Top 8 African Safari Animals (and Where to Find Them!)

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When you think of Africa you imagine African safari animals. Africa conjures images of charging elephants and roaring lions.

It’s imagery that has had travelers venturing off across the wild frontiers of this expansive continent for centuries in search of adventure and to find the most elusive, dangerous or unique animals of Africa.

Today that tradition continues with the modern-day safari tour, an exciting way to see wild animals and wild landscapes.

There are so many safari animals to spot, from the classic Big Five – that’s lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards, and buffalo – to hippos, and giraffe to name just a few.

We put together this African safari animal guide to help you to figure out the best places to see the animals that you’ve always wanted to in their wild habitats.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Africa (Travel Guide)

Top 8 African Safari Animals (and Where to Find Them!)

African Safari Animals - Lion - Lina Stock

1. Lion

The mighty lion is perhaps the most iconic of all African safari animals. These fearsome beasts roam the plains in their extended pride, hunting prey across the savannas.

The lion is one of the big five safari animals and an animal that any visitor to the African continent will be in search of. While they can be spotted in many areas, your chances are higher in the following parks:

The Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

At the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, lions are found hunting and stalking prey on the plains. It’s one of the best places to spot these big cats, and in the right season, you may even witness the spectacular Masai Mara Migration passing through.

Our top recommended tours:

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The flat, wide territory of the Serengeti is the perfect hunting ground for the lion and game drives here will take you out into the Tanzanian wilderness in search of these beasts, who you may be lucky enough to spot stalking or hunting their prey.

Our top recommended tour:

The Okavango Delta, Botswana

Lions are usually found on wide, open plains were they can chase down prey, but in Botswana the lions have taken to the waters of the Okavango Delta, living and hunting amongst the reeds and rivers of this beautiful part of Africa.

Our top recommended tours:

Rhino in Africa

2. Rhino

The magnificent rhino is one of the most endangered of the big five safari animals in Africa. There are two species of African rhino, white and black, and both are unfortunately hunted for their ivory horns by illegal poachers.

Southern and eastern parts of Africa are the best regions to spot these creatures in the wild, with most concentrated in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. Rhinos are elusive, but if you spend enough time in Africa, you will see one. Your chances are highest at the following parks:

Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the most famous safari destinations on the African continent, being home to all of the big five animals and much more. It’s one of the best and most accessible places to potentially see the black rhino, and if you are extremely lucky, even the much rarer and more endangered white rhino too.

Our top recommended tours:

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is also home to all the big five animals, and like Kruger, it’s an excellent location to spot the endangered rhino too. Hwange is also easily accessible, and the huge area gives rhinos a wide-ranging territory, and give visitors more chance of seeing more of them.

Our top recommended tours:

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Namibia’s rhino population, black and white, is consistently on the rise. Due to extensive protection efforts, the animal has been brought back from the brink of extinction and is now slowly beginning to recover in numbers, especially within the boundaries of Etosha National Park.

Our top recommended tours:

We also had crazy good luck seeing rhinos in both Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe and Nakuru National Park in Kenya.

African Safari Animals - Juvenile Elephant

3. Elephant

The elephant is another emphatic African animal that evokes all the adventures of the continent in visitors who are lucky enough to see them. They are graceful yet huge and occasionally unpredictable.

Many countries are home to large elephant populations, however, visiting certain places will dramatically increase your chance of spotting one.

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Our favorite place to watch elephants in Africa is Hwange National Park. The concentration of elephants here is unrivaled, with numbers up to 30,000 within the park boundaries at any given time.

Our top recommended tour:

Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe in Botswana is home to thousands and thousands of elephants. In fact, it’s possibly the best place in the world to be guaranteed a sighting. One of the best safaris is to take to the rivers of Chobe on a boat cruise to see the elephants lining the riverbanks.

Our top recommended tours:

Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

As the name would suggest, Addo Elephant Park is an excellent location to see elephants. The area is a prime example of successful conservation efforts, as the park was established to protect the eleven remaining elephants in the 1930s. Now there are over 600 wandering within the boundaries.

Our top recommended tours:

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The Serengeti is one of Africa’s prime elephant habitats. Tanzania’s most famous national park is actually so safe for elephants, that their numbers are dramatically increasing here year after year. Combined with opportunities to spot other safari animals and to even see the huge wildlife migrations at certain times of the year, Serengeti National Park is an excellent location to find elephants.

Our top recommended tours:

Cape Buffalo in Africa

4. Cape Buffalo

The African Buffalo is one of the most unpredictable animals you might encounter on safari. This huge beast has few predators and has even been known to take down lions and even crocodiles. Because of its imposing size and behavior, it’s one of the big five safari animals.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

This Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters in the world, and it’s also one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions. All the big five are found here, and in particular, the chances of seeing large herds of buffalo roaming the crater’s edge and vast caldera are high.

Our top recommended tours:

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

This national park was one of the first areas of African land to be protected as a reserve, not for hunting but for conservation and tourism. That tradition continues today, and amongst the flourishing wildlife are found herd after herd of buffalo.

Our top recommended tours:

Hluhluwe Game Reserve, South Africa

The buffalo is found across the Hluhluwe Game Reserve in South Africa and is one of the most accessible places in Africa to spot one of these huge and powerful animals.

Leopard in Africa

5. Leopard

The elegant, fast and deadly Leopard is the last of the big five in this guide. The spotted big cat is a distinctive and powerful animal, one that stalks its prey and catches them with incredible bursts of speed.

Finding these creatures hunting or stalking in the wild is a humbling experience but you really have to be lucky to see one. We’ve spent a total of 6 months traveling in Africa and have been on countless safaris. We’ve only seen a leopard once.

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Leopard’s are found in large numbers within Kruger National Park, and many of these usually shy animals are completely accustomed to safaris, meaning that a trip here is more than likely to result in a sighting.

Our top recommended tours:

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Watching Wildlife Southern Africa (Travel Guide)

The Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The Masai Mara National Reserve is home not only to lions but to leopards too. Here they stalk the plains at night, and a safari at the right time may result in a sighting in more wild conditions than at Kruger in South Africa.

Our top recommended tours:

Amboseli National Park, Kenya

This Kenyan national park is situated in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and the famous mountain forms an impressive backdrop to this area of natural beauty. Leopards are among the many animals found thriving in the area.

Our top recommended tours:

Hippo in Africa

6. Hippo

There’s no other animal in the world quite like the hippo, and this impressive yet powerful animal can’t be missed when on safari. The hippo spends most of its life on the water and despite its fearsome teeth and dangerous reputation, it grazes on riverside grass for much of the day.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

The vast wetlands and network of rivers and watering holes of the Okavango Delta are possibly the best place in all of Africa to spot hippos in the wild. The animals are found along the waterways and on the lakes, and a sighting can be pretty much guaranteed.

Our top recommended tours:

Zambezi River, Zambia

A river safari along the Zambezi is one of the most exciting ways to see hippos in Africa. The long Zambezi is home to thousands of hippos, and the beautiful river setting can’t be matched anywhere else.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Watching Wildlife East Africa (Travel Guide)

St Lucia Wetlands Park, South Africa

The wetlands of St Lucia are home to South Africa’s largest hippo population, and it’s the perfect place to see these large creatures. Be careful though, as there are so many they sometimes wander into nearby towns and villages and can be seen simply strolling along streets.

Our top recommended tours:

Giraffe group in Africa

7. Giraffe

The strange, bizarre yet wonderfully elegant giraffe is a must-see animal while on safari. The beautiful, long-necked creature will be found on open plains reaching for the tallest branches on the tallest trees, a sight to wonder at in pure amazement.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Like the elephants of Etosha, giraffes also have increased exponentially in numbers at this Namibian national park. It’s all due to successful conservation efforts, and giraffes, as well as other wildlife, are flourishing here.

Our top recommended tours:

Arusha National Park, Tanzania

This national park is unique because it’s one of the few places that will allow walking safaris. If you are lucky, ranger-guided walking tours will bring you close to these magnificent animals.

Our top recommended tours:

Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Tanzania is known for its large giraffe populations, and Selous Game Reserve is a huge wilderness, home to an abundant population and just waiting to be explored by travelers on safari.

Our top recommended tours:

Mountain Gorilla in Africa

8. Mountain Gorilla

If you talk to any adventurer and ask them what one of their top trips was, they will likely tell you gorilla trekking in Africa, if they have done it. If they haven’t, I guarantee you it is on their bucket list.

There is only one place to see this animal in the wild and it is in Africa. They reside in the jungles that spew over the shared borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.

It is possible to see them in all three countries, but the best trekking is done in Rwanda into Volcano National Park on the edge of the Virunga region.

Our top recommended tours to see gorillas:

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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1 thought on “Top 8 African Safari Animals (and Where to Find Them!)”

  1. Hi,

    I read your article about the big five safari in Africa and it is so informative and interesting. Thanks!!

    I would like to mention that the small five safari is possible to experience in Madagascar (African’s country), visitors will get the opportunity to spot lemurs ( the oldest worlds’ primate), chameleons,geckos, giraffe necked weevil, varieties of native frogs in the wild. Lemurs can be spotted in differents area in the big island of Madagascar cause there 104 species of them there and 65% are night active. Each area has their own specific lemurs, from the rainforest to the dry decidous forest.

    Best wishes,

    Nandih A.


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