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Understanding the savannah biome

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

This blog about the savannah biome was written by Rachel Ogle, while completing her Bushwise Professional Field Guide course. Facts and insights contained in this blog are based on student research.


The savannah – home of the iconic big five and sunsets to die for – all in all one of the most incredible places on Earth. “A biome is a broad ecological spatial unit representing major life zones of large natural areas, and defined mainly by vegetation structure, climate as well as major large-scale disturbance factors (eg. fire)”. This is the definition of a biome in the FGASA learner manual. There are nine distinct biomes in South Africa, the largest one of the nine is the savannah biome.


How is the savannah biome different from the other biomes found in South Africa?

The sun hides behind a cloud over a vast savannah scene in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

In total, there are nine distinct biomes in South Africa. The biomes are the:

  1. Fynbos Biome

  2. Succulent Karoo Biome

  3. Desert Biome

  4. Forest Biome

  5. Nama Karoo Biome

  6. Grassland Biome

  7. Albany Thicket Biome

  8. Indian Ocean Coastal Belt 

  9. Savannah Biome

Each biome can have many bioregions, the savannah has six in total. The Savannah Biome is truly unlike any other, sometimes you may not even realise that you have entered it due to the fact that it is quite diverse in terms of vegetation, climate, soil type and even terrain. This is also the reason why such a large amount of organisms and features (both biotic and abiotic) are able to inhabit this area. 


The Savannah Biome has many types of vegetation consisting mostly of tall trees and an abundance of bushes, and during the dry seasons, most of the vegetation dries up and adapts to the environment. This is what makes the biome so unique, its ability to prosper even in the most dire conditions. 


What is the savannah? And where is it found?

A Bushwise trainer points out a bird in the distance while on a training drive with students in a game reserve.

The savannah is a shrubby grassland with somewhat of a light canopy of trees (where the vegetation is more tropical). The savannah has two different seasons, one very dry season in the winter, and a very wet season during the summer between December and February. Each bioregion is different. For instance, the Central Bushveld Bioregion has a very high number of vegetation types. Whereas the Kalahari Duneveld Bioregion has a very low level of vegetation; in fact, some would say it has the least vegetation units in regard to the rest of the bioregions. The six bioregions are the Central Bushveld Bioregion, the Mopane Bioregion, the Lowveld Bioregion, the Sub-Escarpment Bioregion, the Eastern Kalahari Bushveld Bioregion and the Kalahari Duneveld Bioregion. 


When we think of the savannah we often think of the Serengeti, or one of the other vast plains of Africa that we often see on Nat Geo Wild, but what we don’t often acknowledge is that the savannah occurs not only in Africa but also in South America, Australia and even a small part of India.


What species can you find in the savannah?

The savannah has a wide range of species due to the sheer diversity of the environment. Everything in the environment from geology, soils, climate, vegetation and landscape features. These are the things that tell you what species you are able to find in an area. You can find mammals, amphibians, birds, arthropods, birds, trees and grasses. Some flagship species of the savannah are both the black and white rhino, plain grass frog, baboon spider, ground hornbill and marula trees.


Why is it important as a guide to know the savannah?

A small herd of three waterbuck males, with massive horns, stare towards the camera with long grass flowing around them.

It is important to know the environment you work in, not only because it is your job to specialise and share the knowledge of the land, animals and how they all work together in “the circle of life”. But also for safety and educational reasons. So considering the fact that most guiding happens in the savannah, it would definitely be a smart move to not only know, but keep on educating oneself on the Savannah Biome.


Love learning about our natural landscape and the role each species plays in the environment? Consider joining a Bushwise online course to learn more!


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