South Africa: A must visit for animal lovers

There are millions of people who love animals and wouldn’t miss any opportunity to see some of these amazing creatures, be it the wild type like the lions and cheetahs or the more friendly ones like the Zebras and Giraffes.

Over the cause of the decades, people have come to appreciate the existence of these animals, showing them love and care like never before in the history of mankind and gone are the days when we use to say it a survival of the fittest as more measures are put in place by organizations, governments and even individuals to protect these wild but vulnerable creatures.

And if there is a place where these animals are given the most protection and care then it is South Africa, the country popularly referred to as the rainbow nation.

South Africa currently boasts of the highest number of wildlife in Africa with more than fifty world class zoos and forest reserves that houses these animals, protecting them from activities of poachers and hunters.

Elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
Elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
African lion in the National park of South Africa
African lion in the National park of South Africa

With the country gaining a reputation for its vast wildlife population and strict policies protecting wildlife, the country receives millions of tourists whose main intent is to visit some of these reserves and have a closer experience and look at these rare and amazing animals.

The likes of Kruger Park, Bloemfontein Zoo and Mapungubwe Park have come to embody the wildlife tourism of the southern African nation with animals like Tiger, Lions, Cheetahs, Leopards and Elephants being the main attractions at these centres.

For the animal lovers, those planning trips to visit some animal sites around the world, there is no better place to visit than the rainbow nation called South Africa, where wildlife abounds and are protected for the good of mankind.

Bagamoya Wildlife Estate: Where tourists interact with wild creatures

The mere mention of big cats like lion, cheetah, Leopards and tigers strike fear into some people if not all, but what if I tell you there is a place in this world where you can interact with these monstrous and powerful creatures, getting close to them and even touching them?

You probably are saying no, thanks. Well that’s totally understandable and fine but what if you could choose to interact and have physical contact with the cubs instead and even bottle-feed them? Sounds cool right? Well that is exactly what the Bagamoya Wildlife Estate in Bloemfontein, South Africa offers visitors.

Tourists who visit the facility get to interact with the wildlife at the estate, especially the cub lions, cheetahs, tigers and leopards who are too young to attack or pose danger to visitors.

For the brave hearts who wish to test their resolve and braveness, they are allowed to have physical contact with the old big cats but under the very strict supervision of tour guides.

Aside the big cats, Bagamoya Wildlife Estate also houses other herbivorous wildlife like the giraffe, elephants, zebra and antelopes in a different section of the estate and with the help of tour guides, rides can be taken  to that section to see these incredible and friendly creatures.

For tourists who intend to feed the lions and cheetahs, it is advisable to make a call to the zoo a day before and find out the feeding schedule before making the trip to the facility.

Visiting South Africa: Kruger National Park

South Africa is statistically Africa’s most visited country in terms of tourism and entertainment, hosting well over a million tourists every year.

This feat however did not come on a silver platter for the Southern African country, it took them decades of conscious and sturdy effort to achieve the feat and today ranks among the best destinations for tourists.

With so many attractions to pick from, visiting S.A as a tourist as a dream for many especially those living in other parts of the African continent. One such attraction tourist can choose to visit among the lot is he iconic Kruger national park.

The Kruger National Park stretches across the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces of South Africa and is recognized as one of the largest wildlife parks in Africa covering a land size of 19,485 kilometre square.

The park was first established in 1926 as South Africa’s first national park during the Apartheid era to serve as a special reserved area for endangered species that were at the risk of extinction if not protected.

Since then the park has grown in popularity to become Africa’s prime animal reserve, receiving millions of visitors every year. The popularity of the park reached its peak in 2004 when it received an estimated 1.3million visitors in the course of the year, but has since then managed to maintain and improve upon the number.

The animal population in the park is also among the most impressive in Africa, with over 300 different species of animals, mostly endangered species living harmoniously in the park, most common among them being the lions, zebras, Girrafe, Deer, Cheetahs, Leopards and elephants.

Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) ewe near Kruger National Park
Nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) ewe near Kruger National Park
Leopard on the rocks in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Leopard on the rocks in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Zebra with a baby in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Zebra with a baby in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Kruger National park aside its animal population is also home to about 300 archaeological sites which gives credence to the fact that before modern civilization and the area’s conversion to a reserve, it used to be home to a group of people in the primitive era. Visiting tourists are given access to visit these historical archaeological sites and learn a thing or two about history related to the park.

In fact it is very rare to see rare for tourists to visit South Africa and not make a trip to the Kruger National Park, showing just how important the reserve is to the South African tourism sector.

The reserve is opened to all and sundry  but strictly protected from activities such as poaching with the South African government taken stringent measures such as jail time for people found to be engaging in such activities in the park.

The Lion Park and Safari Walk – South Africa

The Lion Park and Safari Walk is located in the Northwest part of South Africa, precisely Johannesburg in the Gauteng province and is situated on a new 600 hectares land in the Cradle of Humankind (a paleoanthropological site).

The park is home to several wildlife animals in the canidae and cat family including Lions, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs and antelope. Prior to this, the reserve was solely dedicated to the housing of only Lions until a decision was taken in 2015 to introduce other Wildlife species and also relocated the animals to the Cradle of Humankind, their current location.

As of 2017, the park had an estimated 80 lions including the very rare white lion which is almost on the brink of extinction. Like most wildlife parks, the animals in the park inhabit different sections of the reserve without mingling and tourists who seek to tour the facility would have to tour these different sections if they want to catch glimpses of all the animals.

For instance, antelopes in the park are found in a section called the Antelope area where they live with other animals like zebra, impala, blesbok and warthog but are very much far away from the more dangerous carnivorous animals like the Lions and Cheetahs.

As a park that prides itself as being a modern reserve that offers great services to tourists, Lion Park boasts of some world standard and amazing facilities within the park including  restaurants, children’s playgrounds and conference centres.

With regards to interactions with animals in the park, authorities banned visitors from cub interaction in 2015 due to the dangers that came with it as spontaneous attacks by mother lionesses were recorded. This was however reintroduced a year later but under very strict supervision after it was realized that the ban on cub interaction had led to a drop in the number of visitors to the park.

Tourists are however allowed to freely have interactions with herbivorous animals like Giraffes and Zebras and even handfeed them with they so wish as these animals pose no danger to visitors while being very friendly towards humans in general.

Mapungubwe National Park – South Africa

The Mapungubwe National Park is one of the many animal reserved parks in South Africa, located in the province of Limpopo, close to the Kolope River and about 16 km from the famous Venetia Diamond Mine.

Established in 1995, the iconic animal reserved park covers an area of 70 hectares and is among the most visited and documented attractions in Limpopo boasting of a rich and complex history that dates back to as far as the 15th century.

The park forms part of the bigger area known as the Greater Manpungubwe Transfontier Conservation Area; a cultural geographic area well known for its ancestral history with evidence of human settlement in the area dating back to some 1500 years ago.

Close to the park is another historical attraction, the Mapungubwe Hill which according to historians and archaeologists was the capital of the ancient Mapungubwe kingdom and home to the King of the tribe.

Unlike reserve parks where attractions are solely based on wildlife, the Mapungubwe National Park offers a different and unique experience to visitors as they can also make their way to the historical Hill town and see for themselves what ancient civilization was like.

The animal population within the park itself is also very impressive, with over 380 bird species taking residence in the dense forest section of the park where tall trees of different species abound.  Animals like Lions, Leopards, baboon, zebra, hyena, cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus, rhinos and elephants can also be found in the park in large numbers while reptiles like agama, rock monitor lizard, gecko, cobra, crocodiles and python are also found in their numbers.

Most of the mammals roam from the park to neighbouring Botswana and Zimbabwe along the popular Limpopo River which lies close to the park. This is especially common when the river isn’t flooded and crossing is easy for the mammals.

The park and the entire area comprising of the river and Mapungubwe Hill have been listed by the United Nations (UN) as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Marakele National Park – South Africa

The Marakele National Park was established in 1994 in the Limpopo Province as an eco-friendly site where humans and animals can interact on a daily basis in one close environment..

Historically, prior to the establishment of the park, the area was known to be home to several tribes during the iron-age settlement era. Archaeological excavations have been taken place in some sections of the park to learn more about the history of these early settlers, making some sections of the part inaccessible as research activities take place.

Originally the park was named as Kransberg National Park, before the change of name to Marakele National Park a year later in 1995. Its current land size of 670 square kilometres is almost four times the original size it had begun with in 1994 when the park size stood at 150 square kilometre.

Ostriches (Struthio camelus) in early morning light, Marakele National Park, South Africa
Ostriches (Struthio camelus) in early morning light, Marakele National Park, South Africa
Protea Caffra, the Common Suger Bush, a small tree growing on the mountains in the Marakele National Park, Limpopo, South Africa
Protea Caffra, the Common Suger Bush, a small tree growing on the mountains in the Marakele National Park, Limpopo, South Africa

In terms of animal population, Marakele National Park is not one of the most populated parks in South Africa and boasts of relatively smaller animal population when compared to other national parks and reserves like the Kruger National Park and     National Park.

A handful of buffalos and about sixteen species of antelopes are found in the park, together with some 250 species of birds with the most popular of them being the Cape griffon vultures.

Tourists who usually visit the park do so for camping purposes with animal watching usually being a secondary purpose. There are dozens of tents built in a special section of the park reserved for camping purposes, and as expected thousands of people throng to these camps to enjoy some quiet natural scenic environment away from the everyday city life.

While Marakele may not be the exotic national park filled with some incredible animal population, it offers families, friends, couples and colleagues an opportunity to camping in a serene natural environment.

Richtersveld National Park – South Africa

Camping is one of the most popular tourism activities anywhere in the world, and is usually seen as one of the best ways for families, love ones and small groups to spend memorable times together in a secluded yet natural environments, devoid of everyday human activities.

And in South Africa the best place to have this experience is at the Richtersveld National Park, located in north-east part of the Northern Cape Province of the rainbow nation.

The Richtersveld is a large desert land, situated near the South African border with Namibia and is geographically characterized by mountains, dry weather, sandy lands, rocks and few trees.

The river which runs through the area, the Orange River serves as the natural body which separates South Africa from Namibia.

Camping activities are usually held at the park by families and groups due to the uniqueness and quiet nature of the area. Even though many would argue there is nothing awesome about Richtersveld, it is one of the most unique landscapes in the world, recognised as the only arid biodiversity hotspot on the planet with a wonderful and stable weather that makes camping in the area enjoyable.

The 400,000 acres park is also home to some of the rarest plants in the world, with these plants being able to grow in the desert and rocky land.

The United Nations has declared the area a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Polokwane Birds & Reptile Park

The Polokwane Bird and Reptile Park is the largest nature reserve park in Polokwane, South Africa and also among the largest wildlife parks in South Africa.

As the name already suggests, the park is home to hundreds of birds species, (both indigenous and exotic) and reptiles such as snakes, crocodiles and wild lizards.

As one of the biggest attractions in Polokwane, the Polokwane Bird and Reptile Park receives over a hundred thousand visitors each year, most of who are from other parts of the country like Pretoria.

Bird watching is the most popular activity at the park, with the over 280 different species of birds usually perching on the trees and displaying their colourful and glowing appearance while making melodious sounds which could easily be misconstrued for singing.

For the lovers of reptiles and the adventurous who may be more interested in reptiles, the snakes and crocodiles are kept in aquariums at the park and visitors can get close and watch them move about, however you are not allowed to breach the aquarium and try to get physical contact with the reptiles as that may prove detrimental.

For visiting families, the park has unique picnic spots where the whole family can take a rest after touring and enjoy some food and drinks that may have been brought along.

Visiting South Africa: The Cheetah Experience

South Africa is a country very well known for its strong protection of her wildlife and endangered species with dozens of specialised parks and nature reserves across the country to protect these amazing animals who find themselves on the brink of extinction due to human activities such as poaching and land encroachment.

Most of these protected and specialised areas are properties of government, founded by the state and run by the country’s body in charge of tourism. However, there are a few run by private organisations and also non-governmental bodies.

The Cheetah Experience, found in Bloemfontein is one of such centres, founded and run as a Non-governmental organisation that seeks to protect the Cheetah population of Bloemfontein as well as other wildlife belonging to the cat family.

Among the animal population at the park include the Lions, wildcats, a Siberian tiger, leopards, meerkats and cheetahs with the cheetah’s population dominating at the centre.

While it may be categorised as a tourist centre due to the high number of visitors and tourists the centre receives regularly, Cheetah Experience is also considered a learning centre. Tourists who visit the centre are usually taken around the facility to see the animals and take some memorable pictures for their memory albums, but beyond that, the tourists are taken through a series of lessons regarding wildlife protection.

Entabeni Game Reserve: What visitors should know before visiting

The Entabeni Game reserve is one of the very few animal and nature reserves in Africa, owned and operated by Legend Lodges, a private firm that invests in nature and tourism sector.

Situated in the Limpopo province of South Africa, the Entabeni reserve is home to numerous African wildlife including the African bush elephant, African buffalo, African leopard, hippopotamus, lion, and African giraffe. Besides its amazing terrestrial wildlife reserve, the forest also houses a variety of bird species.

In the Limpopo province, the Entabeni is arguably one of the most popular attractions among the residents and receives a considerable number of visitors from within and outside the province every year.

The 220-kilometre square facility is not only known for its fantastic animal and bird population; it is also well known for its training school, the Entabeni Nature Guide Training School.

As a leading name in African tourism, South Africa requires a high number of professionally trained and experienced tour guides to operate the hundreds of attractions in the rainbow nation. The Entabeni Nature Guide Training School helps train and provides the professionals needed in the sector.

Note to Visitors

There are two seasons at Entabeni Game Reserves, being the summer and Winter season. The summer season is usually between November and March while the winter season is from April to October. The animals a tourist will come across at the reserve often depends on the time of visit as some animals prefer to stay hidden during specific periods. For instance, in the winter, one is less likely to see antelopes as they prefer to stay away from the cold weather and hide deep within the forest reserve.