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Shining a light on fynbos wildlife

The Cape Floral Kingdom is known for its abundance of fynbos flora. But a little less known are the wild animals that roam this region. Dimpho Lephaila gets closer…

Fynbos flowers
© Martin Harvey/WWF-SA
The plant diversity in the fynbos is one of the richest in the world, probably more than the Amazon in America.

It may be hard to imagine today, but wild beasts like the black rhino, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus, elephant and others used once roamed in the fynbos before urbanisation and other environmental factors squeezed them out. These species are now only found in private and national game reserves while others, such as the Cape lion, blue buck and quagga which also occurred in this area, are now extinct.

But there are a wild animals, the Cape leopard for example, as well as a few other wild cats and antelopes that have stood their ground.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to see these animals in the wild. I also haven’t had this privilege; however, for farmers and farm workers in the Cape winelands, in the heart of the fynbos region, catching a glimpse of these wild creatures can happen at any moment.

If you get the opportunity to explore the wildlife of the fynbos region, grab it. This part of South Africa is truly fascinating. Among the many species found here, there are five worth taking a closer look at.

The mysterious apex predator

The leopard is the most enigmatic of the big cats, and leopards in the Cape are probably the most elusive of them all. Although they roam in the vast landscape of the Western and Eastern Cape, they seldom grace human eyes with sightings.

The adaptive and elusive nature of the Cape leopard works as an advantage and has enabled it to survive in the remaining natural habitats since humans began transforming the landscape more than 350 years ago.

© Cape Leopard Trust
While they are the top predators in the Cape, they are only half the mass of their counterparts in the Savannah biome – weighing on average only around 20 kg (females) and 35 kg (males).
A cat built to fly

No, it doesn’t have wings, but its slender-built body, long legs and short sharply pointed tail make the caracal (also known as the rooikat) a skilful hunter. It is able to leap up to three metres to snatch a bird out of the air for a meal.

Its varied diet and the ability to stay for long periods without drinking water is probably one of the advantages that have helped it to survive in the fynbos. Small antelopes, birds, rodents, and hares form part of its diet. This brave hunter is not afraid to kill a prey bigger than itself- even adult antelopes are not safe.

Just recently, journalist walking on Table Mountain was lucky enough to capture a caracal on video while it finished off a meal.


© Unsplash
The caracal is the largest of the African lesser cats and resembles a cross between a leopard and a lynx.
The largest of its kind

Frequently seen in the fynbos, the Cape porcupine – also known as the African porcupine – is the largest rodent in southern Africa, and one of the largest in the world. They might resemble the hedgehog, but they are not related at all.

I have often come across porcupine quills before, but I never really thought how the animals use their quills in defence. 

Did you know that the initial reaction of the porcupine when it feels threatened is to freeze and wait for the threat to pass? If the danger persists, it erects its quills, making it appear much bigger and more vicious than it actually is.

Cape porcupine
© Pixabay
A porcupine can hide in the burrow with only its quills exposed to escape predation, and the quills make it harder to pull it out.

Unfortunately, it’s not just natural predators that are after porcupines. The illegal use of snares to hunt porcupines and other fynbos wild life pose a huge threat to their survival. The Cape Leopard Trust has launched a project to remove snares, collect data and educate people about this practice. 

Illegal traps
© Cape Leopard Trust
A snare is a simple piece of wire, cable, twine or nylon tied into a noose and set to illegally catch small antelopes and porcupines.
The fascinating fynbos snakes

The mole snake is one of the common snakes in the fynbos. It's colour and size make it easy for people to confuse it with the Cape cobra.

Unlike the Cape cobra, however, the mole snake is not venomous, but it can give a nasty bite that may even require stitches. Its strong, sharp teeth and the ability to move the head up and down when it bites can do the damage.


© Pierre de Jager
The mole snake spends much of its time searching for food down rodent burrows. It is useful in controlling most of the rodent population in the fynbos.
A distant striker

If you are not a snake handler, this is one to keep your distance from!

While it usually hides when threatened, the rinkhals can also literally stand its ground and can spit its venom as far as two metres, aiming for the face or the eyes when cornered.  They do this in a cobra style, rearing up and spreading the hood while hissing loudly.

The rinkhals is only found in South Africa and in the east of Zimbabwe, making it one of our own special animals. It is common in the Overberg region, but sadly, it has become extinct in the Cape Peninsular.

Ring-necked cobra
© Marcel Witberg
Because of its cobra behaviour, people often confuse rinkhals with cobra. It is also called ring-necked spitting cobra in some parts of Africa, although not a true cobra.

Each of these species plays a role in maintaining life in the fynbos and forms an important part of biodiversity. And like all other wildlife species that are loved and cherished, these too need our attention and protection.

Attending a recent wildlife awareness workshop facilitated by the Cape Leopard Trust, I got to learn more about these amazing wildlife animals in the fynbos. The workshop was held on one of WWF’s Conservation Champion wine farms in the Cape winelands where various farmers – recognised for their commitment to sustainability - got together to learn how to look after the wildlife on their farms.

These champion wine farms are already doing a great deal to improve their water and energy efficiencies. They are now equipped to take their efforts to the next level. You can learn more about these farms on the WWF website.

Happy World Wildlife Day!

Dimpho Lephaila Photo
Dimpho Lephaila, Communications Officer

Dimpho believes in the power of science communication, because it is through knowledge sharing that people can learn and change their behaviour.


Support our Conservation Champions! Download the WWF Champion Wine Guide app to explore farms and find special offers as well as ecotourism activities.