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With more wildlife than almost any other corner of Africa, Tanzania is an unrivalled destination for safari. This patchwork of vast and varied terrain is home to stampeding wildebeest, wallowing hippos and swinging chimpanzees alongside majestic elephants and the rare black rhino, confirming it as the perfect destination for first time safari goers and Africa aficionados alike. Take a look at our comprehensive guide to spotting wildlife in Tanzania.
AFRICAN ELEPHANT (Loxodonta africana)
The largest land animal on Earth, elephants have complex social lives with unique forms of communication, such as trunk touch and subsonic calls. After a gestation period of nearly two years, the calves are cared for by their mother and other young females in the group. Found: found wherever there is water and trees. Interesting fact: trunks contain about 100,000 different muscles.
BLACK RHINOCEROS (Diceros bicornis)
Extremely rare, black rhinos are distinguishable from the more common white rhino by their hooked lip used for eating leaves. The species overall is classified as critically endangered. An adult typically weighs from 800 to 1,400kg, however unusually large male specimens have been reported at up to 2,896kg. Found in thick bush and almost solely in protected parks or reserves. Interesting fact: rhino pregnancies last 15–16 months.
LION (Panthera leo)
The lion is possibly the most iconic animal in Africa. Prides can range from 3 to 40 individuals, but most don't contain more than 12 lions. They are the savannah’s top predator. Lions are the laziest of the big cats, spending 16 to 20 hours a day sleeping and resting. Found all over Tanzania. Interesting fact: it is the female lions that do most of the hunting, and they do so in groups.
LEOPARD (Panthera pardus)
Smaller than lions, leopards prefer to hunt alone at night. Much of their day is spent on the lower branches of trees, hiding from the heat of the day. Their spots, which are dark rings with a yellowy centre, provide a useful camouflage and make them good hunters. Can be found in most places. Interesting fact: pound for pound, leopards are the strongest of the big cats.
CHEETAH (Acinonyx jubatus)
With their legendary speed (100km/h), cheetahs are far more delicately built than the leopard or lion and are mostly solitary hunters. Cheetah mothers spend a long time teaching their young how to hunt, and will bring back live prey for them to practise chasing. Found in open savannah near plains game. Interesting fact: young cheetah cubs have a distinctive silvery mane.
SERVAL CAT (Felis serval)
One of the more diminutive feline predators in Tanzania, the serval cat loosely resembles a cheetah but is more cat-like and has a stockier build. Usually solitary creatures, they have exceptionally large ears, which they use to detect the movement of prey in long grass. Often found in reed beds or tall grass near water. Interesting fact: can leap into the air to catch birds mid-flight.
BUFFALO (Syncerus caffer)
The buffalo is a large and very strong animal which needs lots of open space to roam. A large herd can be spotted peacefully grazing together, but if one is separated this often disrupts the peace, as it can become angry and somewhat dangerous. Found in open plains or dense forest. Interesting fact: have been known to kill a lion as payback for killing a member of their herd.
HIPPOPOTAMUS (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Weighing up to 4 tonnes, the hippopotamus is a large beast which spends its daytimes lurking in water in order to keep cool and stop its skin from drying out. They only emerge in the evenings to graze on surrounding grassland. Found in and around rivers and waterholes. Interesting fact: they need up to 60kg of grass every day to survive.
GIRAFFE (Giraffa camelopardalis)
The giraffe is the tallest land species and can reach more than 5m high and weigh up to 2,000kg. The giraffe feeds almost exclusively on leaves at heights of 2-6m, using its long neck and versatile tongue to reach the desired leaves in the tree canopy. Found in savannahs, grasslands, or open woodlands. Interesting fact: a giraffe has seven neck vertebrae, the same as a human.
BURCHELL’S ZEBRA (Equus quagga)
Also known as the common or plains zebra, the Burchell’s zebra is the most numerous and geographically widespread species of zebra. They are often seen in large herds ranging from several individuals up to several thousand. Burchell’s zebra migrate the longest distance of any terrestrial animal in Africa, travelling 160 miles one way. Found across the savannah. Interesting fact: have been known to kill hyenas with a single kick.
WILDEBEEST (Connochaetes taurinus)
The wildebeest is a rather ungraceful antelope in a blue-grey colour with some darker stripes on its side. It is recognisable by its beard, long mane and buffalo-like horns. They are often seen grazing with zebra and stay in large herds. Found on open grasslands never too far from water. Interesting fact: wildebeest recognise and react to baboon alarm calls.
ELAND (Taurotragus oryx)
Weighing about 600kg, the eland is the largest of the antelope family and roams in herds of up to 30 animals. They are greyish in colour with thin white stripes on their sides. They can reach a peak speed of 40km/h, but that tires them quickly. Found in semi-arid areas and light woodland. Interesting fact: both sexes possess distinctive spiral horns.
GREATER KUDU (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
The greater kudu is a large, timid and rather ungainly antelope. They live in groups of 6 to 30 individuals. The larger males have hugely impressive spiral horns. Another notable feature is a thick fringe of hair that runs from the chin down the neck. Found in woodland areas and rocky hillsides. Interesting fact: they evade predators by leaping over thick bush to hide in dense vegetation.
WATERBUCK (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)
The waterbuck is a large, common, shaggy-coated and somewhat tame antelope. The meat of older waterbuck gains an unpleasant odour from the waterproofing secretions of its sweat glands, putting all but starving predators off. Waterbucks may run into cover when alarmed. Found near water in open woodland and savannah. Interesting fact: when approached by predators, male waterbucks often go in for the attack.
Dik-diks stand at just 30–40 cm tall and weigh just 5kg. Their legs are very thin, giving them a fragile appearance. They pair for life and can be found with current and previous young. Dik-diks have developed a cooling system in their snouts to prevent them from overheating. Found anywhere from dense forest to open plain, as long as there is low bush cover. Interesting fact: named after the alarm calls of the females.
IMPALA (Aepyceros melampus)
The impala is a common small antelope, and can be recognised by a distinctive black mark in front of its back leg. They are most often spotted in large female herds, and are famous for the high, graceful leaps they perform when fleeing predators. Found in grassland and woodland, close to water. Interesting fact: male impalas attract females or warn off other males by repeatedly sticking out their tongues.
THOMSON'S GAZELLE (Eudorcas thomsonii)
The Thomson’s gazelle is a graceful and fast moving antelope which is easily recognisable thanks to the bold black stripe on its flank, which poses a striking contrast against its otherwise tan brown body and white belly. It is endemic to East Africa and is a prominent grazer in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Found in grassland and other arid areas. Interesting fact: can often escape cheetahs through endurance.
BLACK-BACKED JACKAL (Canis mesomelas)
Black-backed jackals are small dog-like predators that live in monogamous pairs or family groups. They are a reddish colour with an area of black on their backs. Jackal pups are particularly vulnerable, so the mother moves the den site every two weeks to protect the pups from predators. Found in drier areas. Interesting fact: known for stealing prey from bigger predators.
COMMON WARTHOG (Phacochoerus africanus)
The warthog is a wild member of the pig family that is commonly spotted on safari. The lower pair of protruding tusks, which are far shorter than the upper pair, become razor sharp by rubbing against the upper pair every time the mouth is opened and closed. Found in grassland, savannah and woodland. Interesting fact: they like to roll in thick mud to keep themselves cool and rid their skin of flies.
AFRICAN WILD DOG (Lycaon pictus)
Despite being one of the most successful (and vicious) hunters in Africa, African wild dogs are seriously endangered and spotting one is rare, but very rewarding. They are nomadic creatures who roam in packs over open savannah in search of prey. Found in savannah and lightly wooded areas, especially the Selous. Interesting fact: they use their speed, stamina and pack mentality to bring down animals ten times their own weight.
SPOTTED HYENA (Crocuta crocuta)
Spotted hyenas are powerful predators and scavengers that live in large matriarchal communities called clans consisting of up to 80 individuals. Females are stronger and larger than males, and clans are headed by a dominant alpha female. Found in most habitats except for dense forest. Interesting fact: they have the strongest jaw pressure and most powerful bite of any animal in the world.
COMMON CHIMPANZEE (Pan troglodytes)
These famously intelligent great apes are our closest relatives. They live in complex communities that typically range from 20 to more than 150 members and are found in and around forest canopies. Found in Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream National Parks. Interesting fact: chimpanzees are lighter than humans, but pound for pound they are believed to be twice as strong.
OLIVE BABOON (Papio anubis)
The olive baboon is the most wide-ranging of all baboons and is named after its green-grey coat. They live in groups of 15 to 150 individuals, governed by a strong social structure. They use far-reaching barking calls which make them easy to identify from some distance. Found in open country where there are trees and/or cliffs. Interesting fact: though generally vegetarian, they will sometimes take newborn antelope to supplement their diet.
NILE CROCODILE (Crocodylus niloticus)
A large and very powerful reptile, the Nile crocodile can measure up to 5m in length and weigh 1,000kg. They usually feed on fish and aquatic birds, but supplement their diet by preying on mammals who come to the water to drink. Found wherever there is a large body of fresh water. Interesting fact: the gender of a crocodile depends on the temperature of the eggs during the incubation period.
LEOPARD TORTOISE (Stigmochelys pardalis)
The leopard tortoise is the most widely distributed tortoise in East and Southern Africa. They have an attractively marked shell and can typically reach around 50cm in length. Males can be identified by the concave bottom of their shells. Found in semi-arid, thorny and grassland habitats. Interesting fact: they have been declared part of Africa’s ‘little five’.
AFRICAN ROCK PYTHON (Python sebae)
The African rock python is non-venomous, and instead kills its prey by constriction. Amongst their prey are monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, fruit bats, monitor lizards and even crocodiles in forest areas. They are very adaptable and can survive almost anywhere. Found throughout the country. Interesting fact: can reach lengths of 6m.