South Africa is well-known for its wildlife, drawing thousands of tourists to its game parks on an annual basis with the prospect of possibly getting to see the Big 5.
For us here at home, though, the Big 5 can get kind of boring. You know, like "Oh, no! Not another lion in the backyard!" "Oh dear, the elephant stripped my vegetable garden again."*
So, sometimes, we just need a break from those buggers and see weird and wonderful creatures from other corners of the globe.
Fortunately, with a wealth of wildlife sanctuaries, imaginative agricultural endeavours and, of course, conservation-minded aquariums, these kinds of creatures aren't that hard to find.
Here are seven strange animals and where you can hang out with them in SA:
Where to see them: Helderstroom Farm, Villiersdorp
The cuddliest Camelidae around, Alpacas are native to South America, but have been gaining popularity among breeders across the globe for their super soft wool. However, it's not really their wool we're interested in so much as their absolute adorableness.
At Helderstroom Farm, just outside the Overberg town of Villiersdorp, you can make the acquaintance of a whole campful of cute moms and babies who are so curious that they will come right up and gaze into your eyes for a bit. Started by Alison and Christopher Notley in 2004, Helderstroom is a completely hands-on endeavour as they shear, card and hand spin the fibre into yarn, which is then hand knitted, woven or felted and made into a range of stylish, warm and unbelievably comfortable garments. Amazingly enough the project started with only five pregnant females imported from Chile and has now grown remarkably. As they tend to be aggressive, males are kept in a separate encampent.
Check out the Helderstroom website for more details or give them a call on 028 840 0158
Where to see them: Monkeyland, Plettenberg Bay
These quirky ring-tailed creatures piqued unprecedented global interest following the release of animation blockbuster, Madagascar (which is, of course, the island lemurs are endemic to) a couple of years ago. I mean, who could ever forget crazy old King Julian liking to move it, move it in the abandoned aircraft?
Well, if you ever wanted to meet one of these undeniably cool primates in person, head to Monkeyland just outside Plettenberg Bay, where you will more often than not spot them stretched out in a sunny spot, which helps them regulate their body temperature.
Check out the Monkeyland website or give them a call on 044 534 8906
Where to see them: In the wild - Kgalagadi, but from a little closer up - De Zeekoe Guest Farm, Oudtshoorn
Okay, we're cheating a bit here, because meerkats really aren't foreign creatures at all - you can spot them in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, but sightings are obviously not guaranteed. So, if you are dying to see a comical suricate or two, but would prefer observing them in their natural environment as opposed to an enclosure, Meerkat Adventures at De Zeekoe Guest Farm just outside Oudtshoorn is your best bet.
During the exceptional tour, you will get taken out into the field at sunrise to see how the meerkats emerge from their burrows from the comfort of a camping stool - close enough to feel like you're in their midst, but far enough for them not to feel threatened.
Check out the Meerkat Adventures website or give them a call on 084 772 9678
Where to see one: Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town
Mantis shrimps are pretty much the most badass of badass creatures ever. Do not let their ridiculously colourful facade fool you - they are mean hunters who basically zap their prey with undersea shockwaves that they conjure up by propelling its limbs. You can read a really entertaining account of just how terrifying they really are to their fellow ocean-dwellers on The Oatmeal.
Despite the velocity of their zap being equivalent to that of a small calibre bullet, with the ability to smash the glass of an aquarium tank, Two Oceans in Cape Town has one on site! How cool is that? Definitely worth a visit, if penguins and box fish just don't cut it for you!
Find out more on the Two Oceans Aquarium website
Where to see them: Jane Goodall Institute's Chimpanzee Eden, Nelspruit
Considered to be the human's closest relative in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees are hugely fascinating to many people. They are also one of the most endangered creatures on the planet right now, with numbers of wild chimpanzees dwindling dangerously.
Fortunately places like the Jane Goodall Institute play a huge role in rehabilitating and conserving them. What's even cooler is that you can take a tour and view the chimps in their semi-natural environment.
Find out more on the Chimp Eden website
Where to see them: Outeniqua Miniature Horses, Knysna
Could there be anything cuter on this earth than a perfectly proportioned, pint-sized horse? We think not! With all the feistiness of their larger counterparts, miniature horses are the epitome of the old saying 'dynamite comes in small packages'. While there is a whole community of breeders in South Africa, with shows happening in various locations across the country, your best chance of a up close meeting with these sweetie pies is definitely at Outeniqua Miniature Horses just outside Knysna.
Check theirFacebook page for regular updates, contact details and, best of all, photographs!
Where to see them: Cango Wildlife Ranch, Oudtshoorn
These peculiar little creatures originate from West Africa, but are facing extinction due to habitat loss and poaching. Weighing in at around 250kg, they are much smaller than their Southern African counterparts and also appear to be a lot chubbier.
The Cango Wildlife Ranch is home to two pygmy hippos - Hilda and Herbert - which attract visitors from far and wide.
Check out the Cango Wildlife Ranch website for more details or give them a call on 044 272 5593
*This is totally not how we REALLY feel about the Big 5! We were just trying to be funny... okay, sorry.