Most first-time safari-goers or casual travelers ask us what animals live on a safari. Not being able to spot animals on an African safari will make your trip less exciting.
After managing countless safari tours, I've seen various species of animals roam around the vast and beautiful land of Africa. I'm listing the Big Five safari animals and other crowd favorites you shouldn't miss on your trip.
What Animals Are on a Safari?
Safaris house a variety of animals, with lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos being the most prominent. Other significant animals on a safari include giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, wild dogs, and cheetahs. Some areas also have hippos, kori bustards, hyenas, and mountain gorillas.
The African continent is one of the most diverse places on earth regarding game viewing. With its variety of habitats and ecosystems, you're sure to be amazed at the fantastic wildlife here! Knowing what animals you can see on a safari will be the highlight of your stay.
The Big Five Safari Animals
Let's start with the most famous — the world-renowned "Big Five". Your African safari trip wouldn't be complete without seeing lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos.
During the colonial period in Africa in the late 1800s, trophy hunters coined the term Big Five to refer to the most challenging animals to hunt. Fortunately, conservation efforts over the years have progressed in keeping them safer in their natural habitats and away from hunters.
Scientifically known as Panthera leo, the African lion reigns supreme as the most dominant predator in Africa. Famously referred to as the King of Beasts, they hold the second spot in size among the big cats globally and typically reside in social groups called "Prides."
Where to spot African lions: The majority of Africa's lions live in the East African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. You may also see them in Southern African countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Zambia. If you want to observe them in their element, the optimal time to do so is sunrise or sunset.
The Panthera pardus pardus, or African Leopard, is the most sought-after of the Big Five. It is a proficient predator that can be difficult to detect in its natural environment. With their impressive agility and muscular build, leopards are exceptionally strong climbers, able to take their kills up high into the trees.
Where to see African leopards: I recommend visiting South Africa's Kruger National Park or Botswana's Moremi Game Reserve to spot leopards. During safaris, encountering a leopard is a unique and remarkable experience due to its elusive behavior. These creatures are solitary and mainly active at night, taking cover in trees and dense bush during the day.
Rhinos are undoubtedly fascinating creatures that once roamed abundantly in Africa. There is a misguided belief that rhino horn has medicinal properties, which has resulted in a high demand for it through poaching. This has made rhinos an endangered species and among the rarest African safari animals to observe nowadays.
Where to locate African rhinos: The Etosha and Kruger national parks, as well as the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, are among the best places to see African rhinos. These animals are browsers and consume food from short trees and bushes. Thus, they are quite challenging to detect unless you have an expert guide with you.
The African elephant, or Loxodonta africana, is another favorite among the Big Five safari animals. They are among the most famous sightings of the Big Five on safaris. Their sheer size is breathtaking when viewed in an open vehicle or on a walking safari.
Where to spot African elephants: You can locate African elephants at the Chobe, Hwange, and Kruger national parks. They are highly sociable and adaptable to various natural environments, making them easy to spot in many regions.
African Cape Buffalo
Completing the list of the Big Five animals you'll see on a safari is the African Cape Buffalo. Seeing a herd of Cape Buffalo will leave a lasting impression for years. Buffalos are quite elusive, so be sure to have an expert tracker guide you.
Where to see African buffalos: The best place to experience close-up viewing of safari rhinos include the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Rhinos often graze on grasses or wallow in mud while gathering in herds of up to several hundred.
Other Animals to See on African Safaris
Africa boasts a diversity of wildlife and scenery. Aside from the Big Five, there are other crowd-favorite animals you'll see when you go out for game drives.
As social creatures, giraffes are a popular draw for safari enthusiasts due to their majestic presence. Seeing these stunning animals in their natural habitat is an unforgettable adventure that instills awe and wonder in any safari experience.
Where to locate giraffes: You can easily see giraffes at the Meru, Murchison Falls, and Hwange national parks. They frequent savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands for food and open water sources.
The Zebras in Africa have a unique black and white striped coat, making them the most dazzling animals on the continent. They are among the favorite because safari game vehicles can often approach them whenever you see them munching away on grasslands.
Where to spot zebras: Game drives at the Etosha National Park in Namibia, Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are the best ways to spot zebras.
Wildebeests are part of the Great Migration. This is why it's crucial to plan when to go on an African safari to make sure you catch the river crossings. The sight of thousands of wildebeests moving in unison is truly awe-inspiring and can leave a lasting impression on those visiting the savannas of Africa.
Where to see wildebeests: You can witness the continuous movement of wildlife from Tanzania's Serengeti to Kenya's Maasai Mara. During walking tours and game drives, you'll observe that wildebeests tend to stay in short-grass plains and bushy savannas.
Witnessing the awe-inspiring sight of wild dogs in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. Their remarkable intelligence and intricate social structure make them one of the most captivating animals to observe and one of Africa's most successful hunters.
Where to locate wild dogs: Expect regular sightings of wild dogs at the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, and the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa.
Cheetahs are part of the Magnificent Seven, along with the Big Five and wildebeests. These animals are truly breathtaking with their graceful beauty and remarkable speed. Just observing them in their natural habitat is a captivating and unique opportunity that should not be missed!
Where to spot cheetahs: Add the Etosha National Park in Namibia, the Kalahari Plains in Botswana, or the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya if you have cheetah-sighting on your safari bucket list.
Hippos are semi-aquatic safari animals that like to keep cool in the water or mud. Despite their calm demeanor, hippos tend to be aggressive. Be sure not to approach them, especially if you don't have a guide.
Where to see hippos: Hippos typically lounge in ponds, rivers, and lakes before grazing on grass. You can easily spot them in Zambia's Zambezi River, Botswana's Okavango Delta, and Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park.
Your safari game drive won't be complete without seeing a kori bustard, the world's heaviest flying bird. They are pretty easy to spot because of their wide wingspan.
Where to locate kori bustards: You'll often see kori bustards eating along grasslands and savannas. Visit the Etosha National Park in Namibia, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and the Kruger National Park in Kenya for the ultimate birdlife viewing experience.
Mountain gorillas are among the rarest animals on an African safari. They live in small areas of forested mountains, which is why most tours have strict regulations about visits. This is also one of the reasons why African safaris can be so expensive.
Where to spot mountain gorillas: You'll need to hike into the forest for a close encounter with mountain gorillas. The top places to see mountain gorillas include the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Hyenas are among the most misunderstood and under-appreciated safari animals. However, they are skilled scavengers and intelligent hunters, often hunting in packs. Seeing them in their natural habitat as predators will help you understand their role in the diverse wildlife of Africa.
Where to see hyenas: Packs of hyenas live in Botswana's Chobe National Park, South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, and Uganda's Kidepo Valley National Park. They are usually active at night. However, you can generally see hyenas roaming around, especially during the early morning and late afternoon.
What Is the Largest Animal I Can See on a Safari?
The African savanna, bush, and forest elephants are the largest animals on safaris. These mammals can weigh around 2,000 to 4,000 pounds.
How Can I See the Animals on Safaris?
You can mainly see animals on safaris through a traditional 4x4 game drive. Depending on your chosen tour, you may spot wildlife through hot air balloon rides and walking safaris. It also helps to have a skilled and professional guide who can track animals.
Do Animals Live on the Safari?
There are two common habitats where animals live on a safari: grassy plains and flooded wetlands. For instance, lions and giraffes stay on the grassy plains of Serengeti, Tanzania. Meanwhile, buffalos and cheetahs roam the flooded wetlands of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
From identifying animals to locating them in their natural habitats, a luxury safari tour from Find Your Africa will ensure a safe and unforgettable safari experience. As an African safari specialist, I work with only the most knowledgeable and experienced guides to ensure you won't miss African wildlife, especially the Big Five.