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Epic Wildlife Encounters

Experience South Africa’s wildlife through the lens of National Geographic's community in our Your Shot gallery, which offers unique perspectives on iconic animal encounters.
Photograph by Matthieu Rivart

Tail Out of Water

Algoa Bay, South Africa (Port Elizabeth)

“Humpback whale slapping her tail in South Africa.” - THIBAUT B.

The excitement of a humpback breaching or slapping their mighty tail next to your tour boat or kayak on the open ocean is hard to beat. In South Africa, sightings are spectacular and plentiful along the Whale Route of the Western Cape from June to December.

Starting in Cape Town, drive past Stony Point Nature Reserve and its African penguin colony, to the beach towns of Hermanus and Gansbaai in the Overberg region, and watch humpbacks, Bryde’s and Southern right whales swim by from land, or board a whale-watching boat to get closer to the action.

Brotherly Love

Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal

“On a windy evening, just before sundown at Phinda Private Game Reserve, two brother cheetahs take cover in the bush, constantly scanning the area for prey and protecting each other from any threats. As they were looking around, I happened to catch them gazing directly at each other. Were they communicating? Figuring out what to eat for dinner? Or simply just looking around? The heart shape that forms in the negative space portrays the lifetime bond between these two brothers.” - MARC SQUIRE

Around 1,300 cheetahs roam South Africa’s farmlands, parks and reserves, including Phinda. Head out to see them early morning, or late afternoon towards dusk.

Sardine Run

Wild Coast, Eastern Cape

“I captured this image during the migration of the sardines along the Wild Coast of South Africa. Natural predation, sardines are preyed upon by Cape gannet birds and common dolphins. The hunt begins with common dolphins that have developed special hunting techniques. With remarkable eyesight, the gannets follow the dolphins before diving in a free fall from 30 to 40 meters high, piercing the surface of the water head first at a speed of 50mph to get their fill of sardines.” - GREG LECOEUR

Join the feathered and finned to watch The Greatest Shoal On Earth along South Africa’s east coast from May to July, when billions of sardines make their annual migration.

African Lion

Endon, Free State

“The king of the animals looking majestic.”

With their fearlessness, raw power, and impressive manes, no African animal is more noble, iconic, or deserving of our respect – or its freedom – than the lion. One of the iconic Big Five game animals, the continent’s largest land predator can be seen in national parks and reserves across South Africa, including the mighty Kruger, home to 1,600 of the big cats. By day, look out for them languidly lounging in the shade of a tree, and at night, listen out for their mesmerizing calls coming from the bush: the unmistakable sound of the King of the Jungle.

Dusk Magic

Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal

"Oceanic blacktip sharks cruise on the surface of the water at dusk, getting ready for an evening of hunting on the deep reefs around the KwaZulu-Natal coast.” - STEVE WOODS

For many divers, an encounter with sharks – the ocean’s apex predators – is at the top of their wish list. The abundant waters around South Africa provide food for species including oceanic blacktips, hammerheads, and great whites, and countless opportunities to observe them in their natural environment, both above and beneath the waves.

Take a boat tour with the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board to learn more about the crucial role sharks play in this precious ecosystem.

Leopard Drinking

Twee Rivieren, Eastern Cape

“Young female leopard drinking at a waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.” - ELIZE LABUSCHAGNE

Stretching across the border with Botswana, Kgalagadi supports huge biodiversity amidst the dry riverbeds and red dunes of the Kalahari Desert. Southern Africa’s first transfrontier Peace Park allows free movement of nomadic herds of wildebeest, springbok, and eland, maintaining ancient migration routes that recognize no international boundaries. Following the game: predators. Safari here, and you’ll not only have a chance to view leopards, but lions, cheetahs and hyenas, too. And after your drive through the desert or bush, head to your lodge’s own ”watering hole” to take a cooling dip in the pool.

Flamingos Take Flight

Cederberg, Western Cape

“Flamingoes about to take flight in the wetlands surrounding the Cederberg region. I was given permission by the farmer of these lands to fly my drone (DJI Mavic Pro) over the many natural bodies of water on his farm. The wetlands were full of local birds, making it an ideal location for photography. I managed to capture this image of a flock of flamingoes about to take off just before sunset. It was just another amazing day in Africa.” - KYLE GOETSCH

South Africa’s diverse ecosystems offer sanctuary to more than 900 species of birds. Spot flamingoes and more along the Western Cape’s internationally acclaimed birding routes.


Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

“Elephants quenching their thirst.” - ANIL LALLOO

Weighing up to 7.7 tons, the world’s largest land mammal sinks around a bathtub of water a day. Gulp. Watching African elephants come down to the water to drink is one of the natural world’s most captivating sights, especially when little ones are following their mama.

A must-see stop along South Africa’s Garden Route, Addo Elephant National Park in Port Elizabeth is home to more than 600 elephants, while large herds can also been seen in Kruger National Park, and some of the biggest ‘tuskers’ in the world wander Tembe National Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal.

Dolphin Show

Algoa Bay, Eastern Cape

“Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. This picture was taken in Algoa Bay, ‘the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world’. The bay houses a large population of bottlenose dolphins with largest groups ever recorded for this species.” - THIBAUT B.

One of six Mission Blue Hope Spots launched by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Dr. Sylvia Earle, in 2014, Algoa Bay is a paradise for bird watchers and ocean lovers alike. Here, animals fill the air and sea, with pods of up to 400 dolphins hunting offshore, rare African penguins and Cape fur seals breeding on islands in the bay, and whales passing by in the winter months.

Mountain Zebra

Cradock, Eastern Cape

“Slightly different stripes, which leave the stomach white, distinguishes the endangered mountain zebra, found in the beautiful Mountain Zebra National Park near the town of Cradock.” - INA VAN EEEDEN

One of South Africa’s newest national parks not only protects over 1,000 Cape mountain zebras it honors in name, but also the precious transitional region between four biomes: grassland, savannah, thicket and xeric shrubland. It’s a mix that supports a rich mix of animals, including hyenas, lions and buffalo, and birds including Verreaux’s eagles, that glide above the mountain peaks. There are cheetahs here too, and the chance to join a guide to track them on foot.

A Moment of Tenderness

Boulders Beach, Cape Town

“Two penguins sharing a private moment and a kiss as the sun rises over Boulders Beach, Cape Town. More and more, it seems like this planet is threatened by human activity and ill will. A short moment of tenderness, even between penguins, can be a reminder of the love we should share both with nature and the people around us.” - OK MANGRUD

An hour’s drive from Cape Town leads to a close-knit, coastal community of the African penguin kind. At Boulders Beach, visitors can observe the adorable birds’ behaviors from the boardwalk, or even dive in to join them zipping through the waves.

Savannah Dusk

Kruger National Park, Limpopo

“Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it: the changes of the skies, the tracks with no need to travel, the discomforts you go through to make it real, the names of the trees, of the big animals... I was eager to know the nature language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.” - MATTHIEU RIVART

One of the world’s great wildlife refuges, Kruger National Park supports 147 species of mammal, including zebras and wildebeest, who buddy up for their best chance of survival out on the savannahs in the land of the lion.