Many of us dream of going on an African safari one day. There’s hardly a person out there who wouldn’t love driving in a rugged vehicle around the different African terrains, spotting the incredibly diverse collection of safari animals that each region and type of environment has to offer.
Below is the ultimate list of the top animals you can find in the wild in Africa. It is good to know ahead of all other planning which wildlife can be found where, because it’ll weigh heavily on which safari you’ll choose to book – you wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance to spot your favorites, after all!
The Ultimate Safari Animal Bucket List: African Wildlife You Must See
1. African Cape Buffalo
A member of “The Big Five” safari animals, the African Cape Buffalo can be found on safaris in Southern and East Africa, namely at the Kruger National Park or a much lesser known Katavi National Park. I saw quite a few in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater! They are large and have few predators to look out for, aside from lions and crocodiles – as well as human hunters. Thanks to their size, they’re quite impressive to see in the wild.
2. African Elephant
There are two species of elephants under the umbrella of African elephant: African bush elephant and African forest elephant, of which the former is the larger one. You can find African forest elephants only in Central Africa, but the African bush elephants are more widespread across the safaris in Africa, most notably Kruger National Park. Sadly, both of these species are considered vulnerable, threatened by loss of habitat and poaching. Elephants are also considered to be “The Big Five” safari animals.
3. African Hoopoe
African Hoopoe is a gorgeous bird species that can most predominantly be seen in South Africa. However, it has been recorded to be seen in several other countries, including as north as Sudan. There is still a lot of debate going on whether they’re a subspecies of the Eurasian Hoopoe, or of Upupa epops, or if it’s actually possibly its own species.
4. African Wild Dog
Though they largely resemble one, African wild dogs are actually not a close relative of hyenas. Of all canines native to the African continent, the African wild dogs are the largest, standing at 75cm in shoulder height at their largest. If you want to come across this expert antelope hunting, interestingly colored animal, your best bet is to head to any park in Botswana, Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and Hwange National Park.
5. Agama Lizard
Found in several African countries, the Agama Lizard is a peculiarly colored small reptile. Specifically, if you happen to catch sight of a dominant male, you’ll get to marvel at a lizard with a blue body! They’re active at any hour of the day, excluding the hottest peak of a day, and they live in social groups formed with a dominant male, subordinate males and around half a dozen females.
There are five different species of baboon, each of which is native to their own region of Africa. You can find them in a variety of different types of environments, from the savannah to hills. As baboons are so widely spread across Africa, you have a diverse choice of safaris to choose from if you wish to see them.
Cheetah is not only the fastest land animal out there, but it’s one that’s stunning to look at thanks to its beautifully patterned fur. Your best bets to spot a cheetah is at the regions of Serengeti and Kalahari. However, you may get lucky and see them in some mountainous areas near Sahara. Cheetahs have been widely presented in different forms of art, partially due to the fact that in the past humans would tame and train them for hunting purposes.
8. Crowned Crane
Honored the position of being Uganda’s national bird, there are two kinds of crowned cranes to be found in Africa: the grey crowned crane and the black crowned crane. They are the only types of cranes capable of roosting in trees, making them quite peculiar in their species family. You can find black crowned crane all the way from Senegal’s Basin in West Africa to Ethiopia’s Highlands in East Africa, and going as far up north as Sudan’s savanna region. The grey crowned crane, on the other hand, likes to inhabit the regions of Uganda, Kenya, and from there to eastern South Africa, as well as from Angola’s southern region to South Africa.
Flamingo is a well-known and well-loved tall and pink (or red) of which two species reside in Africa. Flamingos are known to be largely nomadic, although there is no clear pattern behind their movements. The flamingo species found in Africa are the shortest of all the species, found mostly in Rift Valley, Namibia and Botswana, although you may get lucky and spot them in Ethiopia and Sudan as well.
Gazelles belong to the antelope species, with around 10 species considered to be under the umbrella of gazelle species. Almost all of them are native to Africa, although some can be found in parts of Asia as well. Although there are numerous gazelle species detected, all of them look very similar in build and type of antlers, with some changes in fur coloring and torso size depending on which gazelle you’re looking at. You’ll find gazelles especially in the northern parts of Africa, near and around Sahara; some rather different looking gazelles can also be found around East Africa, specifically Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Giraffes are majestic animals that have the honor of being both the tallest and the longest-bodied land animals out there. You can find giraffes on the woodlands and savannahs from Chad to South Africa and from Niger to Somalia. They are pretty common safari animals, but if you want a truly close and intimate encounter with a giraffe, you may wish to splurge for a night at Kenya’s Giraffe Manor where giraffes poke their heads through the windows while your eating breakfast.
Meanwhile, gorillas are the largest of all primates still living. For living area, these large and dark-colored majestic animals prefer tropical and subtropical forests, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa, where they cover only a small area of land, but in a variety of elevations. To see gorillas in person, you have a couple of options: there are gorilla tours arranged in Rwanda and Uganda, as well as gorilla habituation experiences in Uganda. Democratic Republic of Congo also offers some great and unique tours, however the general situation in DRC remains volatile and unstable, making it a less popular place to join a tour in.
Popular Gorilla Tours in Rwanda:
- From Kigali: 1-Day Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
- Rwanda: 3-Day Gorilla Trekking, Big 5 & Big Cats Safaris
- From Kigali: 5-Day Gorilla Trek, Big 5 and Big Cats Tour
Often endearingly called “hippo”, the hippopotamus is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal animal living in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Of all the animals on safari terrains, hippos are known to be among the most dangerous ones due to their unpredictable and temperament nature – in fact, they are considered to be the world’s most dangerous animals! As long as there’s water, the hippos will happily inhabit, whether it’s a river, a lake or a swamp. You can find hippopotamus almost anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
Though they are often presented as villains in movies and animations, hyenas are actually quite vital to the ecosystems all around Africa. They are not an intriguing animal only for their looks and vocalization, but for the fact that they contain behaviors of both canines and felines. Striped hyenas can be found in northern regions of Africa, spotted hyenas in east from Senegal to west in Somalia, and in north from southern Sudan to south in Botswana.
Impala also falls under the umbrella of antelopes, featuring a reddish brown coat and majestic, interestingly shaped horns on the male impalas. Impalas can be found all across Africa, in both savannahs and woodlands, typically near water. In southwestern Angola and northwestern Namibia you may be able to run into black-faced impalas.
There are two types of jackals inhabiting African regions: black-backed jackal and side-striped jackal. As the name suggests, the black-backed jackal has a black tail, although its black portion of the coat extends all the way to the black; meanwhile the side-striped jackal has faint and thick white stripes running along the sides of its coat. The black-backed jackal has existed since rather ancient times, and today roams the areas of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The side-striped jackal you can meet around central and southern Africa.
17. Kori Bustard
Not everyone may have heard of this bird yet, but it is actually one of the largest flying birds that calls the African continent home. Sometimes they can be more than 40 pounds! Despite of its flying abilities, it is actually a ground-dwelling bird. You can find kori bustard all around southern Africa, especially in Botswana and Namibia
Kudus are another one of antelope species, compassing of Lesser kudu and Greater kudu. The main difference between the two kudu species is that the Lesser kudu is, as you may have guessed, smaller in size than the Greater kudu. Otherwise both species possess long horns that are curled in a corkscrew shape, as well as a greyish brown coat. You can see Lesser kudu in the eastern Africa region, while the Greater kudu roams both eastern and southern Africa.
This interestingly spotted, soft furred wild cat is one you can see widely spread around the sub-Saharan region of Africa, the densest population of leopard being found in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Although similar in appearance to a jaguar, leopard is somewhat smaller, its legs being especially short in comparison to jaguars and other big cats, while a leopard’s torso runs slightly longer. Interestingly, black panthers are also considered leopards, born out of two leopards possessing the recessive melanism trait mating. Leopards are also a part of the Big Five group of safari animals.
Widely spread across the sub-Saharan Africa, lions have been seen as prominent in cultural depictions and other symbolic structures for the human kind since the times of Ancient Egypt. With male lions sporting a magnificent mane, lions are known to be more active during daytime than night time in comparison to any other big cats out there. Your top 3 spots for seeing a lion in nature in Africa is in Masai Mara, Serengeti and Okavango Delta. Of course, Kruger National Park isn’t a shabby choice, either.
21. Malachite Kingfisher
Widely spread across Africa south of Sahara, the Malachite Kingfisher is a beautiful and intriguing bird with an orange belly and a metallic blue back. You can find it around ponds and other slow moving water areas, avoiding the driest areas of the continent. Even their nests tend to be built over water.
Meerkats are a small and adorable mongoose species. They tend to live in packs consisting of 30 meerkats with a set social hierarchy showing each meerkat in the pack what their duty for their pack is. You can find them in arid and open habitats in parts of southern Africa, namely the areas of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
Apart from meerkats, there are some other types of mongoose also living on the African continent. They all have small differences in appearance to one another, in addition to which each species and subspecies of mongoose like to inhabit a different type of an area. For example, some mongoose species prefer arid areas, whereas other kinds of mongoose you can only find in a rainforest.
24. Nile Crocodile
Like the name suggest, you’re able to find this specific type of a crocodile in the Nile River. However, the Nile Crocodile is actually quite a bit more widespread than that, living in the freshwaters of 26 of the African countries. The Nile crocodile is the second largest currently living reptile in the world.
Oryx are also an antelope species, with three of the species inhabiting arid parts of Africa. Large in size, their coat is typically grey, with some black and white in their legs and face, complete with long and straight horns. Your best bet for seeing Oryx in the wild is in East Africa or southern Africa, with the subspecies in East Africa considered endangered.
These majestic birds may not be able to fly, but they are the fastest birds on land. You can find them on both sides of the equatorial forest zone, typically in savannahs. Besides the common ostrich, there is also the distinct species of Somali ostrich, which sports some differences in its coat and coloring and can be found solely in the Horn of Africa.
27. Red-and-Yellow Barbet
Another beautifully and colorfully coated bird in Africa, you can recognize the red-and-yellow barbet by their yellow belly and red head. You can find them in different regions of eastern Africa, where they prefer broken terrains like riverbeds to open land or dense woods. These birds are actually quite tame in behavior.
Part of the safari animal “Big Five”, there are two rhino species, white and black, living in Africa. Both of them possess two horns and, sadly, the black rhino is listed as critically endangered, largely due to being hunted for their horns. So, it may be tricky to spot this one—it took me two safaris! Of the two, white rhinos are larger, with the southern white rhino occupying land in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda, while the northern white rhino only has two living individuals remaining, both female and living in captivity. The black rhinos live in small parts of various countries, including Angola, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
29. Secretary Bird
A larger bird with black bottom and greyish white top, this bird can only be found in Africa. It is known to be a raptor bird, like vultures and falcons are. You can spot this bird in Sudan and South Africa.
Serval is another wild cat you can spot in all around sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Southern Africa. It has large ears and its coat is both spotted and striped. You won’t find them in rainforests, but you may come across one in around Mount Kilimanjaro.
31. Velvet Monkey (AKA: Blue-balled Monkey)
These black faced and grey coated monkeys can be found throughout Southern Africa, especially its eastern parts, nearly all the way up to the African horn. They’re an especially interesting monkey species in that they seem to share some very “human” behavioral traits, like anxiety and alcohol use. But, they are also known for their pastel blue colored private parts!
There are 10 species of vultures that you can find in different regions of Africa. Although some similarities in appearance may exist, each vulture species hold their own unique appearance. For the most part they are scavenging birds, meaning they tend to feed solely on dead animals.
Warthogs are a type of a wild pig, living in open habitats in Africa. They are recognizable by their two pairs of tusks protruding from the mouth. The species of desert warthog can be found mainly in northern Kenya and Somalia only, while the common warthog is slightly more widely spread across sub-Saharan Africa. It’s especially cool to see one that is kneeling on its front legs. This position is used for eating grasses on the low ground, because their necks are short and legs are long. They have adapted nicely by creating calloused kneepads.
Another large antelope species, these brown coated animals with slightly curved horns can be found widely in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 13 subspecies of waterbucks, all of which are keen to inhabit an area with both water and grasslands. Do note that only the male of the species possess horns.
Also known as Gnu, the wildebeest are an antelope species consisting of two species: blue wildebeest and black wildebeest. The blue wildebeest, recognizable from the black stripes on their coat, is known to offer safari goers the joy of witnessing the “great migration” in Serengeti; the black wildebeest are nomadic but possess no habit of annually migrating. However, there are also sedentary groups of blue wildebeest, which you can spot in Ngorongoro and Tarangire.
Lastly, is the zebra, a stunning white coated and black striped animal related to donkeys and horses. While the three species of zebras do not seem too picky on the type of terrain they contain, being found in savannahs and woodlands and mountainous areas – namely the territory of the mountain zebra species – they are only found in patches of southern and eastern Africa. Interestingly, the zebra species differ in their style of social behavior; with some living in stable harems, while Grévy’s zebras, the largest of the zebra species, prefer to live alone or in loose herds.
Now that you know each of these safari animals that exist in the wild in Africa, as well as their whereabouts, you can start putting together your wish list of which you’d most like to see. And based on that list, you can begin planning on checking off your dreamy travel bucket list item of experiencing a safari – one on which you can spot your favorite wildlife during! Which animal would you most like to see on a safari? Will that animal take you to booking a trip to Serengeti or Kruger or somewhere completely else?
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