There are many animal ‘lists’ you’ll hear about when going on a safari in Africa. There’s the famous Big Five, the Small Five, the Special Five and even the Ugly Five animals.

The Big Five – lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard – are some of the most beautiful, charismatic and dangerous animals on the African continent. The unfortunate handful of animals which find themselves listed in the less-glamorous Ugly Five most definitely have a degree of charm about them, and some are even quite cute as babies. However, thanks to their unsightly appearance and behavioural habits, beautiful is never a word used to describe any of them.

Here are The Ugly Five Animals of Africa:

Hyena

Even if there wasn’t an official list of The Ugly Five Animals in Africa, in many people’s minds the Hyena would be on their shortlist. They are a species that has always been given a bad rap, largely due to their depiction in Disney films and nature documentaries, but also due to their scavenging nature.

The Spotted Hyena is the most common of three subspecies throughout Africa, with particular strongholds in wildlife reserves like Kruger National Park, Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park.

The Ugly Five Animals of Africa

While hyena pups most definitely have a cuteness factor to them, mature adults have an ominous appearance. They are characterised by often mangy-looking brown fur, relatively short torsos with low hindquarters and sloping backs. Wide, strong jaws with many large teeth also add to an overall aggressive appearance.

Although primarily known as scavengers who can often be seen stealing prey items from leopards and prides of lion, spotted hyenas are also known to actively hunt for themselves. They live in family units called ‘clans’ which work together to hunt, raise young and protect themselves against threats from rival hyenas and lions. Spotted hyenas possess the most powerful jaws of any land mammal and are able to crush and digest the bones of their prey.

Aside from their eerie laughs, mischievous appearance and sometimes questionable tactics, hyenas are one of the most important animals in the african ecosystem and play a pivotal role in maintaining the balance.

 

Warthog

This bristly-haired wild pig generally needs little introduction thanks to finding fame in one of Disney’s most iconic duos – Hakuna Matata!

Far from the stumbling and insecure creature as depicted in films, the warthog is a large, strong animal which can at times be extremely dangerous and aggressive, particularly when protecting young.

The common warthog boasts a large head with a flowing, brown mane running down its back. Their name was derived from the wart-like bumps which generally cover the animal’s heads and they also sport sparse body hair and skin colour that ranges between brown and black, depending on where they live. Like all pigs, warthogs are hooved, plump animals with a snout and large nostrils.

The warthog’s key identifying feature is two pairs of upward curving tusks protruding from its mouth. The lower pair is significantly shorter than the upper and sometimes are hardly even visible. These tusks are not for digging, but for fighting. The sharp lower tusks can cause significant damage during a battle with a foe.

Common across sub-saharan Africa, warthogs can be spotted in almost every game reserve in South Africa and Kenya, feeding with bent front legs in small family groups.

Don’t let their bulk fool you, an adult warthog can pick up a fair amount of speed when necessary and will hastily flee at any sign of threat, with antenna-like tails pointing skyward.

Their tufts of spiky hair, lethal tusks, prominent snouts and facial wattles have earned them their place on this list, but these grazers are always a delight to spot out in the grasslands.

Vulture

The first of two feathered animals to carry the unfortunate title of being part of the ugly five animals, the vulture is an iconic scavenger with various subspecies living across the African continent.

While the lappet-faced vulture is the official member of the ugly five, pretty much any vulture fulfils the criteria to be a part of the list.

Vultures are large, powerful scavengers with wingspans up to 3 metres (9 ft). These large wings help vultures to almost endlessly drift through the skies in search of a meal. Once a carcass is located, vultures will circle the area, or wait in a nearby tree for the perfect moment to zero in. Usually when whatever killed the unfortunate prey item, has had its fill or moves away for a nap.

The Ugly Five Animals Of Africa

Circling vultures are a handy tool for big game trackers in search of predators. With a trademark hop and a shifty demeanour, a vulture moves in before voraciously tearing into the flesh of the discarded kill, preferring the softer entrance points like eye-sockets or organs.

The lappet-faced vulture prefers to live in dry savannah, thorny scrubland and arid plains and deserts with scattered trees and open mountain slopes. They are usually found in undisturbed open terrain with trees scattered and minimal grass cover. While foraging, they can wander into denser habitats and even into human inhabited areas, especially if drawn to road kill.

Wide-ranging across Africa, the lappet-faced vulture (and all other species) are largely under threat due to human-wildlife conflict. The majority of human-related deaths come in the form of collisions with electricity cables and pylons, habitat-loss and poisoning.

 

Wildebeest

Its hard to imagine why predators find the wildebeest so tasty. They have an appearance that could lead you to think they were created using leftover bits from other animals. A bit like a horse, a bit like a buffalo, but really an antelope – the wildebeest is an unsightly creature.

One of the most common mammal species across the continent, herds of wildebeest can be found living in grassy savannah plains and open woodlands in almost every wilderness area in southern, eastern and central Africa.

Also known as the gnu (pronounced “g-new” or simply “new”) these mammals were given the Afrikaans (South African lanuage) name wildebeest, or “wild beast,” thanks to their menacing appearance demonstrated by a large head, shaggy mane, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns.

The Ugly Five Animals Of Africa

The unlikeliest member of the antelope family, the blue wildebeest is heavily built with disproportionately large front quarters, which add to its overall bovine appearance. Adults stand 1.3 metres (4.5ft) at the shoulder and can weigh up to 300 kilograms (600lbs). Both males and females grown horns.

Wildebeest are the main character in one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles on earth – the great migration – which sees millions of wildebeest and zebra moving northward in search of greener pastures.

Thanks to their widespread distribution and the nature of them being common prey items for predators, the wildebeest is currently at no risk of extinction, and continues to live and thrive in the wild. Up to 500,000 calves are born in February and March each year, this is usually the beginning of the rainy season. Calves learn how to walk just minutes after birth and within days are able to keep up with the herd.

Marabou Stork

With a mess of frizzy hair protruding from a mostly bald, speckled pink scalp, the marabou stork boasts an almost ghoulish like appearance when moving through the African bush. Particularly on dark and misty mornings, it’s no wonder that the species has gained the nickname ‘the undertaker’.

Mostly found hunched forward with its large black wings folded inward, and fleshy throat swinging from side to side as it stalks through the grasses, the marabou stork lives in wet and semi-arid areas in the southern reaches of the Sahara.

Marabou storks are large birds, with wingspans up to 2.6 metres (8.6ft) and a height of 1.5 metres (5ft). Their sheer size only adds to their ominous appearance.

A frequent dinner companion of the vulture, the marabou stork is primarily a scavenger and can often be seen lingering on the fringes waiting for pieces of carrion discarded by the vultures – it is extremely common to see the 2 species rummaging through the remains of a carcass side by side on the savannah. Throw a couple spotted hyena in the mix and you have the typical African clean up crew, and three members of the ugly five all in one!

While they prefer the flesh of dead animals, these large birds will eat just about anything small enough to swallow and on occasion are even known to gulp down other birds. Storks are known to be actively attracted to bush fires, where they lie in wait along the edges and feast on small amphibians and mammals as they flee the fires.

Sadly, in areas close to humans, they’re often found feasting in rubbish dumps.