From the dusty dunes of the Sahara Desert to the blooming grasslands of the Serengeti, Africa is full of amazing wildlife. Thousands of species of unique animals call Africa home. Here’s a look at a few you won’t find anywhere else!
Towering over the savanna with its unique elongated neck and brilliantly patterned coat, the giraffe is one of Africa’s most iconic species. They can reach heights of up to 18 feet making them the world’s tallest mammals. Giraffes use their incredibly long (up to six feet) necks to reach vegetation that is typically off-limits for most other mammals like acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot trees. They can consume hundreds of pounds of leaves, seeds, and fruits per week.
While giraffes once roamed large swaths of land across the continent, today, they are mostly found scattered throughout various protected areas of Central and Southern Africa. This is mainly due to poaching and habitat loss.
Giraffes are truly one-of-a-kind, these graceful giants are unmistakable as they move across the savanna in herds, which are aptly known as towers. Spotting a giraffe is an extraordinary sight and on many a traveler’s bucket list. While you may find a giraffe at your local zoo, seeing one in its natural environment can only be done in one place, the beautiful savannas of Africa!
A type of wild pig only found in Africa, the warthog is a charismatic creature, known for its big tusks, frazzled hair, and hearty appetite. Famously depicted as the beloved cartoon character, Pumbaa, in Disney’s The Lion King, the real-life warthog is a little less friendly, but just as hungry as its cartoon counterpart!
Warthogs spend their days roaming the savanna in search of food, of pretty much any kind. They are opportunistic eaters, feeding on everything from vegetation, roots, and tubers to insects and other small invertebrates. They’ve even been known to scavenge off leftover carcasses, eat stones, and raid farmer’s crops. If it’s somewhat edible, a warthog will eat it!
While they are seen as a nuisance to many local communities (due to their ability to destroy crops), warthogs are an important part of their native ecosystems. They serve as a prey species for many local predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas. They also aerate the soil with all their digging and rooting, which helps with plant growth and provides free pest control. Warthogs are the underdogs, or “underpigs” of the savanna!
Known for their sleek, muscular bodies, sharp expressions, and telltale spots, cheetahs are one of Africa’s most iconic big cat species. Deemed the fastest land animals on earth, cheetahs can go from 0 to 60 mph in a mere three seconds! These speedy felines use their impressive skills to chase down fast prey like impalas and gazelles.
Historically, cheetahs were widespread throughout Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Asia. Unfortunately, habitat loss and poaching have taken their toll. Today, they are only found in small subsections of the African continent, mostly in grasslands, but some are also found in the Sahara Desert. The rapidly declining cheetah population has conservationists concerned this species is on the brink of extinction, leading to calls for further land protections.
Africa is known for its extraordinary wildlife, and the cheetah is no exception. While you may find one in a zoo or big cat rescue stateside, there’s nothing like seeing one of these mystical felines take on their top speed on the open grasslands of the beautiful African savanna!
Another iconic African species, the zebra, needs no introduction! These stripy, horse-like creatures are found throughout Africa’s eastern and southern regions. Part of the Equidae family, zebras are closely related to horses and donkeys. They are incredibly social animals, living in groups and working together to protect their young and ward off predators.
Always on the move, zebras travel regularly, migrating in herds aptly known as dazzles for their almost kaleidoscopic visual effect. Some zoologists believe this phenomenon is meant to confuse predators, making it harder to single out a zebra from the bunch. Throughout their travels, zebras play a vital role in their ecosystem. Their grazing helps maintain and fertilize the land, making way for new, nourished growth while eliminating insects. Zebras are also a main food source for many of Africa’s big cats, such as lions, cheetahs, and leopards.
Their unique looks and ecological importance put zebras near the top of the list when it comes to Africa’s most cherished wildlife. Outside of a small town in California where an unlikely herd of former zoo zebras has taken up residence, Africa is the only place you can see these amazing creatures roam freely.
1. African Lion
There is no animal more synonymous with Africa than the mighty lion. These majestic felines are prominently symbolized throughout African art, culture, and folklore. Known for its piercing eyes, intense roar, and never-back-down attitude, the African lion truly lives up to its nickname, “the king of beasts.”
Historically, these fearless predators roamed the entire continent of Africa (plus parts of Europe and Asia), but today, lions are mostly found in sections of savanna throughout the Sub-Saharan region. They are the most social species of big cats, living and raising their young together in groups known as prides. Lions also work together to hunt and take down large prey, a feat not normally seen in other species of wild cats.
While lions sit at the very top of the food chain with no natural predators, they are not without threats to their survival. The biggest danger to lions is humans. Sadly, humans have single-handedly reduced the African lion population by 43% in just the last two decades. Lions face a myriad of threats from humans, including habitat loss, agricultural conflicts, and poaching. Luckily for the lions, there are plenty of humans on their side as well, from wildlife biologists to anti-poaching task forces.
From the Serengeti to South Africa, the majestic beauty and spirit of lions remain unmatched. They are arguably the number one species that visitors to Africa hope to see on safari.