For wildlife enthusiasts, South Africa is one of the most coveted destinations on the planet. The opportunity to go on safari and encounter the famed 'Big Five' is, in many people's eyes, the Holy Grail of wildlife watching – and rightly so. Experiencing the distant bone-chilling roar of a lion, the stealth and sleuth of a prowling leopard, the majestic stature of the elephant, the stateliness of a grazing rhino, and the galloping gait of a charging buffalo in their natural habitat is a privilege and thrill beyond compare. |
But as well as these high-profile beasts that dwell in the jungles, plains and savannah lands of South Africa, the country's diverse landscape also offers a home to some other very important (and far less dangerous) animals that perhaps don't get as much publicity as they should!
The Cape Fur Seals of Seal Island
It's not hard to work out how Seal Island, situated just off the coast of Cape Town, in False Bay, got its name. That's right: it's an island. With seals. But what may not be quite so clear to anyone who hasn't had the very noisy pleasure of visiting it, is just how many make this tiny granite island their home. With an area of just 400 x 50 metres, there are around 60,000 on the island at any given time. Despite the waters that surround the island being a favourite haunt of Great White and Bronze Whaler sharks (no surprise why), it's one of the seals' prime breeding grounds.
The inhabitants of the island are Cape Fur Seals, which is one of the larger species - adult males can grow up to 2.3 metres and weigh up to 360 kgs. Their lumbering size and awkward movements make the sight of so many of them crowded together, on what's effectively just a large rock poking out of the ocean, somewhat of an anomaly - along with the deafening cacophony of 60,000 barking voices all trying to outdo one another, the effect is quite comical.
There's no beach and virtually no vegetation on the island, so the easiest way to observe the seals in comfort is on a dedicated seal-watching boat tour, accompanied by a qualified marine biologist. A tip: being downwind of the colony is not advised – the odour of fish guts, urine and dung is overpowering!
The Penguins of Boulder Beach
With their immaculate black and white dinner suits and endearing waddling gait, the penguins of Boulder Beach could well be South Africa's cutest wildlife residents. One of the very few mainland penguin colonies in the world, Boulder Beach Penguin Sanctuary is home to approximately 2,000 very friendly African Penguins. The population is used to human interaction and visitors can enjoy the magical experience of getting hands-on with these cheeky chaps, both in the water and on the beach.
The African Penguin is small in stature but large in voice, and their shrill brays can be ear splitting if they all decide to call in unison – which happens quite frequently! Against the backdrop of the gorgeous white-sand beach, flanked with huge rounded granite boulders, inquisitive faces peek from every direction and it's harder to imagine a cuter (albeit slightly alarming) sight than five or six of them waddling in unison towards their human visitors at a rate of knots.
While it is designated a sanctuary, Boulder Beach is open to the public, although there is an entrance fee.
If you're tempted to visit South Africa to experience its breath-taking wildlife, the good news is there are plenty of ways to do it – both independently or with an organised tour. Why not even try your luck and get there for free, with an amazing competition from the Telegraph. The prize is a true 'holiday of a lifetime' taking in Cape Town and an incredible safari to see the Big Five.
Patrick Chong is the Managing Director of InsureMore, an award-winning team of specialists in global single trip and annual travel insurance policies. Besides offering great deals on travel insurance, Patrick also collects and shares the best free travel competitions to help his clients get the most out of their holidays.
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