotted Hyena
- Crocuta crocuta
- Adults are 95–166 cm (37–65 in) long.
- They have sandy yellowish or gray course, wooly coats with black or dark brown spots on their bodies though these may be absent in old individuals.
- They are strongly built with massive necks, large heads, rounded ears, bushy-tipped tails, and longer front legs than back legs.
Spotted Hyenas are some of the most unique predators in South Africa!
These odd animals live in clans of 3-80 hyenas. Females lead the clans, and all of the females within the clan are dominant over all males. Males and females, there are separate dominance hierarchies.
One of the strangest features about these carnivores is that males and females are very difficult to distinguish. Females have skin and tissue in their genital area that allows them to mimic males, which may protect females from aggression from other females.
Female Spotted Hyenas are incredibly dedicated mothers. Incredibly, they nurse their young until 12 to 16 months of age. By the time the young are weaned, they already have all of their adult teeth which is very rare among carnivorous animals in South Africa.
Spotted Hyenas have a reputation as cowardly scavengers that steal food from other predators, but researchers have found that they kill most of their prey. Despite their odd, sloped appearance, hyenas are incredible runners and will chase prey for long distances at speeds up to 65 kph (40 mph). They usually work in groups to take down large animals.
Although Spotted Hyenas are not currently endangered, they are “Conservation dependent,” meaning that there are currently programs in place to protect them. If the conservation efforts were removed, their populations would begin to decline within five years.
#4. Black-backed Jackal
- Lupulella mesomelas
- Adults are 67–81 cm (27–32 in) long.
- They have a fox-like appearance with slender bodies, long legs, large ears, and bushy tails.
- They are reddish-brown to tan with a black saddle that has a mix of silver hair and black tail tips.
Unlike many other predators in South Africa, Black-backed Jackals are noisy!
These fox-like canines are a highly vocal species, making various sounds, including yelling, yelping, woofing, whining, growling, and cackling. They use sounds to advertise their presence and territory and express alarm and excitement.
Black-backed Jackals are monogamous and extremely territorial. A pair will work together to scent mark their territory boundaries, and they vigorously chase out any intruders. Most of their offspring disperse at around one year old to find their own territory. However, a few pups will remain with their parents and help raise next year’s pups.
These opportunistic omnivores eat anything they can find. They take small prey like insects, small mammals, and young antelopes but will also go after larger species if the animal is wounded or sick. In coastal areas, Black-backed Jackals will consume seals, fish, and shorebirds.
These jackals often present a problem for farmers. Because they are omnivores, they will feed on a wide range of domestic animals, including sheep, poultry, dogs, cats, pigs, and goats, but they rarely go after cattle.
Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, there were several attempts to eradicate Black-backed Jackals through hunting, poisoning, gas, and trapping, but they were all unsuccessful. These resourceful predators have learned to regurgitate poisoned bait or avoid it altogether.
- Acinonyx jubatus
- Adults are 110-150 cm (3.6-5 ft) long.
- They have relatively long legs, small, rounded heads, and short ears.
- Their coloration is yellow, gray, or fawn speckled with a white or light tan underside, small black spots, and dark rings terminating in a white tip on the end of their tail.
Look for these predators in grasslands and deserts in South Africa.
Cheetahs are solitary except during mating. The cubs are cared for solely by their mother. When they’re young, the female will hide the cubs in tall vegetation, rocky outcrops, or marshy areas while she hunts, occasionally carrying them to new hiding spots. Once they are old enough to fend for themselves, the mother goes back to her solitary lifestyle until mating again.
Unlike most other big cats in South Africa, Cheetahs do not stalk their prey. Instead, they use their incredible speed (80-130 kph, or 50-80 mph) to charge. However, they can only maintain this speed for short distances.
When a Cheetah overtakes its prey, it strangles its target by squeezing its neck in its jaw. They feed mostly on gazelles but will also consume impalas, hares, and birds. Interestingly, most Cheetah hunts are unsuccessful, and they work much harder than other big cats to get a meal.
Cheetahs are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Researchers have found that they have little genetic diversity, which leaves them susceptible to disease and environmental changes. Despite this, some countries still allow Cheetahs to be hunted, and they are often persecuted for livestock losses.
#6. African Wild Dog
- Lycaon pictus
- Adults are 71-112 cm (28-44 in) long.
- They have large, muscular legs, thin bodies, large, rounded ears, four toes on each foot, and blackish skin, which may show through where fur is sparse.
- Their coloring makes them appear painted in shades of yellow, white, brown, red, and black, with some black on their head and white on the tip of their tail.
These canine predators live in savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands in South Africa.
They’re widespread, social animals, often living in packs of up to 40 members. The pattern of colors on each African Wild Dog is unique to that individual, like a fingerprint.
Like their wolf cousins, African Wild Dog packs are run by a dominant male and female pair. They have a complicated hierarchy that dictates their behavior, but the entire pack is incredibly nurturing toward one another.
All members take care of the pups once they’ve left the den, and pups may even nurse from other females. Upon returning from a hunt, all hunting pack members will regurgitate food for the puppies, old or sick dogs, and any adults unable to go on the hunt.
African Wild Dogs are diurnal and do most of their hunting during the morning and evening. The alpha male usually leads the hunts. Once the pack locates prey, they chase it as a group. Chases may last several kilometers and reach speeds up to 56 kph (35 mph).
#7. Banded Mongoose
- Mungos mungo
- Adults are 30-45 cm (12-18 in) long.
- They have large heads, long tails, small ears, short, muscular limbs, five toes on their front feet with long, curved claws, and four toes on their back feet with shorter, heavier claws.
- They have course brownish-gray coats with dark bands on their backs, dark feet, black-tipped tails, and gray-brown to orange noses.
These cat-like predators live in varied habitats in South Africa.
Look for the Banded Mongoose in grasslands, woodlands, brushlands, and rocky country. They have large ranges, and individuals may travel more than 8 km (5 m) per day while foraging.
They’re primarily insectivores, feeding on termites, earthworms, grasshoppers, scorpions, slugs, and snails, but they’ll also feed on fruit, snakes, crabs, eggs, birds, and rodents. To break hard food like eggs and snails, they throw it at another hard object like a rock.
Banded Mongooses are social and usually live in packs of 10-20 individuals. That said, they’re very possessive of their food and eat it immediately without sharing. Typically, there is one dominant male in each pack.
Incredibly, mating is often synchronized so that the pack’s young are all born within a few days of each other. The entire pack will help care for the young, and lactating females will nurse any baby.
When it’s time to hunt, a few females stay behind to look after the young. Despite this careful guarding, only about 50% of young mongooses make it to 3 months of age.
#8. Honey Badger
- Mellivora capensis
- Adults are 55–77 cm (22–30 in) long.
- They have stocky bodies, large heads, small eyes, strong, wide forefeet, small hind feet with short claws, muscular necks and shoulders, and thick, loose skin.
- Their color varies with subspecies, but generally, their lower half is black, and they have an upper mantle of gray or bright white.
Honey Badgers are one of the toughest carnivores in South Africa!
They have a reputation for being able to live anywhere, eat anything, and survive no matter what. Look for these resourceful creatures in forests, grasslands, woodlands, deserts, rocky hills, and arid steppes. You’re likely to find them near sheltered spots like burrows and rock crevices.
Their diet is as varied as their habitat. Honey Badgers are opportunistic foragers whose menu changes with the season and prey availability. They frequently prey on snakes, birds, eggs, frogs, and small rodents.
As their name suggests, they’re also known for raiding honey bee hives to eat the larvae and honey inside. While they are primarily carnivores, Honey Badgers also enjoy fruits, roots, and bulbs.
Honey Badgers are known for their aggressive nature. Males will ferociously defend their territory and mate from other males. Naturalists sometimes refer to older adult males as “scar backs” because they usually have a noticeable patch of scars on their backs from conflicts.
The video below is one of my favorites and shows how TOUGH Honey Badgers are! Seriously, you have to watch until the end.
#9. Brown Hyena
- Parahyaena brunnea
- Adults are 130–160 cm (51–63 in) long.
- They have heavily built necks, shoulders, chests, and heads, short brushy tails, large pointed ears, noticeably larger hind feet, and longer forelegs than hind legs giving them a sloping appearance.
- They have long shaggy hair that’s usually dark brown to black on their body and tan on the shoulders and neck and striped legs.
Look for this predator in semi-arid regions of South Africa.
Brown Hyenas can live in drier areas than some of their relatives because they consume fruit with high water content when fresh water sources aren’t available. While this is a great adaption, it also puts them at odds with melon farmers seeking to protect their crops.
These canines protect themselves from heat by hunting nocturnally and taking shelter during the day. They build dens in sandy areas near rocks or vegetation, which helps provide shade.
Brown Hyenas may form clans or remain solitary, but all adults look for food alone. They don’t usually hunt live prey, instead using their keen sense of smell to locate carrion. However, if a good opportunity presents itself, they will go after birds and small mammals.
Brown Hyenas have decreasing populations and are listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. They are often killed by farmers who blame them for crop and livestock losses. This is sad because they almost never prey on livestock since they are primarily scavengers.
- Leptailurus serval
- Adults are 67-100 cm (26–39 in) long.
- They have the longest ears and legs in the cat family relative to their size.
- They have a coppery, golden-yellow, or buff coat with some white on their faces and undersides, black tail and ear tips, black rings on their tail, and various black stripes and spots on their bodies.
These predators in South Africa are known for their playful nature!
Servals have a kitten-like personality. Both young and adult Servals sometimes play with their food like domestic cats. They may throw animals into the air or let them scurry away a bit before catching them again.
They hunt by using their large ears and acute hearing to locate prey, sometimes remaining motionless for up to 15 minutes while they listen. Servals can pounce on prey from more than 4m (13 ft) away! These athletic cats have also been observed jumping 1.5 m (5 ft) into the air after birds.
Servals are solitary creatures that spend most of their time in reed beds and grasslands but will also roam through bamboo thickets, forest brush, streams, and marshes. They’re crepuscular, spending most of their time hunting in the morning and evening, though Servals living close to human populations often become nocturnal.
Although they’ve become popular with some people as pets, these wild carnivores are not domesticated animals and shouldn’t be taken from the wild or purchased. Most countries regulate ownership of them, and they can be just as dangerous as any other wild animal. Observe from a distance!
#11. Side-striped Jackal
- Lupulella adusta
- Adults are 69-81 cm (27-32 in) long.
- They are heavily built and have shorter legs and ears than other jackal species.
- Coloration is buff-gray with a darker gray back and a blackish tail with a white or almost silver tip.
Look for these predators in moist habitats in South Africa.
Side-striped Jackals live in swamps, marshes, humid savannas, and wooded areas up to 2,700 m (8,800 ft) above sea level.
They’re strictly nocturnal, so they can be hard to spot, but you may hear them calling out at night. These canines are incredibly vocal creatures that make various noises, including yipping to communicate with other jackals, screaming when threatened or wounded, and an owl-like hoot, which sets them apart from other jackal species.
Unlike others, Side-striped Jackals are true omnivorous scavengers. While their diet often varies with location and season, they commonly feed on insects, small vertebrates, fruit, carrion, and plant material. They occasionally kill small prey like rats or birds, but they never run down prey, spending more time feeding on the leftovers from other large predators.
Sadly, massive trapping and poisoning efforts have damaged the population of these animals. Side-striped Jackals have also been seriously impacted by rabies and distemper epidemics. While they’re rare in much of their range, they are not endangered and have been given some protection at national parks.
#12. Rusty-spotted Genet
- Genetta maculata
- Adults are 42-52 cm (17-20 in) long with 40-53 cm (16-21 in) long tails.
- They have slender bodies, long tails, and short legs.
- Coloration is yellowish-gray with rust-colored to black spots, a continuous dark line down their backs, and dark rings around their tails.
Look for these cat-like predators in South Africa at night.
Rusty-spotted Genets are small omnivores closely related to mongooses. They’re nocturnal and solitary, although they occasionally hunt or live in pairs. They LOVE to eat rodents, which means they’re frequently spotted around cultivated fields where mice and similar species feed
These mammals are semi-arboreal, meaning they spend much of their time in the trees and prefer to live in densely forested areas. They sleep during the day and use densely vegetated tree branches, aardvark burrows, or rock crevices as shelter. As you might expect, they have excellent climbing skills!
You may be able to spot a Rusty-spotted Genet right now on our LIVE animal camera from South Africa. They are often seen at night visiting the feeding station.
#13. African Civet
- Civettictis civetta
- Adults are 67–84 cm (26–33 in), with a 34–47 cm (13–19 in) long tail.
- They have large hindquarters, low heads, and short manes that extend down their backs.
- Coloration is silverish or cream with black or brown markings and spots, a black raccoon-like face mask, and white neck stripes.
If you see this predator in South Africa, you might not know exactly what you’re looking at!
African Civets are incredibly unique. They have some similar features to raccoons and cats but aren’t related to either. Their large hindquarters and extended mane are dead giveaways that you have found an African Civet.
These unusual-looking animals will live in both forested and open areas, but they need plenty of cover for hunting and hiding from larger animals. For example, in open areas, they require tall stands of grasses or thickets to shelter in during the daytime.
African Civets are primarily nocturnal but occasionally move around during the morning or evening of cloudy days. They’re secretive and solitary except when they come together to breed.
Despite being a relatively shy animal, they can become a nuisance to farmers. Occasionally, they go after poultry and young lambs. When catching live prey, they overpower it with their teeth rather than their paws.
#14. African Clawless Otter
- Aonyx capensis
- Adults are 113–163 cm (44–64 in) long.
- They have large heads, stout, tapered tails, partially webbed hind feet, long white whiskers on their cheeks, chin, and brows, and are clawless except for three grooming claws on each hind foot.
- They have thick, shiny dark brown coats with white markings on their upper lips, the sides of their faces, necks, throats, bellies, and lower ears.
These predators are the largest otters in South Africa!
As a primarily aquatic species, you’ll almost always see African Clawless Otters around rivers and springs. They prefer areas with thick reed beds and shallow water because they don’t dive below 1.5 m (5 ft).
African Clawless Otters also spend time on land. They build dens with entrances above or below the water that they share with other otters. They use their dens for giving birth, playing, eating, and resting.
These carnivores breed during the dry season, and the young otters are particularly fun to watch. They spend much of their time fighting, swimming, sliding on rocks, playing with their food, and throwing pebbles into the water to dive and grab before they reach the bottom. Watching them is like a little circus show!
- Proteles cristatus
- Adults are 55-80 cm (22-31 in) long.
- They have large pointed ears, slender skulls, thick manes that run from the back of their head to their tail, and longer forelegs than hind legs, giving them a sloping appearance.
- They have buff-yellow or dark brown fur with dark stripes on their bodies, horizontal dark stripes on their legs, and dark feet and tails.
It’s easy to mistake this predator in South Africa for the more common Striped Hyena.
Aardwolves are smaller than hyenas and have more defined stripes. However, their similarity is so uncanny that some researchers have suggested it may be a defense mechanism called Batesian mimicry. This trait, which is rare in mammals, is where one species mimics a more dangerous one in appearance.
Aardwolves don’t hunt large animals and are considered insectivores since they almost exclusively feed on insects. Their favorite food is termites, and they have specially adapted long, sticky tongues that help them lap up hundreds at a time. One Aardwolf can consume 300,000 termites in a single night!
Aardwolves live in dry, open savannas and grasslands and spend the majority of their life either solitary or in pairs. During the daytime, they retreat into underground dens to escape the sun and heat. Despite being common and widespread, it’s rare to spot one since they’re nocturnal, shy, and secretive.
- Orycteropus afer
- Adults are 105 and 130 cm (41-51 in) long.
- They have squared-off heads, long noses wider at the end, tapering tails, four-toed forefeet, five-toed hind feet, and massive bodies with muscular limbs.
- They have short hairs on their heads, necks, and tails and longer hair on their limbs that may be worn off in older individuals.
This might be the strangest-looking predator in South Africa!
Aardvarks are highly specialized to forage for their favorite prey; ants and termites. Their large ears, long noses, and sticky tongues help them find, scoop, and eat these insects with ease. Due to their highly specific prey preference, they avoid areas that flood or have hard, compacted, or rocky soil.
When Aardvarks find an ant or termite mound, they dig rapidly into the side of it with sharp claws. Then, they sweep the ants and termites into their mouth with their long, sticky tongues.
They don’t chew the insects but digest them whole in a gizzard-like stomach. The defenses ants and termites use, like stinging, biting, chemical defenses, and hard mounds, may work on other predators but are no match for Aardvarks. However, they rarely destroy a colony, and the insects will build the mound back up when the Aardvark moves on.
These odd-looking creatures have some equally odd methods of defending themselves. When threatened, Aardvarks will stand on their hind legs or lay on their backs to fight enemies with their large front claws. They also avoid predators and heat by building underground burrows, which they shelter in during the day.
- Caracal caracal
- Adults are 78–108 cm (31–43 in) long.
- Coloration is red to brown with white undersides adorned with many small spots and black facial markings.
- They have robust builds, disproportionately long, muscular back legs, short faces, long tufted ears, and short tails.
These predators are nearly impossible to spot in South Africa.
Caracals are nocturnal and generally very secretive. These medium-sized cats live in a range of habitats, including plains, rocky hills, scrub forests, woodlands, and thickets. They love edge habitats, especially the transition between forest and grasslands.
Caracals are highly athletic, capable carnivores that can take down prey three times their size. They’re also known for their incredible bird-snaring leaps into the air. To hunt, they rely on stealth to get close to prey and then pounce on it, using their muscular back legs.
They’re also perfectly capable of avoiding predation. When they sense a threat, they often lie flat and use their coloring to blend in with the ground and go unnoticed. They’re also agile climbers that can escape lions and other large predators by climbing into trees. If all else fails, they’re known to chase off predators twice their size.
Unfortunately, the one predator they can’t go up against is humans. They’re frequently killed by farmers and ranchers for feeding on small livestock.
#18. Nile Crocodile
- Crocodylus niloticus
- Adults are 2.8-3.5 m (9-11.5 ft) long.
- Coloration is dark olive to gray-olive with yellowish bellies, but young individuals may be more greenish or brown with darker crossbands on their bodies and tails.
- They have long, sturdy tails, long, powerful jaws, stout legs, and thick, scaly, heavily armored skin.
The Nile Crocodile is the largest freshwater predator in South Africa.
These reptiles have a nasty reputation as man-eaters, and it isn’t entirely undeserved. Nile Crocodiles are indiscriminate carnivores that feed on whatever they can catch, and because their habitat often overlaps with human settlements, run-ins happen.
Although the data can be unreliable, some reports indicate that Nile Crocodiles kill about 200 people annually.
These intimidating carnivores are patient, agile ambush predators. They will feed on nearly any prey that comes into range and may swallow it whole or rip it apart. Their conical teeth and strong jaws give them a uniquely powerful bite with a grip that’s nearly impossible to loosen. As if that weren’t enough, these incredible predators can swim at 30-35 kph (19-22 mph) and remain underwater for up to 30 minutes.
During mating season, males attract females to their territory by bellowing, slapping their snouts in the water, blowing water out of their noses, and making other noises. In areas with high populations of males, they sometimes get into physical altercations over females, especially if they’re similar in size. These altercations aren’t terribly common but can be quite a spectacle to witness!
#19. Bat-eared Fox
- Otocyon megalotis
- Adults are 46–66 cm (18-26 in) long.
- Coloration is yellow-brown with pale throats and underparts, and black outer ears, raccoon-like face masks, lower legs, feet, and tail tips.
- They have relatively short legs, huge ears, and more molars than other canids.
Look for these predators in the arid grasslands and savannas of South Africa.
Named for their enormous ears, these interesting-looking foxes prefer areas with short grass. They live in large dens with long tunnels and several entrances, and they have multiple dens within their territory.
Bat-eared Foxes arrange their schedule by the weather. In the summertime, they’re mostly nocturnal to avoid the heat of the day, while in the winter, they sleep at night.
They spend much of their time hunting, feeding on insects and other arthropods. They often follow herds of wildebeest, zebra, and buffalo, which feed on the grass, disturbing the termites. Their dung also attracts dung beetles. Their large ears allow them to hear the insects even underground.
#20. African Wildcat
- Felis lybica
- Adults are 46-60 cm (18-24 in) long.
- Coloration varies and may be tawny brown, sandy yellow, reddish, or gray with faint tabby spots and stripes, banded legs, and reddish or rusty-brown on the backs of their ears.
- They have long legs, small ear tufts, and long thin tails with a couple of rings near the end and black tips.
These predators in South Africa are the ancestors of the domestic cat!
While they’re also known as Desert Cats, they can be found in many habitats, including steppes, savannas, and bushlands.
African Wildcats are skillful hunters with incredible hearing. Once they’ve located prey, they slowly and sneakily approach it and pounce once they’re in range. They usually feed on mice, rats, and other small mammals.
African Wildcats are most active at night. During the day, they tend to avoid the heat and rest under bushes or other shelter, although sometimes they can be observed out hunting on cloudy, overcast days. Additionally, when threatened, these cats raise their hair to make themselves seem larger and intimidate their opponents, similar to what we see in domestic cats.
However, they have some distinctly wild traits. For example, when they sit upright, their long front legs raise their bodies almost vertically (more so than domestic cats). This posture can be seen on Egyptian bronze mummy cases and tomb paintings. They also have high shoulder blades that give them a distinctive cheetah-like gait.
Check out these other guides about animals found in South Africa!
Which of these predators have you seen before in South Africa?
Leave a comment below!