Cities have grown, much land has been given over to farming, hunting has wiped out entire herds, and the times when a herd of springbok could take days to pass through a Karoo town are long past.
Yet, thanks to the foresight of conservationists past and present, South Africa remains blessed with abundant wildlife.
The Big Five The big cats Lesser known wildlife Over 200 mammal species Marine mammals and fish The crocodile ... and other reptiles Birdlife
The Big Five
Best known are the mammals, and the best known of these are the famous Big Five: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo. Not the giraffe, hippo or whale
The Kruger National Park alone has well over 10 000 elephants and 20 000 buffaloes - in 1920 there were an estimated 120 elephants left in the whole of South Africa.
The white rhino has also been brought back from the brink of extinction and now flourishes both in the Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. Attention now is on protecting the black rhino.
Both these parks are home to all of the Big Five, as are other major reserves in South Africa – such as Pilanesberg in North West province – and numerous smaller reserves and private game lodges.
The Big Cats
Aside from occupying the top rung of the predation ladder, the lion also tops the glamour stakes. Sadly, it does have one formidable enemy in humankind, which has expelled it from most of the country so that it now remains almost exclusively in conservation areas.
The beautiful leopard survives in a larger area, including much of the southern Cape and far north of the country, although numbers are small in some places.
The cheetah is the speed champ, capable of dashes of almost 100 kilometres an hour. Its population is comparatively small and confined mostly to the far north (including the Kruger National Park), the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape, and reserves in KwaZulu-Natal and North West province.
Lesser known wildlife
Other quintessentially African large animals are the hippo, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest (the famous gnu) and zebra, all frequently seen in South Africa's conservation areas.
Heightened awareness, however, has created an increased appreciation of lesser known animals. A sighting of the rare tsessebe (a relative of the wildebeest) may cause as much excitement as the sight of a pride of lion. And while one can hardly miss a nearby elephant, spotting the shy little forest-dwelling suni (Livingstone's antelope) is cause for self-congratulation.
On the really small scale, one could tackle the challenge of ticking off each of South Africa's seven species of elephant shrew - a task that would take one all over the country and, probably, a long time to accomplish.
(to be continued.....)
Text of Gill Hefer (http://www.gillianhefer.blogspot.com/)