The word ‘Africa’ is an almost illustrative one, that usually goes hand-in-hand with mental depictions of vast savanna plains dotted with vast herds of exotic animals.

The majority of international tourists visit the continent to go on safari, to experience true wilderness and for intimate encounters with some of the world’s most incredible wild animal species. Most of which are unique to Africa.

Here Are The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them:

Lion

Seeing a lion in the wild is one of the most humbling experiences you can have while on safari in Africa. These majestic big cats are the continent’s apex predator, capable of bringing down prey much larger than themselves.

Lions are one of the most social wild cat species, living in prides of between 3 and 10 individuals. Together, lionesses carry out the majority of the hunting while helping each other with raising cubs, while the males patrol through their territory and protect against invaders.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
Lion coalition in Kruger National Park

Whilst witnessing a hunt is the ultimate prize, you’re most likely to see these big cats dozing off under a shady acacia tree. Lions sleep for an average of 20 hours a day, and are most active at dawn and dusk.

Unfortunately, lions are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and estimates show that their population could decline by more than 5% over the next 20 years. Hunting, poaching and habitat loss are the primary threats facing wild lion populations in Africa.

The best places to see lions in Africa:

Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, South Africa

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

READ NEXT: THE 6 BEST PLACES TO SEE LIONS IN AFRICA

Elephant

There is nothing more awe-inspiring than seeing an African Elephant in the wild. As the largest living land animal on earth, their sheer size alone is enough to leave most people speechless. However it’s their overwhelming sense of consciousness and wisdom that draw many in. As a keystone species, elephants play an irreplaceable role in the ecosystems in which they live.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
Elephant family herd walking together

Elephants are found in 37 countries across Africa and thrive in a range of different habitats, from lush wetlands and arid deserts to dense rainforests. They live in large family herds, led by a matriarch, that often number more than 100 individuals. Females tend to stay with the herd for life, while young males venture off to live nomadically or join bachelor groups. They are a herbivorous species, processing up to 300 kilograms of vegetation everyday.

Over the last 50 years, the increase in global demand for ivory has led to a dramatic decrease in wild elephant numbers. Prohibitions on the ivory trade has brought about a stabilization in population numbers, at around 600,000 individuals, however poaching is still the biggest threat facing elephants today. The African elephant is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The best places to see elephants in Africa:

Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Mana Pools National Park and Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Chobe National Park, Botswana

READ NEXT: THE 5 BEST PLACES TO SEE ELEPHANTS IN AFRICA

Giraffe

As the tallest animal on earth, you’d think it would be easy to spot giraffes in the bush while on safari. On the contrary, their distinctive brown and white markings make for exceptionally good camouflage and its not uncommon to only notice a giraffe’s presence when you’re just a few metres away.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
Giraffe bending over to drink from a small pong

There are nine subspecies found across sub-Saharan Africa, each of which boasts slightly different patterning, perfectly designed to blend in with the habitat in which they live. All the subspecies’ boast blue tongues, stubby horn-like protrusions on their heads and of course, outrageously long necks.

In order to be able to drink without losing consciousness, the giraffe’s neck contains special veins and valves that regulate the flow of blood to its head.

The best places to see giraffes in Africa:

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

 

Zebra

With three separate species, the zebra is one of the most widespread and well-known animals in Africa. The plains zebra is the most common, and very prevalent throughout east and southern Africa, while the mountain and Grévy’s zebras are much rarer.

Plains zebra and foal

Despite their calm and gentle nature, its almost impossible to tame a zebra and their distinctive stripe patterns are as unique to each individual as a human’s fingerprints. Zebras feed on grasses, and in some areas, form incredible migratory herds to seek out the best grazing grounds. During the Great Migration they often form a mutually beneficial relationship with another African species, the wildebeest.

The best places to see zebras in Africa:

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya

 

Leopard

The elusive African leopard is a subspecies found only in sub-Saharan Africa and for many, the most beautiful cat on the continent.

The leopard is one of the most widespread animals in Africa, but despite this, it is one of the most difficult to see on safari. They are primarily nocturnal and spend most of their days tucked away in a rocky outcrop or in a tree. They are also very wary of humans.

A Leopard walking on a dirt road in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Leopards are solitary animals with exceptional predatory skills, including the ability to climb and swim. They use trees as observation platforms and for protection, and that is where they are most often spotted during daylight hours. The ultimate safari goal is to see them hoist a fresh kill up a tree, an incredible feat of strength considering they’ve been known to drag prey up to three times their own weight up into the trees.

Leopards are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The best places to see leopards in Africa:

Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

READ NEXT: THE 5 BEST PLACES TO SEE LEOPARDS IN AFRICA

White Rhino

In spite of their names, there is no colour difference between Africa’s two rhino species, the primary difference is in the shape of their lips. A black rhino’s lip is sharp and hooked, while the white rhino sports a broad, flat lip which is used for ‘grazing’ or feeding on grasses and roots in the ground. The Dutch word for “wide” is “wijd”, and a mispronunciation of this word is where the name ‘white rhino’ was derived.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
A pair of adult White Rhinos walking across the savanna in Southern Africa

While both species are currently threatened by widespread poaching, white rhinos are far more plentiful and therefore easier to spot in the wild. They are particularly prominent across the large national parks and game reserves in Southern Africa. They are generally found grazing in grassland, savanna and woodland habitat.

White rhinos are the largest of the five rhino species. With adult males averaging around 2,500 kilograms, they are also one of the world’s heaviest land mammals.

The best places to see white rhinos in Africa:

Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

 

Black Rhino

Once widespread across southern and east Africa, the black rhino is now critically endangered with three subspecies classified as extinct and less than 5,000 individuals remaining in the wild.

The size of adult rhinos means they have no natural predators, and the catastrophic collapse in black rhino number is solely due to poaching. They are killed for their horns, which are made of keratin and exported to Asia for use in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
Black Rhino with two impressive horns

Contrary to white rhinos, which can sometimes be seen living in small herds, black rhinos generally lead solitary lives with the only exceptions being mothers and young calves. They are mostly found browsing in scrub and bushland.

The best places to see black rhinos in Africa:

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

 

Hippo

The hippopotamus is a common sight in rivers, dams and lakes throughout southern and east Africa. Often found in groups (pods) of between 10 and 100 individuals, hippos spend the vast majority of their lives in water, only leaving their aquatic safety net to graze at dusk.

They have numerous fascinating adaptations, including webbed feet, large canine tusks, and the ability to secrete a kind of natural sunscreen to protect themselves against the harsh African sun.

An aggressive hippo displaying its large teeth

Male hippos are extremely territorial, and can be exceptionally aggressive. Similarly, take particular care never to get between a mother and her calf. Hippos are widely known to be the most dangerous animal in Africa, and responsible for the highest number of human fatalities.

The best places to see hippos in Africa:

Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Kruger National Park, South Africa

 

Buffalo

With a robust build and distinctive fused horns, the African Buffalo is an intimidating figure with an even more intimidating reputation. Unlike other species of wild buffalo, the African buffalo has never successfully been tamed, due to its inherently aggressive and unpredictable nature.

Cape buffalo drinking from a marshland in the savanna

They are grazers, typically living in herds, with threats only from predators large and brave enough to attempt to take one down. Only lions and crocodiles can fit the bill and even for them, taking on a buffalo can have fatal consequences.

Encountering a large buffalo herd sprawled across the savanna is an undoubtedly unforgettable sight, but it’s extremely important to treat these animals with respect and observe from a safe distance. They are responsible for multiple human fatalities every year, and are considered one of the continent’s most dangerous species.

The best places to see buffalo in Africa:

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Katavi National Park, Tanzania

Chobe National Park and Okavango Delta, Botswana

Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

 

Cheetah

A tall and slender species, the cheetah is an exceptionally beautiful spotted cat known for its incredible speed. They are capable of reaching of up to 120 kilometres per hour at full sprint, making them the fastest land animal on earth.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
Cheetah in the Kalahari desert, South Africa

Despite their speed, cheetah are often outmuscled by larger predators who steal their kills by force. They are a vulnerable species with only around 7,000 individuals left in the wild, including a tiny population of around 40 Asiatic cheetah in Iran.

Cheetah are found throughout southern and east Africa, in wide open spaces that allow them to reach their top speed while pursuing prey animals like springbok, Thomson’s gazelle and even wildebeest.

The best places to see cheetah in Africa:

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Okonjima Game Reserve, Namibia

 

Crocodile

After the saltwater crocodile, Nile crocodiles are the world’s largest living reptile, with the biggest on record reaching almost 7 metres in length. They are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa in a range of aquatic habitats including dams, lakes, rivers, and marshlands.

Crocodiles are exceptionally well camouflaged in water, and even the largest individuals can seemingly disappear in just a foot of water. They are most often spotted sunning themselves on a riverbank.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
Nile Crocodile sliding into a lake after basking on the bank.

Along with being the largest living reptile, they are also one of the oldest living animal species on earth, and with heavily armored skin and exceptionally strong jaws, they certainly do look prehistoric. Nile crocodiles are the perfect predator, using ambush tactics to surprise their prey at the water’s edge.

The best places to see crocodiles in Africa:

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

 

Wild Dog

Best recognised by their  tan, black, and white fur, African wild dogs are the largest canids in Africa.

They are highly social animals, living in packs led by an alpha pair and communicating with a series of high-pitched twittering sounds. Wild dogs hunt as a team, and use incredible endurance to chase their prey until it collapses from exhaustion.

The Most Iconic Animals In Africa and Where To Find Them
African wild dog in Moremi Game Reserve

Unlike other social carnivores, young pups are allowed to eat first at the kill to give them the best chance of survival. African wild dogs are one of the rarest animals in Africa with populations declining due to habitat loss, human conflict, and diseases spread by domestic dogs.

The best places to see wild dogs in Africa:

Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Ruaha National park, Tanzania

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

 

Hyena

Contrary to their appearance, hyenas are actually a closer relative to cats than dogs. They live in matriarchal clans, with some groups numbering over 70 members.

Hyena mother and pup

There are 3 species of hyena in Africa; the brown hyena, the striped hyena and the largest and most prominent spotted hyena. Hyena cubs are usually born in pairs, and if they are the same sex, they may try to kill each other.

They are large and heavy-bodied animals with extremely strong bite force that allows them to chew and digest bones. Traces of white can even be found in hyena dung due to the high calcium levels. Although hyenas are known as scavengers, they also regularly hunt live prey.

The best places to see hyenas in Africa:

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Chobe National Park, Botswana