Latest observations of Mammals

Mammals are familiar to everyone. Apart from ourselves, our domestic pets and farm animals, there are about 290 terrestrial species of wild mammals in Southern Africa. These include about 78 rodent, 75 bat, 44 ungulate and 37 carnivore species.

Mammals live in various habitats on land, and there are also marine mammals: seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises. Some mammals are confined to more-or-less natural habitats, but others do well in urban areas, and can be found in the middle of towns.

  • The two forest biomes (Afrotemperate Forest and Eastern Lowland Forest) contain many mammal species, with Blue Duiker and Red Squirrel particularly associated with lowland forests.
  • The Savanna Biome, or Bushveld, supports a rich fauna of browsing and grazing mammals, including many antelope.
  • The two Karoo Biomes (Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo ) support mammals typically associated with Arid Savanna, and are particularly known for Springbok and Gemsbok.
  • The Albany Thicket Biome shares many species with savannas, and does not appear to have a special mammalian fauna. It does support a large biomass of browsing and grazing mammals.
  • The Fynbos Biome is poor in mammal species, with Fynbos types also poor in numbers of mammals. However, it supports a number of endemic species, especially Rodents.
  • The Grassland Biome once supported huge herds of grazing mammals, including Quagga and Black Wildebeest. The Sweetveld probably supported game year-round, whereas the Sourveld was grazed seasonally. These are now largely replaced by beef herds.
  • The Namib Desert has low numbers of mammals, with two endemic Gerbils.
  • The rivers play a major role in maintaining herds in the dry seasons. The Okavango Swamps and Chobe flood plains are home to endemic species.
  • Marine mammals include mainly seals (Cape Furseal, and 2 stragglers), Cape Clawless Otters, dolphins and whales (37 species, including Southern Right Whale and Humpback Whale).


Many mammals can be recognised on sight by their characteristic shape, colours and behaviour. However, the more elusive groups (like mice, shrews or otters) and nocturnal species will usually only be seen by their signs. Many mammals can be identified from their footprints, droppings, or feeding signs.

Bats pose another challenge by flying around at night. They can often identified from their ultrasound calls, with the help of 'bat detector' equipment that allows the calls to be recorded and analysed.

To see some of the rarer mammals you may like to join an organised survey project. Thee ae several such projects such as:

  • Otters.

Photography for identification

Most mammals are wary of humans, so it can be difficult to get near to them for photography. Using binoculars and making notes can be a good way of recording your observations to help with identification.

Where mammal signs are involved then photography becomes much easier. Try to get one or two close-ups, plus a wider shot of the feeding damage, droppings, etc., showing the surrounding habitat. Give some indication of size, either in the photo itself or by measuring the item and recording that information.

Useful links

Mammals group links

User login