Animals in Cape Verde


The islands that make up the Cape Verde archipelago are volcanic. They were undiscovered until 1456 but not inhabited until 1462. No mammals lived on the islands originally. The animals in Cape Verde have either migrated by air, by sea, or were imported by residents and visitors. Some of the wildlife in Cape Verde is now considered endemic, having been on the islands for very long periods of time.

Although probably best known for being a home to turtles, the national animal of Cape Verde is the manatee. This is also known as a sea cow or sea pig and is found in the waters around the islands. Manatees are gentle, peaceful creatures and this was considered to represent the nature of the Cape Verdeans. Therefore, the government decided to make them the national animal.


There are four endemic birds in Cape Verde – Alexander’s Swift, Razo Skylark, Cape Verde Swamp-Warbler, Cape Verde Sparrow and also two other birds that breed nowhere else: Fea’s Petrel and the Cape Verde Shearwater. However, many birds visit the islands as they migrate between the north and south. These include herons, plovers, spoonbill, a variety of swallows and the African broad-billed roller. There are approximately 18 species that call in at Cape Verde during their migration.

Sea birds such as shearwaters, brown boobys, petrels together with the intriguing frigate bird are also found on the islands. The frigate male displays a distinctive bright red pouch below its beak. Other birds found exclusively in the country include the Cape Verde barn owl and the Cape Verde sparrow.

Breeding birds living on the islands are numerous. They include the brown necked raven, Cape Verde Petrel and the grey-headed kingfisher. Some of these are endemic including the Cape Verde lark; the Raso (or raza) island lark; and the Cape Verde warbler. The Cape Verde Lark is honoured by having been pictured on bank notes.

Peregrine falcons, ospreys and the Cape Verdean kite make up some of the birds of prey found on the islands. The Cape Verdean kite was considered by some to be a distinct sub-species of red kite. Sadly they were declared extinct in 2000 and those that are seen today are a hybrids with black kites.

Of the 10 islands Santiago is considered to have the most species. These include the Cape Verde Heron (also called Bourne’s Heron), the Greater Cape Verde Kestrel (also called Alexander’s Kestrel) and the Red-billed Tropicbird.

Bird watchers have plenty to occupy them in Cape Verde.

Sea life abounds in the waters around the islands. The seas around Cape Verde are important as a site of marine biodiversity. Twenty species of dolphin, whales, porpoise and varieties of rays and sharks are to be found. Visitors are particularly interested in the humpback whales, loggerhead turtles, dolphins and flying fish. There are five different species of turtle found in these waters.

You can see giant humpback whales and loggerhead turtles from many of the islands, including Sal, Maio and Boa Vista. Most islands offer diving where ship-wrecks and reefs can be explored together with the whales, dolphins, octopuses and parrot fish. Eighteen species of whale and five species of turtle have been recorded around the archipelago. Humpback whales breed in these waters. There are only two such breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere. Whale watching is a popular activity. You can sometimes see them from the land, but boat trips are also possible for closer viewing.

Cape Verde is one of the world’s leading diving destinations – some would argue the best. Divers will see a wealth of fish including barracuda, snapper, bass, blue marlin, hammerhead sharks and angelfish. Because of its location, there are both cold and warm water fish in the seas around Cape Verde. The cool currents from the Canary Islands meet the warm seas from the Gulf of Guinea.

Most people associate turtles with Cape Verde. Loggerhead turtles, an endangered species, nest on the islands between June and October. They create their nests in the sand dunes and then lay their eggs. The babies make their way into the sea after hatching. Turtle watching in Cape Verde is one of the main attractions.

There are also many other things to see in the sea, including starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, black coral and fire coral. Crustaceans that are endemic to Cape Verde include the Cape Verde spiny lobster, typton shrimp and a pea crab. Balanosammia wirtzi coral is found and is also endemic.

There are lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) found in shallow waters of Shark Bay on the island of Sal. These Cape Verde sharks are not known to be a threat to humans. They can grow to 3.4m and the females will mate with several males and give birth to live young. Paddling with them is a popular activity amongst tourists. These creatures are classified as being vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Open waters provide an abundance of aquatic life with plenty of big game fishing. Fish such as tuna, grouper and wahoo are caught around the islands. If you enjoy being in the sea and seeing the life within it, then the Cape Verde marine life is something you should experience.

Organisations such as Guardians of the Sea (founded by the Maio Biodiversity Foundation) seek to protect the marine life. On Maio they work with 20 fishermen who monitor their fishing areas. This identifies any illegal fishing. A similar arrangement is now being adopted on other island such as Sal and Boa Vista.

There are a number of small animals on the islands including frogs, lizards and geckos, although some species have sadly become extinct. Small mice, wild rabbits and the slender mongoose are found together with the green monkey. All of these were introduced along with domestic animals (cats and dogs). There are no endemic Cape Verde snakes, however, occasionally snakes have been found. These have probably been imported in boats or containers of various kinds.  There are also several types of butterfly that can been seen on the islands.

Wild goats are found on the islands including Fogo. These are descended from domestic goats, brought to the islands by the Portuguese.

Grey long-eared bats can be seen and are now considered to be endemic.

So if you love nature you will find plenty to interest you with the animals and wildlife in Cape Verde.

There are not many dangerous animals in Cape Verde. There are a few snakes, none of which are indigenous, but most likely imported in cargo etc. If you see a snake, which is probably unlikely, don’t get close and don’t run away or startle it. If you are bitten get a photograph or description of it, so that you get the right anti-venom treatment. There are no Cape Verde crocodiles, lions, tigers or any of the other dangerous animals associated with Africa.

There are a lot of spiders found on the islands. The Huntsman, or Giant Crab Spider, might bite, but they are not dangerous to healthy people. Those with a reduced immune system, the elderly or children have a slightly greater risk of being affected. The Button Spider, or Brown Widow spider, can also bite if disturbed. If they bite, it can affect the skin.

There are mosquitoes, but there is no malaria in Cape Verde. In fact there hasn’t been a recorded case of malaria for some years. It is expected that World Health Organisation (WHO) will soon certified the country as free of the disease.

There are, of course, some potential threats in the ocean. Sharks have been seen close to the coast. Often these are Lemon Sharks, or Nurse Sharks. These are not a threat to humans. The larger Bull and Tiger sharks are mostly deep water animals, but sometimes can stray closer to the shore. If diving or deep water swimming, then be vigilant. However, there have been no shark attacks around Cape Verde in recent years.