Table Mountain for nature lovers

Northern checkerspot butterflies on Table Mountain. Photo courtesy of Minette Layne

There is a wide variety of birds and animals on the mountain. Sit quietly in a secluded spot and you are guaranteed to see some of the interesting fauna that lives here, especially more common endemics like dassies. Table Mountain is part of a World Heritage Site and home to a unique yet endangered plant diversity known as fynbos. Join us for a free guided walk to learn more about the fauna and flora. These walks are offered on the hour from 9h00 – 15h00 and depart from the Twelve Apostles Terrace (below the Shop at the Top and the Table Mountain Café).

Table Mountain fauna

Sit down on a rocky ledge on the summit of Table Mountain and close your eyes. Imagine that it is the early 19th century. Down on the grassy slope in front of you, a group of lionesses stalk a grazing bontebok, while grunting hippos wallow in a pool below. It might be hard to believe today, but iconic African animals like these once roamed freely on the mountain. Sadly the last lion was sighted in 1802 and despite anecdotal evidence of leopard activity, the spotted cats and the wily hyena are no longer seen on the slopes today. The bigger animals may be absent, but today there is still fauna aplenty on the vast expanse that is Table Mountain.

Dassie

Rock hyrax (dassie)

On your visit to Table Mountain you will definitely encounter the rock hyrax, a small furry diurnal animal belonging to the Provavidae family, more commonly known as a dassie. Although it resembles a small rabbit, the dassie is actually a hoofed mammal related to the elephant. It has a short, furry body with short hoofed legs and a small tail. Thanks to special pads on the soles of its damp feet, which act as suction cups on rocky surfaces, the dassie is an agile climber. Some dassies are rock dwellers that live in colonies of up to 50 animals. Other species are nocturnal and more solitary animals known as tree hyraxes, which are the only type of tree-dwelling hoofed mammals. Dassies feed on leaves, a variety of fruit and seeds.

Rare frogs

The Table Mountain ghost frog (Heleophryne rosei) is a critically endangered endemic species. Also be on the lookout for the Cape chirping frog (Arthroleptella lightfooti).

Tortoises

Keep an eye out on the ground for the angulate tortoise (Chersina angulata) and the parrot-beaked tortoise (Homopus areolatus).

Puffadder, photo courtesy David Bygott

Snakes

More than 20 snake species have been identified on the mountain. Of these, 12 are venomous and five pose a threat to human life. These five reclusive species are the Cape cobra, puff adder, boomslang, rinkhals and berg adder. Be vigilant when walking along pathways on the mountain, as this is where puffadders can be found lying in the sun.

Southern rock agama, photo courtesy Damien du Toit

Lizards

The lizards most commonly spotted on Table Mountain are the southern rock agama, the black girdled lizard and the Cape skink. The male agama is a particularly interesting sight during mating season, when its head turns bright blue.

Birds

The variety of vegetation and topography on Table Mountain attracts a wide range of different bird species. From soaring raptors to tiny sugarbirds, the quiet and patient observer will be able to tick off many of the following:

Orange-breasted sunbird, photo courtesy Derek Keats

  • Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
  • Verreaux's eagle (black eagle) (Aquila verreauxii)
  • Jackal buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus)
  • Steppe buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus)
  • Rock kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
  • Grey-backed cisticola (Cisticola subruficapilla)
  • Lesser double-collared sunbird (Nectarina chalybea)
  • Cape siskin (Pseudochloroptila totta)
  • Karoo prinia (Prinia maculosa)
  • Cape rock thrush (Monticola rupestris)
  • Cape sugarbird (Pomerops cafer)
  • Orange-breasted sunbird (Nectarina violacea)
  • Malachite sunbird (Nectarina famosa)
  • Ground woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus)
  • Somber bulbul (Andropadus importanus)
  • Olive thrush (Turdis olivaceus)
  • Cape batis (Batis capensis)
  • Dusky flycatcher (Muscicapa adusta)
  • Paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis)
  • Cinnamon dove (Aplopelia larvata)
  • African wood owl (Strix woodfordii)
  • Rufous-breasted sparrowhawk (Accipter rufiventris)
  • African goshawk (Accipiter tachiro)
  • Knysna warbler (Bradypterus slyvaticus)

The indigenous red-winged starlings are a fairly common sight on the mountain, where they nest in small alcoves on cliff faces.

Eland, photo courtesy Ralph Pina

Eland

In bygone days the world’s largest antelope, the eland (Taurotragus oryx), roamed freely on the grassy slopes of Table Mountain. Today these mighty animals live in the protection of the Table Mountain National Park. Eland have been successfully reintroduced to Cape Point, where they used to live, so keep an eye out for them. Other large antelope found in the mountain environs are the red hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), bontebok (Damaliscus dorcas dorcas) and Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra), Smaller antelope species likely to be spotted in the early mornings and evenings include the grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis), common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), grey rhebok (Pelea capreolus) and steenbok (Raphicerus campestris).

Porcupine, photo courtesy Damien du Toit

Porcupine

The largest rodent in Africa is the porcupine, but because it is a nocturnal animal, the closest most people come to them is finding a discarded black and white striped quill. Porcupines favour caves and burrows during the day, when they enjoy a bit of shut-eye.

Grey mongoose, photo courtesy South African Nature

Mongoose

The grey mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) has a pointed snout, dark grey fur with white flecks and a long bushy tail. It is a small mammal that feeds mainly on insects and is most often seen scratching around in dense undergrowth.

Tahr

Tahr, photo courtesy Alistair Pott

The tahr is a reclusive goat-like animal with a long shaggy mane. It is indigenous to India, but during the 1930s a number of animals escaped from a nearby zoo and began breeding on Table Mountain, feeding on fynbos. Today the growing tahr population is threatening many delicate fynbos species. As a result authorities plan to eventually remove all tahrs from the mountain, to make way for the ongoing reintroduction of an indigenous and diminutive antelope known as the klipspringer (“rock jumper”).

Fox, genet, caracal, lynx and otter

Also look out for the Cape fox (Vulpes chama), large-spotted genet (Genneta tigrina), small-spotted genet (Genneta genetta), caracal, lynx and Cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis).

Table Mountain flora

Fynbos is found in abundance on Table Mountain.

The sheer variety of indigenous flora found on Table Mountain is staggering. Fynbos, an Afrikaans word meaning “delicate bush”, is the name given to the scrubby vegetation that is particular to the Cape and is found in abundance on the mountain slopes. Fynbos is a very old type of vegetation, with some species (restios) dating back 60-million years.

Fynbos

Fynbos is highly endemic and some species are only found in a specific area covering a few kilometers. Due to the risk posed to these unique plants by frequent fires, human development and erosion, the Cape Floristic Region was declared a biodiversity hot spot. By the time Table Mountain was recognised as a World Heritage Site by the international botanical community, 26 fynbos species had already been declared extinct. Fynbos consists of four primary plant groups: Proteas (large broad-leafed shrubs), ericas (low-growing shrubs), restios (thin reed-like plants) and geophytes (bulbs). Although runaway fires threaten the survival of young fynbos that has not developed seeds, the vegetation is actually dependent on fire for seed dispersal and new growth. Fynbos must burn every 15-20 years to enable weaker plants to flourish and prevent them from being overwhelmed by stronger species. If this does not happen, more species could become extinct.

Interesting flora facts:

  • Close to 1500 plant species are found on Table Mountain
  • There are 500 different types of erica to be found on the mountain
  • Iris species number around 100
  • The Table Mountain National Park has the richest single floristic area on the planet
  • There are six recognized floral kingdoms – the Antarctic, Australasian, Boreal, Neotropic, Palaeotropic and Cape. The Cape has the highest known concentration of plant species – 1,300 per 10,000km2
  • The Cape Peninsula has in excess of 2,500 fynbos species
  • Many local plant species are being forced to the brink of extinction by invasive alien species including the wattle and pine
  • There are more than 350 paths up to the top of Table Mountain
  • Fynbos needs fire to promote healthy growth
  • Frequent fires burn young plants before they grow seeds, paving the way for the extinction of weaker species
  • Common garden plants like geraniums and freesias have their origin in fynbos
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