It’s early morning and your safari vehicle bounces along a ribbon of dirt in the Serengeti. You peer into endless savannah plains at sunrise, that quintessential African scene peppered in acacia and grassland. All the sudden your driver pulls over and alerts you to something moving in the distance.
Grabbing your binoculars you peer in that direction. You hold your breath even though your heartbeat seems to only grow louder. One minute goes by. Finally a head pops up near a rock outcropping and you realize what you’ve seen: a mature lioness looking right at you, right into your eyes.
Details quickly emerge: her body is three times your size, and muscular, too. She appears confident and strong. Wait! Three more lions rise above the grass. And two cubs! Your eyes sting because they haven’t blinked for a full minute. Shivers run down your spine, as this is your very first sighting of a lion and you’ll never forget this moment for the rest of your life. This interaction pulls you into the present moment—you are fully alive.
The Big 5
The Main Players
Gazelle – One of the most numerous animals you’ll witness are these small antelope. The Grant and Thompson gazelles are everywhere, moving lightning-fast across the landscape as anxious prey. Good thing they run run up to 100 kilometers per hour!
Giraffe – This iconic giant will warm your heart when you first see them utilizing their unusual height (tallest mammals in the world!) to monopolize tree canopies for food. The tallest recorded giraffe was 19 feet tall, so when you see them galloping across the savannah, it’s truly a sight to behold.
Hyena – Hyenas have received a bad reputation in popular media, but these animals are extremely smart and tactful hunters. Often you will see hyenas moving in small packs charting out their next kill. Famous for their “laughing,” hyenas indeed make a wide variety of communicative sounds in their groups.
Wildebeest – There are accounts of over one million of these large ungulates roaming East Africa, so Great Migration or not (link to Great Migration page), you’ll definitely catch sighting of these “wild beasts” skittishly grazing (or being tracked by a pride of lions!)
Warthog – With their nubby tail and barrel-bodied frame, warthogs are one of our favorites. Sharing the same family as domestic pigs, the warthog has four tusks to protect them from predators, and they use their big snouts to dig for bulbs and roots.
Cheetah – Claiming the title of fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah can vault along the savannah at up to 112 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour!). In addition to their speed, cheetahs are also some of the most beautiful creatures you’ll see on safari.
The Winged Ones
Pink Flamingo – It will inevitably happen on safari that you will arrive to a large body of water and the surface will be layered in pink. Get closer and you’ll likely see tens of thousands of pink flamingoes. It’s best to view these colorful creatures at Lake Natron, Lake Manyara, or Ngorongoro Crater.
Kingfisher – Look close to view this colorful hunting bird, tiny but beautiful with its large, pointed bills and flaring hairdos. These little guys are a staff favorite; good thing there are a dozen species of kingfisher in Tanzania.
Secretary Bird – We always love spotting this strange bird, named after what looks to be quill pens sticking out from their head, like secretaries holding their hair together with pens. These large birds are known for having tough feet used to stamp their prey to death and swallowing them whole.
Bateleuer – From a half-mile you might be able to spot these enormous eagles resting solitary in acacia trees, scanning the land for food. With stocky, black-feathered bodies and a red face and legs, these birds will often join vultures to clean up a kill.
The Water Lovers
Hippopotamus – As soon as you see a cluster of hippopotami lounging in a river, you might be struck with envy. Why? Because these beasts know how to relax. They spend most of the day submerged in water to keep cool, slapping flies with their leathery tails. But don’t be fooled: hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
Crocodile – The highest populations of crocodile in Tanzania are found in Katavi National Park, but you will undoubtedly see them several times on safari, hiding in the shallows. These ancient creatures are incredible to witness. If you’re lucky, you may even get a chance to see them prey on wildebeest along the Grumeti River during migration.