Urban safari: the secret lives of Cape Town’s city animals

You need not go on safari to immerse yourself in nature and discover fascinating animals. Belinda Ashton, who runs the Wild Neighbours Urban Wildlife Initiative, explains that Cape Town has plenty of urban wildlife — you just have to know where to look for it.

Cape Town is a city of incredible natural diversity — from the splendour of our fynbos mountains to the rugged coastlines of False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The magic of living here is that wild life inhabits the most unexpected places.

Visitors to Cape Town are often disappointed by the absence of larger mammals, but our mountains and suburbs still support surprising animal diversity — from buck like the shy grysbok and little klipspringer to hardy rodents like striped mice, Cape gerbils and subterranean mole-rats, as well as small predators such as genets and caracal. It’s hard to believe, but over 80 small mammals can be found across the peninsula!

If you take a trip along Rhodes Drive in Newlands, for example, you might be rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of a shy Cape Fox. Or if you happen to be travelling in False Bay along Boyes Drive at night, your headlights might reveal a porcupine in search of bulbs.

Cape Town consists of an intricate patchwork of green spaces that have been left as small sanctuaries amongst the built environments of our suburbs. These spaces range from parks and greenbelts to the wilder habitats of our mountains, rivers and wetlands.

The shrubby vegetation that characterises fynbos generally supports smaller species, whose habits are mainly nocturnal, so it takes some perseverance to uncover their hidden secrets. The animals often leave clues about their night-time activities. For example, small tracks through the restios (a local grass) reveal a wild cat on the hunt for rodents, while dried scat filled with bits of crushed shell are evidence of an otter’s meal.

Life in the Cape would be infinitely poorer without our wild neighbours. Just knowing they are out there living their secret lives reminds and reassures us of our own sense of belonging within this immense world.

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