Whether you've already been on a safari or are waiting to tick it off your bucket list, you probably associate a safari holiday with seeing lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos in the wilderness.
Otherwise known as the Big Five, these are Africa's iconic wildlife species and the holy grail of wildlife viewing, for good reason. Approaching them in your safari vehicle in the middle of the African bush is something that will remain in your memory long after you return home from your trip. It is worth bearing in mind however, that there is a staggering variety of weird and wonderful wildlife on show - beyond the Big Five.
From playful meerkats to migrating wildebeest, here are a few of our favourite fascinating creatures to add to your wish list on an African safari vacation.
1. Dung Beetle - the insect astronomer!
The humble dung beetle may not be top of mind when you think of an iconic African animal. However, dung beetles are incredibly clever creatures and the range of things they can do is simply staggering! For example, they are the only insects on earth that use the stars to navigate and orientate themselves. Remarkably, even when the stars are not visible, they are able to use the faint glow from the Milky Way as a compass! On top of this, the dung beetle is the undisputed strongest animal in the world! It can move balls of dung 1,141 times its own bodyweight, which is the equivalent of a human dragging six full double-decker busses along a road! The males use this impressive strength to fight for other females.
Where to see them: Dung beetles are found across all of Africa. Just look for a pile to raise a smile!
Find out more about our Africa safari trips here.
2. Meerkat - the good neighbour!
Found in Africa's deserts and grasslands, meerkats are known for their sense of community and quirky mannerisms. Whether it's watching out for a neighbour, working as a team to bring home food, sunning themselves on a rock or chiding unruly children, their behaviour seems almost human and never fails to entertain! And their cute little faces are impossible to resist and make for fabulous photos! The close knit groups help the meerkats to survive and each have a different role to play in the community. Meerkats are also good communicators and use a wide range of sounds to chat with members of their clan!
Where to see them: Meerkats can be found in southern Africa, with destinations including Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
Go at your own pace on our South Africa self-drive safari.
3. Wildebeest - the spectacle creator!
Arguably the greatest wildlife spectacle in the world is the Great Wildebeest Migration which takes place annually on the plains of Kenya's Masai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti in East Africa. One of the most sought-after experiences for wildlife and photography enthusiasts, this is when over a million wildebeest, gazelles and zebras follow a circular pattern, in search of grazing and water. The age-old route takes the wildebeest across the Mara River on the Kenya-Tanzania border, where predators lurk in the form of crocodiles, ready to snap up the weaker animals in a classic 'survival of the fittest' phenomenon. They continue south, through the Serengeti and all the way to the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater before circling up and around in a clockwise direction. New calves are born during the annual migration, completing the circle of life. It is unclear how the wildebeest know which route to follow, but scientists believe that it is dictated by the weather, as the animals can locate rain up to 50 kilometres away.
Where to see them: The best time to see the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania is between June and September each year, although wildebeests can be spotted year-round in iconic African destinations including Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Have a look at our Tanzania Wildlife Safari here.
4. Ostrich - the speedy kickboxer!
There are thousands of different bird species found in Africa, with more than two thirds of them endemic to the continent. The largest bird in the world is the ostrich, reaching up to 2.8 metres tall and weighing up to 156 kilograms. One of the most fascinating things about these gigantic birds is that due to their lack of teeth, they have to swallow pebbles to grind their food up. Although not able to fly, ostriches can cover five metres in just one stride, reaching speeds of over 70km per hour when running across the vast open plains of Africa. Their strong legs also come in handy against predators including lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas, which they will kick to defend themselves. The charming town of Oudtshoorn in South Africa is the self-proclaimed ‘Ostrich Capital of the World’. It has a long history associated with this amazing bird and can be reached by driving along the stunning vistas and vineyards of the Garden Route.
Where to see them: Wild ostriches live in Africa's sub-Saharan savannas including parts of Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.
Check out our South Africa tours here
5. African Fish Eagle - the iconic hunter
The African Fish Eagle is the national bird of Namibia and Zambia. Seeing one soaring above or perching near a lake before plunging down to the water's surface to catch its prey is a sight to behold. It tosses its head backwards whilst making a screeching sound which is one of the most iconic and distinguishable bird calls of Africa. Like the osprey, the African Fish Eagle's barbed feet help it to catch live fish including catfish and lungfish.
Where to see them: African Fish Eagles are widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, particularly around the Rift Valley lakes and other freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.
Choose from a range of itineraries in Namibia.
Whilst seeing the Big Five animals is a spectacular experience on any game drive, there is so much more to see on an African wildlife safari. The best part of a safari is waking up before sunrise and heading out into the game reserve or national park, not really knowing what is going to happen next. Around the corner could be a giraffe feeding her young, fresh kill on the road or a cheetah ready to pounce. There may be colourful birds soaring ahead or the sounds of the bush coming alive. At night you can swap stories around the campfire and relive all your best adventures of the day, under a star filled African night sky
Find out more about our great African wildlife safaris