Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Beautiful impala lily flowers

Impala Lily

Adenium multiflorum

An Impala Lily in full bloom must be one of our most beautiful succulent shrubs, especially as it blooms in an otherwise drab and dry winter in the hot savannas of the Lowveld and northern Kwazulu-Natal, the only places it occurs naturally in South Africa, where it grows in well-drained brackish and rocky soil. North of our borders they are found up to Zambia and Malawi. They are extremely drought resistant and can grow to 3m tall, though such large specimens are rare. Being toxic, it was once used as poison for arrows by the San people. However, some animals are able to browse on the Impala Lily without suffering any apparent ill effects. It is also used in a few traditional medicine concoctions.


Red-billed Teal

Anas erythrorhyncha

Being a quite common inhabitant of our freshwater dams and pans (and sewerage ponds), the Red-billed Teal can be expected at any inland open water body in South Africa that provides emergent and submerged vegetation. They feed on grass, seeds, waterplants and aquatic invertebrates, mostly at night – by day they rest on the water or at its edge. Apart from South Africa, the species is widely distributed over the rest of southern, eastern and central Africa as well as Madagascar.

Red-billed Teals congregate in enormous flocks at times, especially during their annual month-long flightless moulting period, but are usually seen in pairs when breeding, which may occur throughout the year but mostly follows the rainy season, nesting in thick vegetation on dry land near temporary or permanent expanses of water. Clutches consist of 5-12 eggs, and are incubated for a month by the female only, the male by this stage having long abandoned the family. The chicks take to the wing for the first time about two months after hatching.

Adults grow to a length of about 46cm and both sexes weigh just over half a kilogram on average. The Red-billed Teal is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN.

Thread-waisted Wasp


We have about 18 species of the genus Ammophila in South Africa, and finding a female Thread-waisted Wasp from this genus on the hunt can be an absolutely engrossing experience. Before setting out, she digs a short tunnel in sandy soil, ending in a wider nest chamber. She then searches for caterpillars and other soft-bodied invertebrates, which once found are paralysed with a series of stings and then, depending on the size of the prize, is carried in flight or dragged along the ground back to the nest. One or more incapacitated victims are provided per nest, the female wasp laying a single egg on the first prey item stored in the nest. Once the larder has been sufficiently stocked to provide adequately in the needs of the larval wasp, the female closes it up with pebbles and grains of sand, taking great care to expertly hide the tunnel from view. She then starts the process all over again at a suitable nesting site elsewhere.

The two galleries below were taken at Marakele National Park and Tembe Elephant Park respectively, and show the fascinating process of a female wasp provisioning her offspring with a food store.

The Tembe sequence:

Unlike the larvae, adult Thread-waisted Wasps feed on nectar. They measure 2-3cm in length.


Olive Sunbird

Cyanomitra olivacea

The shy but vocal Olive Sunbird is a forest denizen by habit, and usually the most commonly encountered sunbird where they occur. They nest throughout spring and summer. Adults weigh only between 8 and 15g, measuring around 15cm long. Not much else is known about these tiny nectar-feeders.

Due to its very specific habitat preferences, the Olive Sunbird has a very restricted distribution in South Africa – here they are found only along the Indian Ocean coast from East London through to northern Kwazulu-Natal, and in a small corner of Mpumalanga around Nelspruit and Barberton. Further north into Africa they are widely distributed through east, central and West Africa. The IUCN lists the species as being of least concern, despite the threat of habitat loss due to uncontrolled deforestation in much of its range.


Colophospermum mopane

Anyone who has visited the northern Kruger National Park would be well acquainted with the Mopane, a tree that proliferates in hot, dry, low-lying areas. Apart from the Limpopo Valley and northern Lowveld in South Africa, the Mopane is mainly found south of the Kunene and Zambezi Rivers. In dry, shallow soils the Mopane grows as a short shrub, dominating the landscape, but in deep, damp alluvial soils they may grow to 30m tall, forming beautiful woodlands. The trees are a favourite for many browsing animals, with elephants especially being very fond of every part of the tree, including the rough bark.

Mopane wood is hard and termite resistant, making it sought-after as a building material, for fences and mining, railway sleepers and for making furniture. It is also one of the most widely used trees for fire-wood where it occurs. The Mopane is probably best known though as the food source for a uniquely African delicacy; the protein-rich Mopane Worm – more correctly the caterpillar of the Mopane Moth Gonimbrasia belina.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker

Buphagus africanus

Inhabiting savannas and open woodlands, most often near a reliable water source, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers are reliant on populations of large game (mainly buffalo, giraffe, black and white rhinos, hippos and large antelope) and untreated livestock from which they can glean the ticks and other ectoparasites on which they subsist. They will also feed on blood dripping from open wounds on their hosts, often hampering their healing and recovery.

Adult Yellow-billed Oxpeckers measure around 20cm in length, with a weight of about 60g. Pairs are monogamous and breed in holes in trees during spring and summer, raising clutches of 2-3 chicks, often with the help of immature birds from previous broods.

Exterminated from South Africa as a result of the rinderpest epidemic of the 1890’s, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers naturally recolonized the Kruger National Park from Zimbabwe only in the 1970’s. They were also introduced to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in northern Kwazulu-Natal in the 1980’s but as they’re not being seen there any more this was probably not successful. Today they are still classified as Vulnerable in South Africa and the Lowveld remains the only reliable place to see the Yellow-billed Oxpecker in our country, though the IUCN lists the species as being of Least Concern overall, indicating a patchy distribution that spans much of southern, eastern, central and western Africa.



Cape Crow

Corvus capensis

The Cape Crow inhabits a wide range of habitats, from beaches and arid scrublands to mountain grasslands and savanna, but is most common in open habitats with a scattering of trees. They follow an omnivorous diet, feeding on anything from seeds and berries to tortoises and chickens and scavenging at rubbish dumps and road kills. They are less frequently associated with urban environments than the Pied Crow but are very common in many agricultural areas. Fully grown, Cape Crows measure about 50cm in length and weigh around half a kilogram.

Pairs are monogamous and territorial, but occasionally Cape Crows congregate in flocks of 50 or more birds outside the breeding season, which spans spring and summer. Their nests are large bowl-shaped constructions built by the female, using materials sourced by the male, on top of trees, utility poles or cliffs. The parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a 3 week period. The chicks stay in the nest for up to 6 weeks, and may stay with their parents for up to 6 months after fledging.

The Cape Crow occurs widely in South Africa, being absent only from the Lowveld and Limpopo Valley and seen very infrequently in parts of the Free State and Northern Cape. They are also found in Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe, with a separate population in eastern Africa, from Tanzania to Eritrea. The IUCN lists the Cape Crow as a species of least concern.