You don’t need a wardrobe to find Narnia—it’s right here at the tip of Africa. Although our squirrels, dassies, baboons, and seals don’t say much, they are just as magical. Here’s a look at some of the urban wildlife you’ll find in and around Cape Town.
The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) is the cute (or sometimes slightly unsettling) mammal that soaks up the sun on the rocks of Table Mountain. They’re social animals, living in groups of up to 80. These furry brown creatures use sentinels as a lookout and have 21 different vocal signals to communicate danger. Unlike most mammals, they can’t fully regulate their temperature, which explains their sun lounging.
Fun Fact: Dassies share a common ancestor with elephants and sea cows.
If you’ve spotted a zebra while driving along the M3 in Cape Town, you can rest assured—you’re not going crazy. The Quagga Project aims to bring the zebra-like Quagga back from extinction. They are basically a kind of zebra, and they look just like zebras, except only the front of their bodies has stripes. The project was started in 1987, and aims to rectify the sins of the past when the karoo-dwelling Quaggas were hunted to extinction by settlers. The last Quagga reportedly died at Amsterdam Zoo in 1883, but thanks to this project there are now more than 120 quaggas at the ten Quagga Project breeding locations
Where to find them: At the Groote Schuur Reserve in Cape Town. You can often spot them on the hill just above Hospital Bend while driving onto the M3.
Fun fact: Quaggas are known for their less-than-sunny dispositions, and were known to be skittish and bite. People believe this is why Quagga and zebras weren’t ever successfully domesticated like horses were.
These goat-like creatures are native to Northern India, Southern Tibet, China, and Nepal. They had a population boom on Table Mountain after an escape from the Zoological Gardens on Groot Schuur Estate below Devil’s Peak in the 1930s. Their presence endangered the endemic fynbos and indigenous species like the klipspringer to such a degree that a culling was called for. It was thought all of the tahrs were wiped out, but there have been a few reported sightings since then.
Where you’ll find them: On Table Mountain, if you’re an intrepid (and extremely lucky) hiker.
Fun fact: The Himalayan Thars have also been introduced to Argentina, New Zealand and the US.
Sciurus carolinensis, or the grey squirrel, is not indigenous to Cape Town but was brought here by Cecil John Rhodes in the 19th century. These furry-tailed friends live mostly in urban gardens and on plantations and the fact that they can’t eat fynbos has curbed their spread across the province. Originally from North America, these squirrels are loved by most but despised by some.
Where you’ll find them: The Company’s Garden in the City Bowl, and most neighbourhoods and parks.
Fun fact: Grey squirrels have a lifespan of up to seven years and Cape Town has an infamous albino squirrel.
Cape Fur Seals
Cape fur seals like to frolic about in the waters of harbours around Cape Town. In the water, they behave almost like dogs—playful and friendly—but they’re territorial on land, and males weigh up to 300kg. They eat mostly fish, squid, and crabs and are preyed upon by large predators like sharks and orcas.
Fun fact: They are the largest fur seal species and can live up to 21 years. When they sleep in the ocean they rest different parts of their brains at different times so they can stay afloat and keep a lookout for predators.
The adorable African penguins—formerly known as jackass penguins because of their distinctive braying—are the only penguins found on the continent. Colonies waddle around southern Namibia and all the way around the South African coast to Port Elizabeth.
Where you’ll find them: Boulders Beach is one fo the best places in the world to get up close to these adorable flippered friends. You can also see them at the neighbouring Foxy Beach as well as at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
Fun fact: African Penguins usually cruise at 7 km per hour but can speed up to 20 km per hour when hunting.
Southern rock agama lizard
The Southern Rock Agama is probably one of SA’s most popular lizards with their bright blue heads and flamboyant mating rituals befitting a wildlife documentary. They’re usually to be seen perched on a rock, looking contemplatively at the world around them. They can run pretty fast and jump too, but luckily they are completely harmless. Their bright colours are for showing off, they also camouflage to match their surroundings.
Where to find them: They populate many of our mountains, most notably Table Mountain and Lion’s Head.
Fun fact: There’s Agama walk on Table Mountain named after these lovable lizards.
When it’s whale season in Cape Town you can spot these friendly sea giants around the coasts of the Cape with the naked eye. Although the southern right whales are the most prevalent, humpback whales and Bryde’s whales also grace our waters. Southern right whales are distinguished by the callosities on their heads, their double blowhole, and long arching mouths. They weigh up to 60 tons and can be spotted between June and November. Humpback whales have long pectoral fins and obvious humps and migrate from the polar regions to Mozambique and Madagascar from May to November. The Bryde’s whales are the most difficult to spot as they tend to dive for long periods.
Fun fact: Southern right whales are marine mammals, so they are warm-blooded, produce milk, give live birth, and breathe air.
Chacma Baboons are a source of much joy and mischief at Cape Point. They’re also to blame for arguably some of the most adorable and bizarre traffic jams when the families take over the road for a social gathering. They are prominent and popular with visitors but can be quite dangerous when they become accustomed to people and start to associate them with free food. You should be very careful around them and rather admire them from afar. Don’t be flashy with your food.
Where you’ll find them: The most popular spot is Cape Point.
Fun fact: The baboons in the Cape are said to be the only baboons in the world that indulge in seafood.
The flocks of Flamingos that frequent Cape Town waters are mostly the gracious greater flamingo type. They reach a height of about 130-160 cm and breed further north, but they come here for our great weather (much like people). They were once a rare sight, but these days large flocks of both lesser and greater flamingos inhabit most of the waterways of Cape Town, although the greater flamingo is more common.
Where you’ll find them: You have a chance of spotting them at Black River around Pinelands, Milnerton lagoon or Kommetjie.
Fun fact: Female flamingos lay one single chalky white egg at a time. They age to around sixty in the wild and the oldest recorded bird reached at least 83 years of age!