Sure, it’s home to the “cradle of humankind,” but we’re far from the continent’s only inhabitants. From the proverbial kings of the jungle to the court’s perennial jesters (we’re looking at you, meerkats), the national parks are rife with African animals as majestic as the landscapes they graze. Below, a few of our favourite members of the African animal kingdom, and the best places to see them up close.

South Africa

Go ahead, get it out of your system. “Penguins in Africa?!” Absolutely. Originally populating 24 islands off the coast of southern Africa, these most sartorially sophisticated birds moved to the mainland in the 1980s. Today they make Boulders Beach a popular spot for tourists. (Admittedly the ocean and the gorgeous views may also play a role.)


A subspecies of antelopes, the African oryx is known for its narrow, long and nearly straight horns. They may look docile, but we wouldn’t recommend messing with them: they’ve been known to use their horns to impale lions, earning them the nickname “sabre antelopes.”


According to an old African adage, “The best animals are the ones made famous by Nathan Lane.” OK, that’s not a saying. But you’d be forgiven if the extent of your knowledge about these cute critters came from The Lion King. While they can’t actually sing, they really do embody the hakuna matata mentality. It’s a wonderful thing.

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Our closest cousin in the animal kingdom, chimps share many traits with their human counterparts, from sophisticated hunting strategies that require cooperation, to a concern for their social status within a community. (Unlike us, however, chimps spend little-to-no time pretending they totally don’t care what other chimps think of them).

Kruger National Park

Not to be confused with their doppleganger cousins the cheetah and the jaguar, leopards are the smallest of the four “big cats” (the others being tigers, lions and bears, oh my! jaguars). A ferocious hunter known for its stealth and speed, we may marvel at a leopard’s spots (known as rosettes), but chances are its prey never saw it coming.

The undisputed king of the jungle, the lion can often be found resting on his throne: lions rest for upwards of 20 hours per day (and not just on the weekends). The most social of “big cats,” every lion in a pride has a role to play. Smaller, swifter and more agile, female lions (lionesses) do most of the hunting, while the males protect the pride from outsiders—and in the process protect their own status within the pride.

About the Author

Cape Town hotels
Private Trip Designer Michele Harvey spent family holidays in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe before entering B&R history as our first-ever guide in South Africa in 1996. Today she designs incredible journeys (and writes spectacular blog posts) in and around her native South Africa.

Banner image: William Warby
Chimpanzee image: Delphine Bruyere

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