There are many animal ‘lists’ you’ll hear about when going on a safari in Africa. There’s the famous Big Five, the Little 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:


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
Spotted Hyena | 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.


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.

Warthog | The Ugly Five Animals Of Africa

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.


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
Lappet-faced Vulture | 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.