Africa is home to natural wonders and unique landscapes like nowhere else. The continent naturally provides habitats and ecosystems to sustain hundreds of species of wildlife; supported by decades of conservancy effort in many countries, Africa delivers the most stunning safari experience on the planet.

Typical tourists want to see and photograph animals, but true safari enthusiasts must go to Africa not only to see wildlife but also to save them from the threat of extinction. Unfortunately some of the most popular animals in Africa are also globally threatened due to the destruction their habitats; certain species still thrive but only in certain areas.

Here is the list of 10 best animals to see on an African safari:

1. Lion

King of the Jungle is always the star of the show. Lions are the second largest living cats in the world after tigers. Among all cat species, adult male lions have distinctive thick mane of black hair on the neck and back of the head. You cannot possibly mistake an adult male lion for any other big cat thanks to that specific feature. Both female and male lions make roaring sounds, which can be heard from as far as 5 miles away.

An African lion grows to approximately 6.5 feet long (from head to rump); the tail itself is about 40 inches long. Healthy lion weighs anywhere between 265 and 420 pounds. Male lions are usually bigger that their female counterparts. African lions live in savannahs, woodlands, grasslands, and dense bushes. High grasses and vegetations in general help conceal their bodies when they are lurking preys. They prey on large mammals such as buffalos, giraffes, zebras, etc. An adult male lion functions as defender and protector of his families consisting of lionesses and offspring. Females do most of the hunting, and the King gets a portion of the meals. Male lions are generally lazy when it comes to hunting, but maybes that’s what a King does.

2. Elephant

As the world’s largest land mammals, elephants do not really have any natural predator, except human. Elephants are native to 37 countries in Africa, and found scattered throughout rain forest and sub-Saharan of Central and West Africa. While they have no natural predators, about 8% of elephants’ population is gone every year due to poaching. There are two elephant species in Africa: Savanna (Bush) Elephant and Forest Elephant. The former species is larger than the latter, and their tusks are curved out. Forest elephants’ tusks are straighter and the color is typically darker.

Elephants are social creatures and they live in small herds consisting of family groups, so they are just like you. The oldest female in the herd is the leader; she is the most experienced and every member in the herd waits for her command to migrate or move for foods and water. A herd of elephant works together to take care of the weak or wounded; the herd often appears to grieve over dead member too. In one day, an elephant can eat up to 300 pounds of food and drink 50 gallons of water. The diet consists of fruits, roots, and grasses.

3. Rhino

Black rhino and white rhino exist in Africa. Up to 98% of all black rhino population is concentrated in four different countries including South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe; some black rhinos are found in Cameroon and Kenya as well. White rhinos are also found in South Africa, and recently have been introduced to Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

Both black and white rhinos look like prehistoric creatures, because in fact they are. Similar to elephants, adult rhinoceros have no natural predators, expect human. Rhinos can gallop up to 30 miles per hour despite their poor eyesight. However, their sense of smell and hearing are well-developed. If you see a rhino galloping to your direction, the animal probably can’t see you very well; it really just does not like how you smell.

4. Leopard

Unlike lions with their prominent bulky muscular bodies, leopards are more streamlined. Among all members of the big cat family in Africa, leopard is the only one that can climb trees. Lions do climb trees in some places, but they are clumsy compared to leopards. With long body and short leg, leopards are well-adapted to climbing; they can even climb while carrying a prey with their jaws. They have tawny fur with irregular dark spots, ideal for camouflage purpose on trees.

Leopards are elusive and the most secretive among big cats. Their favorite habitats include rocky landscapes, riverine forests, and dense bush. Leopards are not picky eaters; they prey on antelopes, warthogs, fish, reptiles, and even rodents. As elusive as it can be, a leopard (or at least its prey) will make noises during the kill. Since a herd of either hyenas or lions would hear the noise and try to steal the prey, a leopard typically climbs a tree for relative safety. Given the situation, you would probably do the same.

5. Buffalo

Africa only recognizes one species of buffalo, but this species is divided into two sub-species: savanna buffalo and forest buffalo. The former lives in southern and northern savanna and lowland rain forest, but the latter is only found in West and Central Africa.

Buffalos live in herd; a single herd can consists of several hundreds. Multiple herds often congregate in thousands particularly in Serengeti during rainy season when foods and water are plenty. They seek for safety in numbers, but the odds are against them especially when lions are always lurking around the corner. Buffalos have difficulties regulating their body temperature, and this is why they eat only at night. The problem is that they have poor eyesight, so grazing at night does not sound like a brilliant idea. Instead of wearing pair of glasses just like you, buffalos compensate poor eyesight with sensitive sense of smell. Even if buffalos can’t see lions in the dark, at least they have learned to notice predators’ presence just by the smell of their teeth.

6. Zebra

One of the most common and thankfully least threatened wildlife species in Africa is plains zebra or common zebra. They are found almost in every savanna in the continent including Botswana. Physical anatomy of a zebra is almost like a horse, except that Zebras have mane of short hair and of course the stripes. Regardless of where zebras live, the stripes are just too recognizable and easily visible by any predator. The fact that the species is not endangered helps ensure the survival of all other animals that prey on them as well.

Plains zebras live in herds. Every herd consists of many groups called “harems”. This subdivision consists of one dominant stallion, a few of males, and offspring. For months or even years, harems stay together to build stable family units. While they are common in many parts of Africa, plains zebras are now extinct in Lesotho and Burundi. Apparently the stripes make them popular not only among predators, but also hunters.

7. Giraffe

If elephant is the biggest land mammal, giraffe is the tallest in the same category. Giraffes have long necks to eat leaves and fruits from tall trees that other animals cannot reach. They live in arid savanna mainly in the southern area of Sahara, but giraffes also exist in many national parks across the continent. Giraffes have “horns-like” features on their head; these are actually knobs covered with hair and skin to help protect the animals from head injuries.

Even notorious predators like lions and hyenas do not normally target giraffes. However, during long drought in the savannas when preys are scarce due to the great migration, predators sometimes attack giraffe to fulfill their hunger. Young giraffes, however, are easy targets. Only about a quarter of all giraffes survive their first year.
A giraffe feeds up to 20 hours a day. They can also survive in areas where water is scarce. They will drink if they can find water, but hydration is not always their main concern. Giraffes are big and tall, and thankfully they are not heavy drinker at the same time.

8. Cheetah

Up to 75% of cheetahs’ cubs die within months after their birth. Another serious issue is that cheetah’s natural habitats have been destroyed by nearly 90%. Thanks to conservation efforts, a number of cheetahs find stronghold in Eastern and Southern Africa. Unlike most of the big cats, cheetahs are not built for power and brutality; they are lean and thin, making them one of the fastest land animals than can run up to 75 miles an hour in short burst. Cheetahs have special pads on their claws, providing grip while they run just like a Michelin on asphalt. They have flexible spine for maneuvering and big chest like football players. Cheetah is relatively small compared to other big cats, so they hunt smaller preys too such as gazelles and impalas.

9. Hippopotamus

Africa has two hippo species: large hippo and pygmy hippopotamus. Large hippos live in the south of Sahara, while their small counterparts only live in restricted areas in West Africa. A hippo, regardless of the species, is still an enormous animal. Most of the time, you fill find hippos spending hours after hours in the water. They do come out and graze for several hours a day. The main reason is that hippos do not sweat; well, they do secrete red fluid to help protect their skins from heat. You can consider this natural sun lotion produced by the body; imagine having such ability and you won’t have to spend a dime on sunscreen anytime you go to the beach. Once a hippo comes out of its watering hole, it can cover up to 5 miles of its territory and consume 80 pounds of food at single serving.

10. Crocodile

A primordial brute, crocodile (especially Nile crocodile) is probably the most menacing reptile of them all. Crocodiles have been in existence since before the dinosaurs, and the species still exists and thrive today in Africa. They live in sub-Saharan Nile Basin, Madagascar, freshwater, swamps, and marshes too. A typical Nile crocodile grows to 16 feet long and weighs 500 pounds. In some cases, it can grow to 20 feet long and weigh more than 1,500 pounds. Crocodiles feed on antelope, buffalos, wildebeest, zebras, fish, birds, and basically anything else including human if you are too lazy to maintain safe distance.

Get on Safari and get Involved in Conservancies

Human has been the dominating party on Earth since forever. As human population grows, wildlife habitat destructions are almost inevitable to make space for every new generation. At the same time, human also has the power to prevent further devastation of forests and the environment, if we have the will to do so. Wild animals are important parts of ecosystem which also affects human survival. One of the easiest ways to take part in the conservancy efforts is to go on safari by visiting national parks and support their cause.


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