Africa’s Best Safari Animals + Where to See Them

CameronAfrica, Botswana, Destinations, Kenya, Safari, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, ZimbabweLeave a Comment

The romance of a wildlife safari is unmistakable. It had long been about the hunt of the animals for the rich and adventurous back in the day, but with growing appreciation of conservation, the idea has shifted. Safari in this day and age is about preserving the land and its inhabitants that is safari animals.

What kind of animals will you see on an African safari? We try to answer this question with a brief overview of all the most popular animals to see the in the African bush and it’s beautiful national parks. Truthfully it only scratches the surface of Africa’s animals but covers almost all of the highlights. If you want to learn more you can also check out what animals make the list of Big Five Animals.


Africa’s Safari Animals


African Elephant

For us, every list about safari animals starts and ends with the African elephant. There is no animal more iconic or extraordinary than the elephant. It’s the planet’s largest land mammal and capable of incredible levels of intelligence, memory, and emotions.

To spend time with Elephants is a truly remarkable experience. On our last day in Africa, we spent a good hour with a herd of elephants watching them work their way through the bush. It could not have been a better way to say goodbye to our year-long saga on the continent. We could write multiple posts on elephants and just how much they mean to us. They are humbling and incredibly intelligent with emotions and remind us of just how much we have in common with fellow animals.

If you want to learn more about elephants we suggest reading The Elephant Whisperer for a book about Africa.

In one year in Africa, we became well acquainted with the species as they’re widespread throughout Africa. However, do not be fooled elephants are facing a grave threat from poachers. The elephants of Tanzania have lost almost half their of the population, nearly 50,000 murdered elephants, in the period from 2009 – 2016.

The next population count may bring about even greater concern. When visiting the Selous Game Reserve we saw one elephant in four days, and he quickly ran at the sight of humans. Then while on safari in the Masai Mara we came across our first poached elephant on the border with Tanzania. It was a heart-wrenching moment and a painful sight shared with our safari guides.

The African Elephant

Where to find Elephants?

Elephants are a favorite of all safari-goers can be found on just about any safari. However, if you’re in search of big elephant populations your best bet would be Botswana.


Mountain Gorilla

There are around 880 Mountain Gorillas left in the world and they are listed as critically endangered. It’s a frightening number; however, there is a silver lining as the conservation efforts in tourism have led to a stable and increasing population.

This is in part thanks to the strict regulations of 80 people a day visiting only a select number of families and remaining only an hour. To top it off the permit to see these animals fetches a hefty price tag at $600 in Uganda, $1,500 in Rwanda, and $300 to enter the lawless DRC.

We went gorilla trekking in Uganda and it was unlike any other wildlife experience in Africa. The atmosphere of the trek through the jungle mist is mystical. By all means, you often find yourself cutting a path through the jungle and thick vegetation. With each step your anticipation builds and the reward of seeing the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world is spectacular.

While all of the safari animals are aware of us, gorillas actively show a curiosity to humans. So, much so that on our last trek in Uganda I had a sneaky juvenile slide down the tree behind me and grab my arm. You should read about gorilla trekking in Uganda to get all the juicy details. We’re leading tours in 2019 to Uganda to go gorilla trekking if you want to learn more, subscribe to our blog!

Where to find Mountain Gorillas?

Chimpanzee

It’s our closest living relative and an amazing animal to see in the wild. They are super intelligent and have readily displayed communication, problem-solving, complex social structures, and even the use of tools. Chimpanzees are extraordinary animals and will shock you at the similarities between us.

The experience of taking a chimp trek is nothing like that of gorilla trekking as their behavior is very different. Chimps are far more active than their gorilla counterparts. Chimps do not live in elevations as high as the mountain gorillas and the treks to find them tend to be less strenuous.

That is until you find a chimp family who moves quickly through the forest, for just over an hour we ran with the chimps through thick brush and up hills. Cutting through the forest you’ll come to a stop with a chimp staring at you quizzically. Guests are advised to keep a distance of at least 7 meters, but that distance is often broken by the chimps themselves.

We’ve been chimp trekking in both Rwanda and Uganda. The Uganda experience was much better with easier terrain and more habituated chimp families. In 2019 we hope to cross to find the chimps of Tanzania and lead a few lucky readers with us to find them in Kibale, Uganda.

Where to find chimpanzees?
  • Kibale National Forest, Uganda
  • Nyungwe National Forest, Rwanda
  • Gombe National Park, Tanzania
  • Mahale Mountain National park, Tanzania

African Wild Dog

If you want to see Africa’s most extraordinary and fascinating predator then look no further than the wild dogs. They’re probably the least known predator in Africa. Much like the wolves of North America, their population numbers have suffered greatly from habitat loss and conflict between pastoralist.

Lions may get all the credit for being Africa’s top predator, but wild dogs are Africa’s most successful hunters – making a kill nearly every time they go on the hunt. To watch their social interactions is a wonderful safari experience and if you see them consider yourself lucky.

However, like all dogs, they sleep a lot! So, chances are if you’re lucky enough to see them they’ll be taking a nap. Wild dogs operate in packs and have a clear social structure with rankings among the pack with an alpha male and female.

They’re one of the toughest safari animals to spot as they require large territory that they can cross at any moment. Even if you head to one of the parks they frequent, it’s very likely you won’t spot them.

Wild Dogs

Where to find African Wild Dogs?

African Leopard

If we were to pick the most beautiful safari animal in Africa it would be the leopard. They are cunning hunters who stalk their prey and have the ability to take down animals many times their size. They’re the toughest of the Big Five to spot and when you do you’re in for a real treat. Leopards spend most of their days relaxing in a tree until it’s time to hunt at night – this is what makes them difficult to spot.

However, it’s still possible to spot the animal during the day as our first sighting happened as a large male stalked two Red Lechwe in the Okavango Delta, our second was in the Masai Mara, and the third was in Zambia’s Kafue National Park. Leopards are solitary animals and you’ll hardly ever spot two together unless they’re mating or with young cubs.

Our most notable leopard experiences happened on two separate occasions, and neither one did we see the stealthy hunter. On one of most isolated nights camping alone we heard a deep grunt and a leopard stumbling through our campsite and moving by our small ground tent.

The second experience happened when we heard a commotion underneath an elevated lodge tent at Ruckomechi in Mana Pools when a leopard presumably killed an animal beneath our feet. Of course, we’ve also heard stories of leopards sitting on safari guests decks in the middle of the night.

Leopard On Bank Of Kafue River

Where to find leopards?

These are some of Africa’s most successful big cats and can be found on just about any safari – if you’re lucky. There is even said to be some in Stellenbosch, the famed wine country just North of Cape Town.

  • Southern Africa
  • East Africa

Rhinoceros

There are two types of African rhinos, the white rhino and black rhino. Due to their limited numbers, it’s one of the few safari animals we’ve had very little interaction with. The big lumbering giants are grazers and spend most of their time munching away on grass. Don’t be surprised if they’re not grey in person as they love to wallow in mud and dust making them brown.

Interesting enough they have terrible eye-sight incapable of seeing much further than 20 meters. This is why they depend upon their hearing to help navigate and detect a threat. Not that they have many animal threats with their ability to run 50 kph and two formidable horns. They’re a member of Big Five, but are very difficult to find given their numbers. Anytime we have seen them in the wild there is an anti poaching unit nearby.

Sadly, Rhinos are the one animal on this list that is very likely to go extinct. The poaching epidemic created by morons in Vietnam and China has led to a war on the spieces. If you see one while on safari consider yourself fortunate and hold those memories forever.

Big Five Animals Rhino

Where to find Rhinos?

Lilac Breasted Roller

This bird is a favorite of many safari-goers due to its beautiful plumage. It’s the national bird of Kenya and Botswana and once you see it for the first time you’ll understand why. They’re widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa so you stand a chance to spot the bird just about anywhere on safari. Their most common habitats are savannah and woodland.

Lilac-breasted rollers hunt insects and they seek vantage points. Most commonly you’ll find them perched on top of poles or dead tree branches scanning the savannah in search of prey. Interesting enough unlike many colorful birds both males and females share the same brilliant plumage.

They love grassland areas where insects are in abundance so when approaching grassy areas keep an eye out on the highpoints to find the bird. Don’t worry if you miss them, as your guide will be better at spotting them.

Lilac Breasted Rollar

 

Where to find lilac breasted rollers?

African Lion

Right behind the elephant, the Lion is unmistakable around the world. They are considered the “king of the jungle” and Africa’s top predator. This is despite the fact that lions do not live in the jungle, but prefer grassland environments where they can hunt. As members of the Big Five Animals man has long feared the legendary hunter (besides Simba and Mufasa – we like them)

They possess a ton of power and work in a pride as cunning hunters. To witness a hunt is one of the greatest thrills ones can have while on safari.

Your first experience of seeing a lion in the wild is a humbling experience. They are the fiercest predators on earth and the power on display by lions on the hunt is electrifying.

However, don’t get your hopes up too much because they share a lot in common with house cats. Lions spend almost 20 hours a day sleeping and that’s just how you’ll liklely find them. Unlike many cat species, they’re very social and live in prides or a family.

Lion Cubs in Tanzania

Where to find African Lions?

You can find lions throughout Southern and East Africa. They need a lot of territory and distance from humans so they’re found in the major parks and game reserves.


Cheetah

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on earth and our favorite big cat to spot on safari. They’re the most active of the cats and the easiest to spot as they like to find high ground in grassland areas. This happens to be why they have famously hopped on top of safari vehicles, the highest point in a sea of grass.

At first glance it might be easy to mistake cheetahs for leopards; however, the size difference and spots between the two is great. Cheetahs are small cats and their primary prey are small hoofed animals. This diminutive stature also plays a role in why the animal is not a member of the Big Five, considered to be the most dangerous animals to man.

Like many of Africa’s greatest animals, cheetahs are under grave threat from humans and habitat loss. World Cheetah populations were around 100,000 in 1990 and 9,000 to 12,000 left. It’s just another safari animal that brings to light the fact we’re witnessing a global extinction across the globe.

Cheetahs in the Masai Mara

Where to find cheetahs?

Spotted Hyena

If you asked us the one animal that does not deserve its bad reputation (the Lion King didn’t help) it’s the hyena. A spotted hyena, or laughing hyena, is an intrinsic part of safari and the African landscape. They actually do “laugh” in mating season or under periods of stress such as competing for territory or food. Although, you’re most likely to hear their familiar call or a whoop in the middle of the night as they communicate with one another.

Hyenas have one of the strongest jaws of all the animals. There is a common misconception that hyenas only scavenge for food, but they’re also skilled hunters and like to operate as a pack. They’re intelligent animals and active at night. Furthermore, there are more than one species of hyena, although the spotted hyena is the one you’ll likely see the most.

If you’re camping in Africa it’s best to keep food out of your tent as it will attract the animals. We’ve had more than a few meals in the company of hyenas standing just out of the light of the fire, and yes they can kill a human.

African Safari Animals

Where to find Hyena?

You can find Spotted Hyenas throughout Africa’s national parks and reserves. All the way from South Africa to Ethiopia.


Vultures

There are a large number of vultures in Africa and they play a crucial role in the ecosystem. They’re the cleanup crew so to speak, responsible for clearing carrion from the savannah. Eight different species call Africa home, but one of the most common you can spot is the white-backed vulture. No one will confuse the vulture with a beautiful animal, but they are fascinating and extraordinary safari animals.

Animals have a lot of fantastic names for groups – for example, vultures are called a venue on the ground and a kettle when in flight. Viewed as a nuisance vultures are critically endangered due to farmers poisoning them and a low birth rate. Vultures only choose one mate a year and lay one egg. Most amazing is their eyesight capable of spotting prey or food from high above in the sky.

Vultures in the Masai Mara

Where to find Vultures?

You can find vultures throughout Africa, but it’s the easiest to spot them on plains and grasslands.


Eland

The largest antelope in the world is one of our favorite safari animals in Africa. The Eland is a pretty majestic one to see in person as it’s about the size of a small horse with massive spiral antlers. Your first time spotting an Eland in the wild is pretty unforgettable especially if you spot one in close proximity. Our first time happened to be at Gondwana Game Reserve when a habituated herd walked through the lodge. They’re the size of a horse but built like an antelope for an imposing stature.

Elands are tremendous animals as they’re able to handle a wide range of habitats that covers most of Southern and East Africa. However, they’re best suited for plains and grasslands so you’ll have a tough time spotting them on safari in marshy areas. You’d think since they’re the largest antelope in the world they would be slow and lumbering, but they can maintain a trot almost indefinitely. Most impressively I’ve watched them jump clear over a large fence. If you’re trying to tell the difference between males and females it won’t be the antlers as both sexes have a pair.

Eland

Where to find Eland?


Waterbuck

It would be tough to pick the most beautiful antelope, but the waterbuck would be in the running for us. If you couldn’t tell by the name you’ll most commonly find these guys around water. They’re most common along riverine woodlands, grasslands, and forests South of the Sahara. Apparently they taste terrible, which is key in their survival.

For safari goers, you’ll find them Northeast of Botswana. They’re great subjects to photograph as you can often find them near water sources and woodlands for a great backdrop. We loved spotting waterbucks along the Zambezi and Luangwa riverbanks in Zambezi National Park and South Luangwa National Park.

Waterbuck in Zimbabwe

Waterbuck in Zimbabwe

Where to find Waterbuck?


Bee-eater

You’ll find bee-eater birds throughout Africa, and there are many different species of them. Each one dazzling and beautiful.

Bee-eaters are skilled hunters and you can see them swooping through the air catching insects mid-air. They often follow behind large mammals like buffalos or elephants and catch insects as they’re disturbed from the ground.

Where to find Carmine Bee-eaters?


Giraffe

It’s pretty tough to not love the giraffe. They’re the worlds’ tallest living land animals and have some funny look faces. For some reason, the sight of a giraffe staring at me with those big eyelashes from behind a tree is engrained in my head. It’s those long necks that swivel around to stare dead at you as you approach.

They have massive necks and legs that can reach over 6 feet tall. What surprised us the most is that there are four different species of giraffes and five subspecies. The most famous is probably the Masai Giraffe commonly seen on the plains of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara.

Giraffes tend to stick together for safety. Females hang out with their young and males together in search of a mate. Fun fact of the day you can share with people while on safari, a group of giraffes is called a tower or journey. I personally love tower.

Giraffes in Ruaha

Where to find Giraffe?


Oryx

Like the giraffe, there are actually two species of this animal on safari. There is the gemsbok found throughout the deserts and arid environments of Southern Africa and the East African Oryx. Their coats are a light grey and color and they feature distinct black markings around their face. As desert dwellers, they can go long stints without having to consume any water.

Oryx are great distance runners and even at birth, they can run with the herd that has been documented to grow up to 600 individuals large. They’ve been given the nickname the “sabre antelope,” not to be confused with sable, for their long sharp horns used in defense. Most incredibly they’ve been known to gore and kill lions attempting to the hunt the antelope.

While they’re bountiful in South Africa we saw our first oryx in Namibia. They thrive in the country and it’s pretty much impossible to take a road trip through Namibia without seeing the animals frequently along the isolated roads.

If you’re American from the Southwest it’s possible you’ve seen these animals before! As the New Mexico Department of Game Fish released 93 into the White Sands Missle Range. Since then the population has grown to nearly 6,000 individuals as they’ve flourished in the desert environment with no predators.

Oryx Kalahari Red Sand

Where to find Oryx?


Wildebeest

The actual name for this safari animal is gnus in English. However, the more common name that everyone is familiar with is the Afrikaans/Dutch name of “wildebeest.” They’re a member of the ugly five and for good reason, they’re pretty freaking ugly.

However, they put on the most amazing spectacle when it comes to safari the great migration. Year-round a monstrous herd of wildebeest roams between the Serengeti and Masai Mara in search of greener pasture. Visitors plan their safaris to watch the herds of animals up to a couple hundred thousand make river crossings and roam.

Most amazingly the average wildebeest will cover up 1,000 miles a year and they can run up to 40 mph to elude predators. You can find them in plains and savannahs throughout Southern and East Africa.

Before the Sun rises

Where to find Wildebeest?


Zebra

My all-time favorite safari animal fact is that a group of zebras is called a dazzle. I love throwing that fact around to the uninitiated simply because it’s so much fun. What’s great about zebras for safari goers is that they don’t see humans as much of a threat in parks. Vehicles can often approach the animal and you can find them frequently along road munching away on grass.

There are in fact three species of zebras that live in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve seen all three and they are the plains zebra, grevy’s zebra, and mountain zebra. The plains zebra is the most common and you’ll find them throughout grasslands in Southern and East Africa.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but they’re closely related to horses and come from the same family, Equidae. Scientists are not sure of why a zebra has stripes, but there are a couple of theories. One of them is the belief that it helps to distract or dazzle predators so it’s a form of defense. Furthermore, each zebra has a unique set of stripes just like our fingerprints so it could also be a social feature.

Zebras are also members of the great migration and have numbers that reach up to tens of thousands. They fall firmly into the category of internationally recognized safari animals.

Zebras in Tanzania

Where to find Zebra?

Zebras can be found in great numbers across parks in Africa.


African Cape Buffalo

It’s hard to pick which of the big five animals would be the most frightening animal to come across in the bush, but for me the buffalo is the easy choice. They’re known for employing the strategy of charge first – ask questions later. So, when we went on a bush walk in search of them we made sure to have the right safari clothes for the environment, and that was green in the rainy season.

They can charge at almost 35mph and are one heck of a formidable force. You better pray you never come close to one on foot as they will pummel you between their horns until you are good and dead.  There are almost no predators to these guys other than some very brave (and hungry) lions or a massive crocodile. Don’t worry you’re at least safe in a game viewer!

African Buffalo

Where to find Buffalo?


Hippopotamus

You’ve probably heard the interesting fact that the Hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa. It’s responsible for the highest amount of deaths in humans. That’s not because they’re feared predators because they’re actually herbivores. However they are very territorial and despite looking like a walking water balloon with stubby legs, but they can easily outrun most humans reaching speeds up to 19mph. They have poor eyesight, but often walk along trails at night to feed. Meaning the unsuspecting human could run right into one and instantly be impaired by a hippos razor teeth. It’s the most common reason that locals are killed by the animal in the bush – hence the most dangerous animal in Africa.

Hippos are semi-aquatic mammals and spend the majority of their time in fresh bodies of water, really anything deep enough for them to submerge themselves. This is is to protect themselves during from the midday sun and then head out.

What’s crazy is right behind the Elephant and Rhino they are the third largest land mammal. They may live on land, but their closest living relatives are actually whales and dolphins.

Where to find Hippopotamus?


Nile Crocodile

This is the main reason you don’t stand on riverbanks or lakes in Africa. It may be called the Nile Crocodile, but you can find the animal all over the continent and it is the second largest crocodile in the world behind the saltwater crocodile in Australia.  They still have the ability to deal with some salt water so you can even find them in marshlands and brackish water.

These monsters can grow to 5m or 16.4 ft length and weigh 1650 lbs. Nile crocodiles are highly aggressive apex predators who stalk prey both in and out of the water. Animals or humans who come to close to the wrong bank of water are at extreme risk of being prey to a crocodile. Only adding to their eerie predatory dinosaur mystery crocodiles can wait for weeks to even more than a month waiting for the right prey.

It’s best to not mess with these guys and just stay out of the water. Unless you feel like being crazy and want to try out a canoe safari down the Zambezi River, we’ve done that! If a crocodile ever does grab you between it’s powerhouse jaws we’ve heard you may have a chance by sticking your arm down their throat and pressing down, but I wouldn’t test it.

Nile Croc

Where to find the Crocodile?

In almost all rivers and lakes around Africa.


Ostrich

I’m still not sure whether I think ostriches are cute, or the ugliest birds in the world. The large flightless bird is native to Africa and can be found in almost every national park. Males and females are easily distinguished by their size and color. Males are black and larger, while female ostriches are mostly brown in color. You’ll often find these birds in pairs, and if you can see them running you’re in for a treat.

Ostriches in Ruaha

Where to find an Ostrich?


Warthog

Another member of the ugly five is the Warthog. Yes, although Pumba looks cute in Hollywood, the Warthog is far from adorable. The Warthog is a member of the pug family and is most often found in the savanna and grassland area of Africa. The warthog can be found in large numbers throughout Africa, although we saw the most in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

There are four different subspecies of warthogs; the Nolan warthog, Eritrean warthog, Central African warthog, and the Southern warthog. With the Southern and Central African warthog being the most common to see.

Warthogs in Zimbabwe

Where to find the Warthog?

  • Okavango Delta, Botswana
  • Masai Mara, Kenya
  • The Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Kudu

The kudu is a beautiful African antelope that is always a treat to see. There are two species to check off your list; the greater kudu and the lesser kudu. The lesser kudus are mainly found in Eastern Africa while the greater are in both southern and eastern Africa.

The male kudus have beautiful antlers that spiral as they get older. If you see a kudu with three to four spirals you know that kudu has lived a long life. A nice treat for safari goers is watching two male kudus dual with their antlers, however sadly sometimes they get so entangled they can’t disengage and will eventually die.

Kudu Kruger Park Guide

Where to find kudus?

Kudus can be found in many African national parks.


Essential Items For A Safari

There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari:

A good hat is both stylish and functional. In peak dry season there is little to provide shade, UV rays are intense and can easily burn the unsuspecting traveler. Check out our full break down of the best safari hats here!

I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.

If you’re planning on going on a walking safari, make sure to pack a good pair of safari boots.

If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of safari binoculars is a must.

Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential because you can wear whatever you want. We also go in depth on the best women’s safari clothes!

great daypack for travel is a solid idea to throw your stuff in for game drives and bush flights. Or you could try out a safari backpack.

Make sure to get travel insurance before your international trip. We like to use World Nomads!

If you want to get decent photos of wildlife on your safari to make sure to grab a camera well suited for your safari.


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