Discover Many Unique Safari Animals

Discover Africa’s magic by experiencing the safari animals that make the continent so incredibly unique, in their natural environment. A South African Safari will allow you to experience how a variety of animals interact with each other and their habitat.

What are the Safari Animals You May See while on a South African Safari?

The continent of Africa is abundantly rich in biodiversity, allowing thousands of species to coexist, across grassy plains, in desert-like environments and even in dense forest biomes.

Animals are one of nature’s most wonderful creations and they are adapted to their specific environment.

One of the best ways to view wildlife in their natural environment is to go on a South African safari, whether it be in a national park or a private reserve. The most sought-after African safari animals are found here and these parks and reserves exist to protect animals and educate people from all over the world.

Safari-goers have varying interests when it comes to the animals they would like to see while on safari. However, the phenomenal group of animals, called the Big Five, is by far the most popular request. With that being said, some safari-goers are pleased to see any animals and are not phased with checking species off a checklist.

So, what animals can you expect to see on safari? While it is not guaranteed that you will see every single animal, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites:

  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Rhinoceros
  • Warthog
  • Kudu
  • African Buffalo
  • Giraffe
  • Hippopotamus
  • Cheetah
  • Zebra
  • Impala
  • Gemsbok
  • Leopard

The Big 5 Safari Animals

The Big Five will certainly be a phrase you are familiar with, and even more so if you are a wildlife lover. This term was originally used as a hunting term in the 19th and early 20th century when professional hunters were set on getting as many trophies as possible in a short amount of time. It became a fad, where seasoned travellers would travel to Africa to shoot a massive, dangerous animal.

The Big Five thus became known as the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. The term is still used today, and thankfully ‘shooting’ is now done through a camera lens.

What Are The Big 5 Safari Animals?

The Big Five include the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and African rhinoceros. Let’s take a closer look at each of these beautiful, but dangerous, creatures:

1. African Lion

Safari Animal The African Lion

One of the most iconic African animals is the lion, also known as the king of the jungle. Powerful, majestic and fiercely beautiful are just some of the words used to describe the African lion. Lions are one of the largest members of the Felidae family and are also the most social of all the big cats. They live in groups called prides, made up of anywhere between five to twenty members.

Watch a pride of lions at Shamwari Game Reserve:

Prides mainly consist of related females and their offspring, as well as a dominant male(s). At Shamwari Private Game Reserve, we have a dominant male coalition, where two brothers mate with the females. Male lions also patrol their territory and will scent mark with their urine on trees and rocks to ward off any intruders and/or competition. Their position in the pride is constantly under threat from other males who might try to take over the pride.

Male coalition at Shamwari Private Game Reserve:

The female lions do most of the hunting. They hunt together, increasing the chance of a successful hunt, compared to hunting alone. Lions sleep for up to 20 hours a day to conserve their energy. They tend to hunt at night as their eyesight is brilliant, in comparison to their prey, and it’s also cooler than in the heat of the day. However, should an opportunity present itself, lions will not hesitate to hunt during the day too.

Safari Animals African lions hunting

A male lion can weigh up to 200 kgs, while females are slightly smaller, weighing about 130 kgs. They are tawny brown in colour and males have a mane of fur around their faces. The manes can differ in colour from one lion to the next, from blonde or brown to red or even black in colour.

The unmistakable sound of a lion’s roar can be heard up to eight kilometres away. The roar is often used to ward off unwanted visitors and as a communication tool to call other pride members.

Females have a gestation period of about 110 days, thereafter one to four cubs are born. Cubs are born blind and vulnerable, so the females keep them hidden to protect them. They are also born with darker spots to aid with camouflaging. Astonishingly, females tend to give birth around the same time and will help each other to care for the other’s cubs. The little ones suckle until they are about six months old and will start to eat meat a few months after.

Video of lionesses and cubs at Shamwari Private Game Reserve:

Safari Animals African lion cub

Many years ago, thousands of lions roamed Africa, nowadays they are found predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa. Their population is dwindling, with an estimate of 23 000 to 39 000 lions left in the wild, according to the IUCN Red List of endangered species.

There are several threats affecting their numbers:

  • Residential and commercial development
  • Agriculture and aquaculture
  • Biological resource use
  • Human intrusions and disturbance
  • Invasive and other problematic species, genes and diseases
  • Pollution

Private game reserves and national parks aim to keep lions safe and their numbers as stable as possible.

2. African Elephant

Safari Animals The African Elephant

The largest land mammal on earth is the second member of the Big Five on our list, the African elephant, scientifically known as Loxodonta Africana. These wonderfully big creatures can weigh anything from 2,5 to 7 tons and tower over most vehicles at about 3 and a half metres tall!

Safari Animals the African elephant

African elephants are grey in colour and have big ears that are about 2 metres long and 1 metre wide. Their ears radiate heat to keep them cool in extremely hot temperatures.  They have a rather odd-looking appendage called a trunk that acts as their nose. Their trunk is used for breathing, smelling, trumpeting, picking things up and drinking – it also, impressively, contains about 100 000 different muscles.  Males and females have tusks that are used for stripping bark from trees, to dig up food or roots and males also use their tusks for fighting.

Elephants love water! On hot summer days, they can spend hours swimming, splashing and playing in the water – an absolute treat if you’re ever fortunate enough to witness this on safari.

Safari Animals baby African elephant swimming

These massive animals are herbivores, eating only plant matter.  They spend about 12 to 18 hours feeding and will consume about 170 kgs of food in a day. Thus, they roam over great distances foraging for food. Their favourite trees include the Spekboom and the Acacia Karoo.

Elephants are highly perceptive and intelligent animals and form large groups called herds. They are led by a matriarch who determines the herd’s direction and pace. She also keeps the herd in check. Herds consist of cows (female elephants) and their young, while bulls (adult males) roam on their own.

An elephant cow’s gestation period is 22 months – that’s longer than that of any other mammal! Elephants give birth to one calf and at birth, calves weigh about 90 kgs and stand around 1 metre tall. Elephant calves are dependent on their mothers’ milk for the first two years of life. They will still drink milk up to the age of four or five and this is also when their tusks start growing.

Safari Animals African elephant calves

Elephants are very social animals and the herd will protect their young at all costs. They communicate using low-frequency rumbles and it is said that these rumbles can be heard over long distances. They are too soft and low for the human ear to hear. An elephant’s trumpet is an iconic sound – it is a unique sound in the bush and one you certainly won’t forget if you are on the receiving end! Elephants will trumpet and flap their ears when threatened, and despite their large appearance, they can reach speeds of 40 kilometres per hour.

Elephants are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Elephants are severely sought after for their ivory tusks. Many years ago, millions of elephants roamed the African continent. Today, there are 415 000 estimated African elephants in the wild.  Although elephant poaching seems to be on a downward trend, with significant declines in East Africa, poaching continues despite conservation efforts to save the species.

There are several threats affecting their population:

  • Residential and commercial development
  • Agriculture and aquaculture
  • Transportation and service corridors
  • Biological resource use
  • Human intrusions and disturbance
  • Natural system modifications
  • Invasive and other problematic species, genes and diseases
  • Climate change and severe weather

Elephants are kept as safe as possible in private game reserves and national parks to keep their numbers as stable as possible.

3. African Buffalo

Safari Animals African buffalo

This formidable animal is, without a doubt, a force to be reckoned with. Cape buffalo or African buffalo are notorious for being unpredictable in their behaviour. Buffalo form part of the Bovidae family and move around in large social groups called herds. There is usually one male within a herd and older males are also known to form smaller groups.

African Buffalo can reach a height of about 1 and a half metres. Males (bulls) are bigger than females (cows) and can weigh up to 700 kilograms. Both sexes have upward curved horns, however males have bigger horns that are joined in the middle to form what is called a “boss”. Males will fight for females and rank and use their bosses as a powerful weapon. Cows are reddish-brown in colour while bulls are black in colour.

Buffalo are herbivores and will graze for hours every day. They also depend on daily drinking water and are capable swimmers. They enjoy wallowing in mud to keep them cool in the summer months, as well as to discourage skin parasites.

Safari Animals the African Buffalo

Cows have a gestation period of about 11 months. Claves are protected by the entire herd from birth. The dynamics of a buffalo herd are fascinating! When it comes to protecting their own, buffalo will not back down from a threat. They work together to ward off predators, such as lions, that may try to attack their young and there have been many a fight where buffalo have come out on top. These large animals have excellent hearing and sense of smell and are thought to have an exceptional memory.

This species is listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List with a population of about 400 000 in Africa and is on the decline.

The threats affecting the African buffalo population:

  • Residential and commercial development
  • Agriculture and aquaculture
  • Biological resource use
  • Human intrusions and disturbance
  • Invasive and other problematic species, genes and diseases
  • Climate change and severe weather

Private game reserves and national parks aim to keep the African Buffalo as safe as possible to prevent them from becoming a threatened species.

4. African Leopard

Safari Animals the African Leopard

The African Leopard is the most elusive and possibly the most sought-after animal of all the members of the Big Five. They are the most widely distributed African big cat, found in many diverse habitats.

Leopards have quite a long body ranging from one to two metres long and weigh between 30 to 70 kgs, while males are also larger than females. Their colouring differs based on their region and environment and can range from pale yellow to tawny or golden brown. One common feature is that all leopards have black rosette spots covering their body. They have a long tail that is curved upward and has a white tip for cubs to identify their mothers.  Their face has white whiskers and is covered in black spots.

Leopards are solitary animals and males and females will only be found together for brief periods during mating season. Females will give birth to a litter of about three to four cubs after a gestation period of around three months. They will raise cubs on their own and will often use an abandoned aardvark hole to make a lair to keep the cubs safe while hunting for food. She will keep the cubs hidden for the first eight weeks of their lives. The cubs are at risk of predators such as hyenas and lions, so the mother will change their hiding place every few days. The cubs start to eat meat from about eight weeks old and will suckle until about three months old.

Leopards are skilled hunters. They are nocturnal and tend to ambush or stalk their prey when hunting. Their diet is extremely adaptable to the prey that is available in their environment. They have been known to eat anything from small and medium-sized antelope to snakes and baboons! These resilient creatures are also unbelievably strong and will carry their prey up trees to seek refuge and eat in peace. Contrary to popular belief, leopards spend most of their time on the ground.

Safari Animals the African leopard

Thousands of years ago, the leopard’s geographic range spanned the whole of Africa. Today, the African leopard population is on the decline, according to the IUCN Red List, with about 7 000 000 left in wild Africa.

There are several threats affecting their population:

  • Residential and commercial development
  • Agriculture and aquaculture
  • Energy production and mining
  • Transportation and service corridors
  • Biological resource use
  • Human intrusions and disturbance
  • Natural system modifications

Therefore, private game reserves and national parks strive to protect the African leopard and educate the public on their conservation.

5. Black Rhinoceros

There are two types of rhinoceros in Africa, the black rhino and the white rhino. The black rhino, scientifically known as Diceros bicornis, form part of the Big Five and is on the brink of extinction. Rhinos form part of the Rhinocerotidae family and are beautiful, large prehistoric-looking creatures.

Black rhinos are easily identifiable as they are smaller than white rhinos, weighing about one to one and a half ton! They also have a hooked lip as they are grazers that feed on leaves and twigs found in dense vegetation. Rhinos also have two horns, which are made up of nothing but keratin, a substance that is found in human nails and hair.

Safari Animals the black rhino

Black rhinos are solitary animals and are also extremely dangerous and can be ill-tempered; they will charge if threatened. Their eyesight isn’t great, but they have excellent hearing and sense of smell. Water holes and wallows are often shared but black rhinos will have their own territory. Rhinos love to wallow in mud, as it protects their skin from the harsh African sun and from parasites.

Female rhinos will give birth after a gestation period of about 16 months to a 35 kg calf. Calves will remain with their mothers for the first few years of life. Rhino calves can be incredibly vocal, making all sorts of squeaks and snorts when hungry.

Safari Animals the black rhino

Rhinos have been around for millions of years and used to roam without fear. Humans are the biggest threat to rhinos in the world of today. Poaching of rhinos for their horns have left the species in a dire situation. Nature reserves and national parks protect their rhinos with anti-poaching units, to prevent the extinction of the species. According to the IUCN Red List, black rhinos are critically endangered, with only 5 000 to 5400 left.

Other threats to the species:

  • Biological resource use
  • Human intrusions and disturbance
  • Natural system modifications
  • Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases

The Cutest Baby Animals

Have your heart stolen by baby safari animals. There’s almost nothing cuter than an elephant calf trying to figure out how to stand and use its trunk or a baby hippopotamus hiding behind mom – not to mention watching little lion cubs stalk and chase each other!

Here are some of our favourite baby safari animals in pictures:

1. A newborn elephant calf:

Safari Animals a new born elephant

Take a look at this elephant calf photo series, where an elephant calf had a whole lot of attitude at Shamwari Private Game Reserve:

2. Lion cubs playing up a storm in the rain:

Shamwari lion cubs playing

3. A baby hippopotamus standing next to mom:

Shamwari,s baby hippo

4. A white rhino calf:

shamwari baby white rhino

5. A newborn giraffe:

shamwari baby giraffe

Read all about this amazing story here:

Our Must-See Safari Animals List

There are several must-see animals that have to be on your animal list beside the Big Five. Every animal is unique, but it would be such a treat to see these species in the wild:

  • Honey Badger – If you’re lucky enough, you might just see this nocturnal creature. These tough animals will take on a challenger with ease.
  • White Rhinoceros – It’s a sad reality that this species is endangered, they are such wonderful and peaceful animals, you just must see them in the wild!
  • Serval – These rare cats are a wonder to see in the bush, if you’re lucky enough to see one!
  • Warthog – These unique creatures are a firm favourite!
  • Springbok – South Africa’s national animal is a beautiful antelope species.
  • Tortoise – A leopard tortoise is a fascinating reptile that can be seen during the summer months.
  • Dung beetle – These phenomenal creatures can navigate via the Milky Way.

Read our blog for more interesting facts on the flightless dung beetle.

Weird and Wonderful South African Safari Animals

South Africa is renowned for its beauty and wildlife. According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the country is home to over 100 000 known species of animals, plants and fungi. South Africa is made up of different regions, each home to species that naturally occur in each area.

There are many mammals, reptiles and birds that are unique and endemic to South Africa. All these creatures are uniquely wonderful:

  • Dassie (rock hyrax)
  • Cape cobra
  • Ostrich
  • Blue crane
  • Springbok
  • African wild dogs
  • Black mamba
  • Aardvark

Fascinating Animal Facts

Did you know:

  1. Elephants are the only animals that cannot jump.
  2. Giraffes have no vocal cords
    shamwari giraffe
  3. An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain!
  4. A rhinoceros’ horn is made of keratin, a fibrous protein forming the main structural constituent of hair, feathers, hoofs, claws and horns.
  5. A snail can sleep for three years.

Get the Best Safari Animal Pictures on a Photographic Safari

It’s important to remember your camera when going on safari. Each safari is unique, and the sightings will be different every time so it’s best to take your camera along. You’ll leave with many wonderful memories of wildlife encounters captures in photos.

Shamwari has a great option where you can have experts teach you the ins and outs of wildlife photography. Game viewing vehicles are rigged for photographic safari – so you can snap away when that perfect moment presents itself!

cheetah shamwari

Several Shamwari game rangers have photography as a hobby. Being out on safari every day is the perfect way to get some fantastic shots!

See a month in pictures at Shamwari Game Reserve.