The 10 most endangered animals in South Africa

With the recent release of the rhino poaching figures for the period from January to June 2017, we decided to have a look at some of the most endangered animals in South Africa at the moment. What is shocking is that some creatures across the globe even become extinct before they are scientifically documented.

It is the job of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to classify threatened animals as either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

We found that several animal species across South Africa are on the brink becoming extinct in the near future due to poaching, pollution and human destruction. What that means is that unless we save them, future generations will only be able to see them in museums, on TV or read about them in books.

Here is a list of the 10 most endangered animals in South Africa – this list is in no particular order as correct figures about populations are hard to access:

The Riverine Rabbit


The Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is one of the world’s rarest and most endangered mammals – and is South Africa’s most endangered wildlife species. Critically endangered since 2003, this rare rabbit is an important species for measuring ecosystem health.

This little nocturnal rabbit can only be found in the Karoo regions and is currently the most endangered mammal in South Africa. It only lives in the deep silt flood plains of seasonal Karoo rivers and can’t be found anywhere else in the world, making it incredibly vulnerable to habitat loss.

This rabbit’s main threats come from the loss of their habitat due to cultivation and livestock farming.

The Black Rhino


Three subspecies of Black Rhino remain, with the fourth (West African black rhino) declared extinct in 2011, in the savanna habitats of central-west Africa where it once existed. The horns are made from the same material found in human hair and nails – keratin, but that has not stopped demand for the horns in Asia where they are used in traditional medicines.

That has created huge demand on the black market for rhino horn. The result is that the Black Rhino, which seems to be the preference of poachers, is now highly endangered across Africa with numbers dropping at a rapid rate year after year. 

The Pickergill’s Reedfrog



Listed as Critically Endangered since re-assessment in 2010, Hyperolius pickersgilli (Pickergill’s Reed Frog) was first classified as endangered in 2004. This elusive, shy amphibian is found in highly fragmented and declining wetland habitats within a narrow 16km stretch along the KwaZulu-Natal Province coastline in South Africa.

Coastal development, habitat fragmentation, and draining of water used for agricultural and urban development are why this frog’s numbers have been steadily dwindling over the years.

The Cape Vulture

cape vulture


Cape Vultures are only found in Southern Africa, limiting the already decreasing population. They have been listed as Vulnerable since 1994, and though many people view this bird with negative connotations they are actually very important creatures. They eat off carcasses and therefore prevent diseases from spreading amongst the animal kingdom. The main reason for their endangerment is loss of habitat, electrocution on pylons or collision with cables and unintentional poisoning.

The African Wild Dog



The African Wild Dog is also known as the Painted Hunting Dog and Cape Hunting Dog. This canine is Africa’s second most endangered carnivore. They do not adjust to captivity easily at all and many reserves and parks are too small to accommodate these gorgeous creatures.

There are fewer than 450 painted dogs left in South Africa. Violent snaring of wild dogs is one of the most brutal ways of killing, and unfortunately this happens much too often in our wildernesses. There are currently only 3000 to 5500 individual wild dogs left in the wild.

The Cheetah



While the cheetah is a creature of impeccable beauty and grace, a lot of farmers would fully disagree. Many farmers end up shooting cheetah’s for going after their livestock, as they are considerably easier prey than chasing after an antelope. Cheetah’s are also sometimes poisoned and killed in traps to stop them from hunting the farmer’s livestock.

Technically speaking, the Cheetah is on the endangered list as vulnerable and not as endangered as of yet. It has been listed as Vulnerable since 1986, but the Saharan Cheetah found in parts of northwest Africa is Critically Endangered.

The Northern White Rhino



Known as the world’s rarest large animal, the Northern White Rhino is one of the most endangered African animals (not in South Africa). There are only 7 Northern White Rhinos left in the world and conservationists are worried about their future reproduction.

Much like the Black Rhino, this animal is poached and hunted for its horns to be sold on the black market. 

The African Penguin



Also called the Black-footed Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) was added to the Red List of Threatened Species in 2010, given a population decline of about 60% over 28 years (across three generations). The numbers of these birds are dropping at a drastic rate due to a combination of contributing factors from pollution to global warming.

Most deaths are the result of oil spills, especially near harbours – with two individual oil spills killing 30,000 penguins in 1994 and 2000. About 52,000 mature individuals remain with populations declining rapidly.

Blue Crane



The blue crane is South Africa’s national bird, and although there are small pockets and occasional breeding pairs found in neighbouring countries, they are mostly found in the Western Cape. This bird had been listed as Vulnerable since 1994. These birds are threatened due to direct poisoning, mining, agriculture, development and the further destruction of their grassland homes.

Knysna Seahorse


Knysna seahorses were the first seahorse species to be classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered. All over the world sea horse populations are threatened by the degradation of estuaries, sea grass beds and mangroves.

They are also accidentally captured in fishing gear, and over exploited for use in traditional medicines and the aquarium trade. The Knysna seahorse is also vulnerable to large temperature fluctuations which are common in this area.

This delicate little creature, with a head like a horse and a tail with a perfect curl, occurs naturally in three estuaries around the country, namely Knysna, Swartvlei, and Keurbooms.