Africa is often called the birthplace of humankind, but it is also a place with fabulous animals and numerous species of wildlife.
While I am from Southern Africa, I am still amazed by the incredible variety of animals that abound in the jungles and on the plains of Africa.
I simply couldn’t help sharing some of the magical animals I saw on an African safari in the savannah, the rivers, and the forests of Africa. Get set, grab your binoculars, and let’s go animal viewing.
Africa is not only one or two countries, but it’s also made up of many different countries, and most have their own type of geography.
There are eight major physical regions in Africa, meaning Africa has many different types of topography and geography: from deserts to jungles, river deltas, and plains to mountains and hills. And as such, the animal variety is quite diverse too.
National Animals of Africa
Each country in Africa has its own national animals. Some countries share a national animal or national bird, as this particular animal is endemic to both countries. So, while the leopard is the national animal of both Rwanda and Somalia, it is also a popular animal in other countries.
The hyena is the national animal of Lebanon, which, while technically not an African country, I mention this since the hyena is such a characteristic animal of Africa.
Other national animals in African countries include the American fish eagle, the national bird of both Namibia and Zambia and the oryx, Namibia’s national animal. Another national animal of an African country is the springbuck, the national animal of South Africa.
There are many diverse species of animals in Africa, and the continent has some of the most extraordinary biodiversity of all continents in the world. Here are some examples:
Cheetahs are famous sights in South Africa’s National Parks. Still, you can also see these running like the wind in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and Namibia’s Okonjima National Reserve.
The slenderest of the big cats, the cheetah, is a high-speed killing machine, and they mostly catch and kill gazelle and springbuck. Cheetahs are also known to be more easily tamed and are much less aggressive predators than other big cats.
The more common giraffes can be seen in many of South Africa’s game reserves; smaller reserves also own several of these animals.
I had the pleasure of viewing giraffes from horseback in a South African reserve, but you can also see them in the Serengeti region. The Rothschild’s giraffes can be seen in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park.
Interestingly, a giraffe has only three vertebrae on their neck and a blue tongue.
I adore the plains zebra, and having ridden among a herd while on a horseback safari, I can attest to their fabulous presence.
You can see zebras up close when the massive herds migrate across the Serengeti region in Masai Mara. No two zebras have the same markings, and these “striped horses” are far smaller than most horses, making them exciting animals to see up close.
Wild dogs are quite something else to see, and unlike domesticated dogs, the hierarchy and pack mentality is unique and amusing to watch.
You can see wild dogs in the Madikwe Game Reserve. In other African countries, Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe have packs of wild dogs.
Wild dogs are light to medium brown with large black spots across their shaggy coats. They have large, pinned ears that are round in shape, and they howl like domestic dogs.
Take care in the rivers of Africa, where crocodiles slide silently like giant bear traps through the murky waters. You can take a leisurely view of crocodiles in various crocodile reserves.
Still, you can also see them in action during the wildebeest migration in the Mara River of East Africa when they make wildebeest and zebra run the gauntlet of death to get across the crocodile-infested water.
The Nile crocodile and the usual African crocodile are much larger than the much smaller alligators of North America.
Crocodiles are dangerous on land and in water, and they have a running speed of 12 miles per hour on the ground and 20-30 miles per hour in the water. There are over 300 fatal crocodile attacks each year in Africa.
The aardvark is an extraordinary animal, and these shy animals are known to burrow to create nests where they can rest and sleep.
Aardvarks can weigh anywhere from 88-181 pounds, and these docile animals live off insects. The aardvark burrows with their long snout into ant hills and other burrows. Their long tongue can reach up to 30 centimeters into the ant hill for a feast.
Aardvarks aren’t easy to spot. They hide in brush and burrows, and aardvarks are known to be slaughtered by poachers for medicinal and charm purposes. You can find aardvarks in national parks and game reserves in Southern and East Africa.
Impalas are some of the most common bucks in Africa. These bucks are typically prey for large predators like lions, leopards, and cheetahs.
Impala is reddish-brown, and their ears, throats, and underbellies are tufted with white hair, while their buttocks have characteristic black vertical stripes.
You can see impala at most national parks in Southern and Eastern Africa.
Another characteristic animal of Africa is the jackal, a small fox-like animal. There are three jackal species, with the Golden jackal found on the open plains, and the Striped jackal frequents water lands and marshy terrain.
The Black-backed jackal is diurnal, meaning it is seen during the day and night, so it’s more easily seen on game drives in national parks of southern and eastern lowland parks.
You’d be forgiven for believing a bonobo is a chimpanzee, but there are some differences. Bonobos are small primates, mostly found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where their numbers have significantly decreased due to civil unrest and conflict.
Bonobos are large primates, and the local people eat these animals, while their habitat is also destroyed by logging and industrial expansion. Since bonobos only reach sexual maturity after 12 years and only have one offspring every 5-6 years, the population numbers grow slowly.
The Big Fives
The larger animals are called the big five animals. Here are some of the big fives found in different African countries.
The lion isn’t called the king of the jungle for nothing.
This is one of the biggest of the big cats, and it can be seen throughout Southern African game reserves such as the Kruger National Park, the Serengeti National Park, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that lies across the borders of South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.
Lions are renowned pack hunters, and watching a hunt is a scary but exciting experience.
Another big cat is the leopard, which is much shyer and harder to spot than the lion and is primarily a nocturnal hunter.
You can see leopards lounging in trees in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa and South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
Be sure to keep your eyes open as leopards are hard to see with their spotted coats that blend into the natural foliage of the trees.
Leopards are silent killers, and they lie in wait in the brush until an unsuspecting gazelle or buck crosses paths with them before their deadly claws break necks and their powerful jaws bite through jugulars.
An animal that’s hard to miss is the elephant. I can’t get over the sheer majesty and size of African elephants. I saw elephants in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, but you can also see them in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Family units of elephants that are usually mostly female, with a bull hanging around on the fringes, can be seen marching across Africa.
However, poachers have slaughtered thousands of these huge and long-lived animals for their tusks.
Buffalo can be seen in many game reserves in South Africa but also in the national parks of South Africa, such as the Kruger National Park and Katavi National Park in Tanzania.
Unlike wildebeest, buffaloes have large and heavier horns that rest like a crown across their skulls, and these are far more foul-tempered animals known for storming tourists that get too close.
While at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, I saw White rhinoceros, but you’ll have to travel to Namibia and the Etosha National Park for Black rhinoceros.
Rhinoceros face extinction due to poaching and a lack of viable breeding pairs. Their unique single horn is made from the same material as human nails, and they are primarily peaceful herbivores. Black rhinoceros tend to be more aggressive and can attack tourist vehicles.
Where to Find African Wild Animals
Tourists and foreigners often believe that lions and giraffes walk down the roads of the cities and towns of Africa. While I giggle at this, many nature reserves aren’t too far from local towns and cities where you can view wild animals in their natural habitat.
In Botswana, you can see wildlife in its many national parks and reserves. There are also a few private game reserves with luxury resorts where you can see wild animals.
A third of Malawi is occupied by the Lake Malawi National Park, where you can see thousands of species of birds, fish, wildlife, and more.
Game parks and reserves abound in Kenya, with over 16 national reserves, 25 national parks, and six marine parks or water land that you can visit for spectacular animal views.
If you want to see gorillas in their natural habitat, then Rwanda is the best place to visit. With ten habituated gorilla families in Rwanda and several of the big five species in the national reserves and parks, Rwanda is a must-see on a safari.
The arid beauty of Namibia is captured in 12 national parks and reserves where many diverse species can be seen in the harsh beauty of the desert landscapes.
I recommend watching the famous wildebeest migration in Tanzania in one of its 16 national parks, three game reserves, and two wetland parks.
My home country is one of Africa’s best places to view wild animals. South Africa has many private game reserves with five-star accommodations, the best infrastructure, and national animals.
Game packages help tourists enjoy the best of the wilds and large cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.
Zambia features over 20 national parks, and you can explore the natural wildlife and big five animals that frequent beautiful Zambia.
No wildlife tour of Africa would be complete without Uganda’s 365 species unique to Uganda. Birds include 1100 bird species, while the only free-standing volcano in Africa has created unique ecosystems that allow animals to thrive.
In the last decade, Zimbabwe has seen a revival in tourism, and I enjoyed my trip there to see Cape wild dogs at the Victoria Falls National Park.
Africa’s Most Dangerous Animals
Africa isn’t for the faint-hearted, and you will face several species of animals that have earned reputations as killers or the most dangerous animals in the world, and here’s why:
The mosquito may be tiny, but these biting insects lead to malaria and other blood-borne diseases like Yellow Fever, Zeka Virus, and Dengue Fever, often fatal to people and animals in Africa. Mosquitoes cause 1,000,000 deaths each year.
African elephants are deadly because of their size and temper. Easily upset by locals that travel by foot and also tourists that don’t follow the guides of the African national parks, these animals that weigh over 7 tons easily trample people and vehicles, causing at least 700 deaths annually.
A simple boat ride or canoe trip down a river can end in death if you intrude on a hippopotamus’s territory. Large, powerful, and foul-tempered, hippos easily break boats in half, smash canoes, and bite people. Over 3,000 deaths are reported annually.
For an even more foul-tempered beast, the Cape buffalo is an animal to avoid when possible. These animals weigh a ton and will intentionally trample people who enter their terrain. Over 200 deaths are buffalo related each year.
Never swim in African rivers unless you are absolutely sure there are no crocs in the water. Their snapping jaws have caused over 300 deaths each year.
Similar in ferocity, lions will not tolerate humans in their territory, and lions have been known to attack tourist vehicles. Over 300 deaths result from lion attacks yearly, making lions some of the most dangerous African animals.
Strolling through the African brush can result in a deadly bite you won’t see coming. A Puff adder is one of the most venomous snakes in Africa, and it’s also renowned for being aggressive when cornered or stepped on.
If bites are left untreated, the result is a painful death from the large fangs that bite into legs, arms, and other areas these snakes can reach.
Great White Shark
Fancy a swim or a lovely surf on the African coast? Beware! Another dangerous African animal lurks in the waves—the Great White shark.
Some sharks are large enough to swallow humans whole, and these highly aggressive sharks often cause shark attacks. Death often results from blood loss, but not all shark deaths are reported, and some missing people at sea may have ended up on shark menus too.
Another dangerous African animal is the Black Mamba, the largest of the venomous snakes in Africa. If bites are left untreated, they are always fatal. Black mambas are so aggressive they have been known to bite people driving in their vehicles along country roads if their windows are down.
Native Animals in Africa (Rarest Animals)
Several rare African animals are endangered or face extinction due to poaching and natural habitat loss. Here are a few animals that are rare to see, and some are on the severely endangered list.
The black rhinoceros is endangered due to hunting and poaching. Currently, there are 3,142 mature individuals, which helps with breeding efforts to return this species to safe numbers.
With its armored scales, the pangolin is also an animal that was almost hunted to extinction. The exotic meat of pangolins is traded to international markets.
Still, since 2016 there has been a ban on the international trade of pangolins, and it is hoped this will end the mass slaughter of this timid animal.
If ever there was a “tough-as-nails” animal in the animal kingdom, it would be the honey badger. The honey badger is a fearless animal that will face the stings of millions of bees to get to the juicy honey in honeycombs, and it doesn’t seem bothered by the bite of snakes either.
However, the honey badger has often been hunted and killed by those who farm with bees, blaming the honey badger for destroying hives. So, seeing honey badgers in their natural environment is a rare pleasure.
The mountain gorillas are Africa’s most endangered animal species and the last of the great apes. While leopard is their only natural predator, humans have hunted these shy animals to the brink of extinction and destroyed their habitats in the mountains of Uganda.
The giant male gorillas known as silverbacks are highly territorial, and the great apes require large mountainous areas to allow their family groups to thrive without conflict.
The only wolf species in Africa is the Ethiopian wolf, and it has become critically endangered and is Africa’s most endangered predator.
On a trip to Ethiopia’s Bale Mountain National Park, I saw these reclusive animals in their natural habitat. I hope the breeding efforts will ensure the species’ survival, as fewer than 500 adults remain.
Penguins are usually found in the icy northern hemisphere, but Africa has its own unique only penguin species—the African penguin. My home country is where you can see these most easily along the cold southern coast and toward West Africa.
Oil spills and environmental events like fracking lead to the mass deaths of the African penguin, so their numbers are at fragile levels.
Conservation efforts have managed to keep the penguin population off the endangered list, but it requires hard work and care to treat each African penguin as special.
African Exotic Animals
Africa has many exotic animals that appear to be from another planet, such as the okapi, vervet monkeys, hippos (that suffer sunburn), a great migration of zebra, antelope, and wildebeest that face off against crocodiles and lions in the most incredible display on earth.
From the open savanna, the Sahara Desert, and dense vegetation of forests to misty mountains and deep lakes and wide water lands like the Zambezi River and the Nile River; there are colorful fish, insects, animals, and birds on display wherever you look.
The entire continent of Africa teems with life. There is the largest land mammal in the African elephant, the largest bird—the ostrich (which you can even ride if you are brave), and the first remains of early humans to be viewed.
Interact with the Western gorilla and watch out for the most dangerous mammal species on earth—the hippopotamus that kills over 3,000 people yearly.
Endangered Species in Africa
Several animal species in Africa have been hunted to extinction. Others have suffered a massive reduction in their numbers due to the trade in exotic animals as pets and for private owners who want to say they own a piece of Africa.
The Rothschild’s giraffe has been rated as vulnerable as the population in Africa is decreasing, with less than 70,000 individuals since 2016.
The black rhinoceros is considered critically endangered, and if we don’t all pitch in and help support breeding and anti-poaching efforts, this species will soon only exist in pictures.
Not far behind the black rhino, the white rhino is at near threatened species status, with just over 10,000 individuals in 2020.
This rare type of zebra is only found in Kenya and Ethiopia, with fewer than 2,000 individuals counted in 2016, making it an endangered species.
The spotted African wild dog joined the endangered list in 2012, with fewer than 2,000 individuals counted.
Grey Crowned Crane
This majestic bird is a real treat with its tufted crown and slender neck. The population has been assessed as being endangered due to a rapid decrease in mature breeding members. Fewer than 17,700 individuals were counted in 2016.
These antelope are an unusual sight, and they seem straight out of an Avatar movie. Sadly, they have already been declared extinct in Uganda, leaving only the dwindling numbers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Okapi are so shy that tracking their numbers is tough, but they have been considered endangered.
African Vulnerable Species
Many species are considered vulnerable in Africa, with some appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for vulnerable animals.
Lions are vulnerable in the wild, and many poachers still hunt and kill lions. Local communities also kill lions, as these predators will kill livestock if they invade their natural habitat.
Leopard numbers are also dwindling, and with natural game parks not always able to keep the wild animals contained, they are often shot or trapped when spotted in local communities.
The big cats of the African savannas require massive space to set up their territories. Cheetahs often face off against larger predatory animals, which accounts for the loss of their breeding space and territories.
African Bird Species
There are many magnificent birds in Africa, and in addition to natural game reserves, there are also wild bird parks throughout countries like South Africa and Namibia.
African Forest Elephants
Africa’s forests are shrinking. Logging, mining, and farming have all led to decreased forested areas where these shy and majestic animals can live. African forest elephants are slowly decreasing in population numbers.
Guinea fowl are found plentiful in countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe. Six different guinea fowl species abound.
The shoebill bird is quite an unusual sight with its massive shoe-shaped bill that they clatter together when communicating. In the wild, shoebills are found in Central and East Africa’s lowlands and swamps.
The ostrich is a livestock animal farmed to produce ostrich meat, feathers, bones, and more.
The secretary bird is a predator that prefers to hunt on the ground, and these tall-legged birds are known to catch and kill reptiles like snakes and fish in the swamplands easily.
Several species of hornbill found in Africa are scavengers, eating insects and fruit.
Fish in Africa
Africa’s large income-generating fishery sector depends on the fish off Africa’s coasts and rivers.
Some fish that are densely fished and caught include freshwater fish like cichlids. Ocean fish that are caught off the coast of Africa include sharks, tuna, marlin, and more.
Snakes in Africa
Next to Australia, South Africa has some of the most venomous snakes in the world. The Black mamba is an aggressive, large, and venomous snake known to strike at unsuspecting travelers through the African savanna.
Other venomous snakes in Africa include:
- The Puff adder
- Boomslang (which is found in trees)
- Cape cobra
- Bush viper
- The Eastern green mamba
Any of these snakes can be potentially fatal to an adult if their bites aren’t treated quickly with anti-venom.
Insects in Africa
The huge insect biome is part of Africa’s magical diversity, from colorful butterflies and worms to beetles and bees. The Dwarf blue butterfly is the smallest butterfly in the world and can be found in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Africa has many different species of spiders, flies, and grasshoppers.
What Are the Largest African Animals?
The largest species of land animals in Africa are the lowland gorillas (the largest primate), buffalo, elephant, and hippopotamus (known to capsize small boats).
What Are Some of the African Savannah Animals?
The animals of the African savannah include the lion, zebras, elephants, hyenas, aardvarks, bushpigs, and antelope.
Where Can One Find Bonobos in Africa?
In the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Where Can Golden Jackals Be Found in Africa?
Golden jackals are found in the open grasslands of Africa, specifically in Southern Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, and Kenya.
What Measures Are Being Taken for African Animals’ Conservation?
Conservation efforts in Africa must involve local communities to encourage, educate, and inform the local people about the true worth of African wild animals.
When communities are engaged in conservation efforts, building tourism facilities, rehabilitation centers, and breeding programs, the recovery of local animal populations will happen.
Africa has some of the most diverse animals in the world, which is why it remains one of the top animal conservation tourism places to visit.
Central Africa has many different animal species to see, but more extraordinary efforts are needed to protect and preserve the local animals for future generations to enjoy.
While most tourists know about the big five and want to see these animals, many species of other animals are as exciting and interesting to view on tours and in reserves.
The African animals list is extensive, and any tourist coming to Africa should see as many species as possible, from the largest land animal to the smallest of other species.
I hope you will visit Africa, as I am sure you will fall in love with the beautiful and diverse animal life that the largest continent on earth has to offer.