While the old myth that lions roam the streets of South Africa is still believed by a few would-be travelers, nothing could be further from the truth. Still, you can see lions and other wildlife in many parts of the country, including Cape Town, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth and a popular destination for international and national tourists (overseas visitors should consider travel insurance).
One of the first places that travelers often spot wildlife when they first arrive in Cape Town is on the lower slopes of the iconic landmark, Table Mountain, which is part of a unique urban national park. There are various antelope that live in the park, including klipspringers (a “klip” being the Afrikaans word for stone or rock, and “spring” meaning to leap or jump), as well as eland and bontebok. They are often seen close to the highway that leads into the city, along with distinctive striped zebra.
Many farmers and owners of larger properties on the outskirts of Cape Town have stocked their land with buck – including springbok and impala – and zebra. So if you’ve sightseeing by car or coach, always keep an eye out for these. You are also likely to see ostriches.
Apart from the many national parks and game farms where you can see lions in South Africa, there are also several lion parks. Cape Town Lion Park is in the Stellenbosch district just north of the city, and in addition to the normal lion species, you can see world-famous white lions. The focus here is on educating people about lions in general and visitors are taken on guided tours.
Drakenstein Lion Park is a lion sanctuary that houses about 15 rescued lions. Located on the fringes of the famous Cape Winelands, about half-an-hour’s drive from the Cape Town city centre, there is also a tented camp where visitors can “sleep with the lions”. You’ll get to sleep in a safari tent and eat a traditional South African braai (or barbecue).
Cheetah Outreach, based at the world famous Spier Wine Estate near Stellenbosch, has been promoting the survival of the South African cheetah for about 14 years. Cheetahs here were either rescued or bred and hand reared at the cheetah centre. Some of them have been “adopted” by people who pay for their upkeep.
There are several excellent restaurants at Spier, one of which, Moya, is named after one a cat born at Spier in 1997.
It’s unlikely that you won’t see baboons – specifically Chacma Baboons – if you visit Cape Town. While many do live in protected national parks, it is not unusual for them to migrate to populated areas in search of easy food. You will always see them at Cape Point, a popular tourist spot at the tip of the Cape Peninsula – but you should never feed them or try to touch them. They will often jump onto stationary vehicles, so always keep your windows closed if you see baboons along the road side.
If you enjoy hiking, there are guided walks organized by Baboon Matters, an organization that is striving to educate people about baboons and as they say, “bridge the gap between the wild world of the Chacma Baboons of the Cape Peninsula and the world of their human cousins”.
A visit to Cape Town is not complete without a trip to Boulder’s Beach near Simonstown, where you can see hundreds of Jackass Penguins in their own habitat. These penguins have been breeding here for nearly three decades, and now there are thousands of adult birds that live in the colony. In the 1990s you could spend time on the open beach while they wandered around you, and even swim with them in the sea. This of course made them a great tourist attraction, and so the area has been taken over by the Cape Peninsula National Park to give them some protection. There is now a fee to enter the beach area, and boardwalks and fences have been erected to stop them from wandering inland. It is, however, still possible to swim with the penguins.
You can also see penguins on Robben Island, which is where former president, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned so many years ago. There is another breeding colony at Betty’s Bay on the southern coast, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
Penguins are undeterred by humans, but don’t get too close because they have a notoriously vicious bite.
Not quite your normal South African wildlife, camels have become a feature of Kommetjie, one of Cape Town’s distinctive coastal villages.
Camel rides are offered most days by the owners of Imhoff Farm, an historical Cape farmstead dating to the mid 18th century. The camels are “tame” and promise a ride of a lifetime!