8 incredible African safari animals and where to see them

A safari adventure is an unforgettable and humbling experience that will reconnect you with the natural beauty of our world. For those that love animals and sunny climes, there are few holidays more appealing.

If you’re wondering where to travel next, then check out these 8 incredible African safari animals and where to see them…

1. Lion

Known as The King of Beasts, the Lion is one of Africa’s most iconic predators – that many of us only dream about seeing up close. Once upon a time, it was almost guaranteed that you would spot a lion whilst on safari in Africa, but with only 20,000 of these magnificent beasts left in the wild, lion encounters on the continent have become increasingly treasured. 

Stumbling upon a lion on the African plains is a completely unique, surreal experience that will leave you with conflicting feelings of exhilaration and fear. You’ll never forget the fluttery feeling in your stomach as you see a pride of ten or more lions gently padding down a deserted dirt track, or lock eyes with a magnificent male lion lounging in the distance. These animals are so powerful yet so regal, that you will find yourself mesmerized by the intensity of their presence. You might even get the urge to pinch yourself just to see whether you’re dreaming, whilst you try to work out how any animal can be so stunning yet so ferocious at the same time.

If – like us – the lion is number one on your list of animals to see whilst on Safari in Africa, then by choosing to safari in one of Africa’s lion hotspots, you’ll be increasing your chances of creating memories that will leave you slack-jawed long after your encounter is over.

Head to Serengeti National Park – Tanzania’s largest Lion sanctuary – home to over 3,000 of these beautiful creatures, for an adrenaline-fueled adventure.

2. Hippo

The sheer size of the hippo makes them a feast for the eyes out on a safari adventure. This funny-looking creature is the second largest land animal on Earth (after the elephant!) – and one hippo can weigh as much as three small cars! This is perhaps unsurprising, when we consider that they can gulp down 35kg of their favourite leafy grub in a single evening.

Hippos are wondrous animals because despite their extremely large size, they’re great swimmers and can spend up to 16 hours a day in the water keeping cool. They can also hold their breath for up to five minutes at a time, with their ears and nostrils folding shut to keep the water out – incredible!

Even though they’re herbivores, hippos are some of the most aggressive and dangerous mammals in the world with jaws so powerful, they can snap a canoe in half. You might think they look quite peaceful flapping about in the water, but get too close to a mother and her young and you could feel the wrath of a very angry hippo – they’ve even been known to take on a trespassing lion or two. Being in close proximity to such a large and powerful beast can be both exciting and scary, but with a knowledgeable tour guide who can keep you safe, you’ll have an awe-inspiring safari experience.

Like lions, hippos are in decline as they face habitat loss and poaching (for their meat and ivory canine ivory teeth), but you’ll find the world’s largest population of hippos in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley National Park.

3. Mountain Gorilla

If you’re thinking about going on a safari, then it’s probably a good idea to see this stunning, statuesque creature whilst you still can. The mountain gorilla is currently the largest living primate, but sadly there are now only around 1,000 left in the world due to a combination of poaching, war and habitat destruction, making their fragile future very uncertain. Even sadder is the fact that you’ll never even get the chance to see them in the zoo as they cannot survive in captivity – so that’s more of a reason to make the trip to visit them.

Observing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is fascinating because they behave so much like humans that it’s uncanny! With a 98% DNA match with us, it’s not completely surprising that they have human emotions – meaning they can cry when hurt and laugh when tickled. It’s so intriguing to watch these intelligent, emotional creatures – who’re genetically so similar to – walking on four limbs and preparing jungle nests for infant gorillas who are rolly-pollys down mountain slopes in the forest. We’re so alike yet so different, and seeing these strong primates in their natural habitat can be a humbling experience which reconnects us with our natural origins.

There are only two countries left in the world where you can see these rare and gentle creatures – Rwanda (Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park) and Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park). It’s important that we don’t take the existence of these incredible animals for granted – and that we see them whilst we still can! 

4. Cheetah

Why not get up close and personal with the fastest land mammal in the world? A cheetah can reach 122km/h in just three seconds – rivalling some of the top sports cars made by Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari. To see a cheetah in the flesh is a great privilege as they’re one of the most stunning and elusive animals in Africa.

Appearances really can be deceiving and with their slender, elegant frame and beautifully patterned coat, it’s hard to believe that these pretty cats can catch, kill and feed on gazelles and wildebeests.

Once you get to know the Cheetah, it’s easy to fall in love. Unlike other big cats this gorgeous feline never roars; it only purrs or chirps to communicate with others in it’s coalition, which is rather adorable. Cheetahs’ bad eyesight and climbing inability also mean that they aren’t really good at much other than running – which is a good job too as they’re often preyed on by lions and other big cats (a chase that really is a sight to behold!).

With Cheetahs now almost completely extinct in Asia, one of the best places to try and spot these gorgeous cats is the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. With its vast expanse of grasslands and open plains, it’s the perfect place for chasing down a kill at top speed.

5. Giraffe

Let’s face it – the giraffe is a peculiar-looking animal, which is what makes seeing it out in the wild so much more fun!  With it’s endearing expression, long neck and unique patterning, Africa’s gentle giant is one animal that really is like no other (and it’s silhouette looks beautiful against the backdrop of the African plains!). This peaceful plant-eater is the tallest mammal on Earth standing at around four to five metres tall.

When you spot these long-legged beauties out on Safari, it might look like they’re just cruising around munching treetops. But, did you know that they’re possibly one of the world’s lesser known pollinators? It’s thought by some scientists that whilst a giraffe is eating, genetic material from flowering plant life gets stuck to its muzzle and ends up being transferred from tree to tree – meaning that it’s actually playing a helping hand in the process of pollination!

Giraffes are also fascinating to watch in general – have you ever seen a giraffe try to drink from a puddle on the ground? It’s so long that it has to awkwardly shuffle and splay its legs to be able to reach, which is quite endearing to watch.

So where can you see these elegant giants you might ask? A couple of the best places to see giraffes up close is Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and Etosha National Park in Namibia.

6. African Elephant

The reasons for making the African elephant a must-see on your safari are simple – not only are they the world’s largest land mammal but they also have a huge brain to match, making them highly intelligent and fascinating to watch.

Just like humans, elephants are emotional creatures and have been known to cry following the loss of a loved one, or when they’re in pain. Because elephants have emotions, their bonds with other elephants are incredibly strong. These gentle giants tend to stick together, always coming to one another’s rescue and regularly showing affection with their trunks (when they say hello to one another, their trunks become intertwined!). Astonishingly, they can also identify up to 100 of their friends, based on their call sounds alone.

Elephants are also like humans in the way that their babies stay with their mums for a much longer period of time (up to ten years) before becoming fully independent. One of the best sites you might see when out on safari is an awkward baby elephant stumbling after his or her mum!

You’ll never appreciate the sheer size of an elephant until you’re standing in front of one, wondering how any living thing could even get to that size. So if you’re eager to see one up close, then head to Chobe National Park in Botswana – it has the largest elephant population in the whole of Africa!

7. Painted Dog

The Painted Dog (sometimes known as the African Wild Dog) is Africa’s second most endangered carnivore; best known for its long legs, loyal nature and unusual fur pattern. It’s failed to ever become domesticated by humans, remaining loyal to its species and having little trust in anyone outside of its pack.

Painted dogs are very intelligent, organised hunters who are fascinating to watch whilst out on safari. They travel in huge packs and before every hunt, the dogs playfully circulate among one another touching and making high pitched noises until they’re excited enough to go out and get their dinner! If they become separated whilst out on a hunt, they put their head down low and make a haunting “hoo, hoo” sound until they are brought back together.

If you’d love to see these little hunters in action then The Okavango Delta in Botswana has one of the largest and most stable Painted Dog populations in Africa.

8. Wildebeest

The Wildebeest (sometimes called the Gnu) is the star of a world-famous migration that takes place between Tanzania and Kenya every year. The most unusual things about these animals are that they spend their lives travelling in a big circle around Africa depending on what the weather is doing.

It’s usually around June time every year when over 1.5 million wildebeests move across the dry Serengeti desert to Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of food and water. Once the climate in the Serengeti becomes less dry – which is usually in January/February time – they migrate back again. This might sound like frenzied madness but, wildebeests actually have what is known as ‘swarming intelligence’ which is where they all decide to tackle an obstacle as one unit – so some would say that’s actually pretty smart!

Many wildebeests don’t survive the migration either, due to dehydration, or because they are eaten by predators – but the ones who do gather their strength and go on to reproduce. And as they’re constantly moving, a wildebeest’s babies are often born, only to stand up minutes later and run beside their mother in the herd. There’s nothing like seeing a new-born get up and run, making for a jaw-dropping safari experience!

If you’d like to see The Great Migration in full swing then visit the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya around June time (although it’s important to remember that the migration depends on rain, which can be unpredictable!).

Have you seen any of the animals on this list? Or think there’s room for one more? Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.

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