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7 types of unusual wildlife... across Africa

From the sprawling deserts of the Kalahari and Sahara to the wetlands of the Okavango Delta and Madagascan rainforests, Africa has a variety of different habitats that are ideal for wildlife and bird enthusiasts. Here is our selection of the continent’s more unusual wildlife including nocturnal creatures, beautiful animals and rare bird species to look out for on your next trip to Africa.


A member of the Oryx family, gemsbok can be found in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. Tan in colour, their black markings extend from their face to lower flank and they have impressive horns. Males tend to have thicker horns, while the females’ are slightly longer and thinner as are used to defend their offspring and themselves from predators. Males tend to use their horns to defend their territory from other males. Found in the desert, gemsbok can live without ever drinking water, obtaining sufficient moisture through what they eat.


These unusual mammals look as though they’re covered in armour. Unfortunately, this doesn’t protect them from poachers. Pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world as their scales are sold on the black market and used in Chinese medicine. Nocturnal and extremely difficult to spot, the Tswalu Game Reserve’s research programme has discovered that sightings are more common from May to September. The most likely explanation is due the ants, on which they feed, coming to the surface for warmth. This provides an ideal opportunity for those keen to see a pangolin during daylight hours as the pangolins forage earlier.

Verreaux’s Sifaka

Endemic to the island of Madagascar are these beautiful sifaka – a member of the lemur family – which are characterised by their white long, silky fur and a black hairless face. With 30 different species of lemur on the island, sifaka are widely known as the dancing sifaka: when they move, they swing from branches, stretching out their elongated bodies. On the ground they hop sideways, which creates quite a spectacle as they move around seeming to dance, which is how they earned their nickname.

Leopard tortoise

The leopard tortoise – so called for its black and yellow shell markings – is one of the ‘Little Five’, a term created by nature conservationists to acknowledge the smaller animals of Africa. Sadly, these tortoises are another animal trafficked for their shell: with almost vertical sides, their unusual yellow and black dome shells sit higher than other tortoise species. Younger tortoises have bolder markings, but as they age, their markings fade. These beautiful tortoises are found in sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan down to Cape Town, preferring to live in either scrub or grassland.

Elephant shrew

Native to Africa is this tiny shrew that has a small trunk-like nose, another member of the Little Five. Found across the continent, elephant shrews can live in a number of different habitats, from the dry desert to the thick forests. A surprising fact for such small animals – they are between 10 and almost 30cm – is that they are extremely quick: they’ve been recorded to reach speeds of 28.8 km/h. There is evidence to suggest that they are not shrews at all, and are more closely related to a group of African mammals, including elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks.


The aardvark is a nocturnal anteater, native to Africa and commonly found in sub-Saharan countries, primarily Botswana and South Africa. Scavenging for ants and termites at night using their pig-like snout, they are not the easiest creatures to spot. You can however detect where they have been as they burrow large holes, both for food, shelter and rearing their young. Aardvark in Afrikaans means ground pig, even though their nearest relatives are elephant shrews and golden moles, rather than pigs.

Coppery-tailed coucal

The coppery-tailed coucal is a species of cuckoo that can be found in swamplands and areas of dense vegetation in southern central Africa, from Angola in the west to south-western Tanzania. They are most commonly found in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. The birds are known for their shrill call, which is quite an alarm clock in the morning. Watch them bounce along the floor energetically or sweeping across the sky.

Cox & Kings can organise a tailor-made South Africa holiday including Tswalu Game Reserve. Alternatively, find out more about Africa tours here.