What is Africa known for? Of course for it’s sheer diversity and grandiosity of its wildlife above all else.
They are one of the continent’s greatest assets, an attraction to tourists the world around and a delight to photographers and nature enthusiasts alike. If Africa is known for anything, it is known for the sheer diversity and grandiosity of its wildlife above all else. Here, we are going to look at some of the continent’s most famous animals, the significance they have built up over the years, and why they make thrilling subjects not just to photograph, but to study and learn about as well.
The second largest land mammal in the world (the first will come a little later). There are two species of rhino, black and white, that live in Africa. Besides their immense size and impressive horn, they are best known for their cantankerous nature. Rhinos have long been assumed to be highly solitary, but more recent evidence suggests that the huge creatures come out under the stars not only to socialize with one another but to cohabit peacefully with other creatures at their favourite watering holes. Though rhinos are hard to spot, they live in a variety of different locales in Africa, from broad sweeping savannahs to within the dense jungle vegetation. One of the more noteworthy sights of the African rhino is their unique method of bathing, which primarily includes soaking their tough skin in mud to protect it from the sun and biting insects.
The “king of the jungle”, lions do not, in fact, tend to live in jungles very often. Rather, these majestic big cats are the kings and queens of the vast savannahs. A true apex predator, lions have no predators of their own and represent a threat to the vast majority of other creatures they share a habitat with. Lions strike the most impressive figure while hunting. Using pack tactics, males and females alike will join together not only to hunt small game like antelope but to collaborate and take down bigger creatures like buffalos and even giraffes. Living in prides as large as 30 cats, seeing a family of lions roaming the savannah is a sight unlike any other.
One of the more outlandish of the African mammals, giraffes have been part of human history for millennia. Some folk tales including those from East Africa speculate as to how the giraffe got such a long neck, including one tale about eating one too many magic herbs. Indeed, giraffes spend a great deal of their life eating. Those long necks allow them to reach leaves from trees that other animals have no chance of eating, meaning they can linger in solitude for long around patches that other animals have long abandoned. Giraffes aren’t entirely sociable, however, and when two male giraffes meet, it is often to compete over a female. These clashes almost resemble fencing or a boxing match, with both bulls looking to land blows using their strong, long necks and horned heads.
Contrary to the pack life led by lions, the second largest cats in the world, the sleeker, spotted leopard lives a much more solitary life. Incredibly fast and stealthy felines, they are some of the smartest hunters on the continent. Using their spots to blend in with the tall grass and bushes, they stalk hoofed animals like antelopes, getting closer until they can use their superior speed to catch them in one dash. After hunting, leopards show the rather odd practice of carrying their prey up into treetops, where they can come back and enjoy their meal after it has time some time to warm in the sun.
If there’s a large body of water in Africa, there are likely to be hippos. Hence how they got their names from the Greeks, with “hippopotamus” meaning “water horse”. They are much bigger than horses, of course, making the third largest land mammal in the world. Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day in the water, and can most likely be found bathing at day or hunting at night. Despite their seemingly peaceful lifestyle, however, hippos can be very aggressive and vicious animals. Their huge teeth and tusks are used to fight off those they see as threats, including humans from time to time. This is mostly for defence purposes, however, as hippos eat little else but grass, up to 80 lbs of it a night.
The African elephant is the animal that draws the most attention, from tourists, photographers, and conservationists alike. They are the single biggest land mammal in the animal kingdom, measuring up to 3.3 meters tall up to their shoulders. Also known as African savannah elephants or bush elephants, their tusks, ears, and trunks are all equally iconic. African elephants are known as “gentle giants” and can relatively peaceful, but when they are defending their young, sick, or wounded, they have been known to cause massive damage. Elephants have a strong pack bond and can mostly be seen migrating as a family. Because of their immense size, very few predators attempt to attack them unless desperate.
Though perhaps not as majestic as the elephant or rhino or as fierce as the lion or cheetah, the antelope still attracts a lot of attention from visitors. There are 91 species of antelope, most living in Africa, throughout its savannahs, woodlands, and deserts. Unlike deer and other horned animals, antelopes keep their antlers throughout their lifetime. Skittish, graceful, and small, they are some of the most common prey for predators but their high speed and sensitivity to danger helps them escape more often than not. Though quiet and spending most of their time grazing, photographers and tourists hope to catch antelopes “stotting”, an odd behaviour that involves repeatedly jumping straight up in the air in a graceful motion that has often been compared with watching the ballet.
The wildlife of Africa will constantly continue to keep drawing attention from visitors, photographers, documentarians and all kinds of people. If you want to see more of these beautiful beasts up close, then take a look through our gallery of wildlife photographs and our beautiful landscape pictures.
Discover the rarest and most elusive animals in Africa
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