Wildlife in Focus… part one: Africa
Africa is synonymous with wildlife. To help you discover its amazing range of wildlife, we have put together this handy guide to where these spectacular animals can be found.
Lions slowly stalking through grass, eyes on their prey; giraffes stripping branches bare of their leaves; elephants lumbering towards a watering hole - these are the classic images of Africa. Indeed, Africa is synonymous with wildlife, and its vast, varied landscapes mean there is a dizzying array of animals to see.
Today, we're going to introduce you to some of the continent's most captivating creatures and the destinations in which you can find them. In the coming weeks, we will also show you some of the most fascinating wildlife in the Far East, India and Latin America - so don't forget to come back.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Serengeti National Park is the crowning glory of Tanzania's wildlife reserves. The largest national park in Tanzania, the Serengeti borders Kenya's celebrated Masai Mara - and so is one of the places you can see the great wildebeest migration. And, as with all the destinations we're listing today, you can marvel at a wide array of creatures here. Our favourite highlights include:
African safaris are one of the best options if you're hoping to see the so-called Big Five (lions, buffalos, leopards, elephants and rhinos), with the Serengeti particularly standing out for its lion population.
The lion is listed as a vulnerable species, making glimpses of these majestic big cats all the more precious. Preying on wildebeest, zebra and antelope, lions leave most of the hunting to the female of the species, while the males battle it out for dominance. You'll see the maned males stalking around the perimeters of their territory, waiting to defend it from any threat.
The tallest animal on the planet, the giraffe is a real wonder. These gentle giants are a thrill to spot in the wild, and can weigh up to 1,270kgs, with adults measuring up to 6 metres tall. Despite their size, long necks and gangly legs, they can reach an impressive speed of 56km/h. They usually roam grassland in search of food in small groups of approximately six, making them easy to spot.
Masai Mara, Kenya
Ranked among Africa's most important wildlife reserves, the Masai Mara in Kenya is the location of the annual wildebeest migration, which usually takes place between July and September. Deservedly held up as one of the most spectacular wildlife spectacles on the planet, the migration is a singular sight that is very deserving of its place on many travellers' bucket lists.
Where else would we start? The wildebeest is certainly not the rarest of creatures on our list today, but its starring role in the migration makes this herbivore one of Kenya's absolute wildlife highlights. Living for up to 20 years, the wildebeest may have a menacing-sounding name, but is actually a vegetarian - and often becomes dinner for the wild dogs, lions and hyenas of the African savanna.
Its migration is dictated by weather patterns and, when the time comes to search for pastures new, up to 1.5 million wildebeest (in the company of thousands of other animals) make the long trip here from the Serengeti.
Unlike the populous wildebeest, our next resident of the Masai Mara is critically endangered - even though its only predators are humans. The rhino is split into two species, black and white, with the latter being the rarest. These herbivores can live for up to 40 years, and you'll be able to spot them on open savanna and grassland. And, while at first glance they may look like slow, lumbering creatures, you might be surprised to learn that they can gallop at up to 48km/h.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The largest park in Zimbabwe, Hwange National Park was once the royal hunting grounds of the Ndebele warrior-king Mzilikazi. Today, the wildlife here is protected and flourishing - more than 100 species of mammal and just under 400 species of bird have been recorded in the reserve.
Hwange is home to one of the world's strongest elephant populations, making this a prime place to see these gentle giants. The African elephant has vulnerable status, making the large numbers here all the more impressive. Weighing in at 6 tonnes, the elephant is divided into two subspecies: the Savanna elephant and the Forest elephant. The Savanna elephant, the larger of the two species and with distinctly curved tusks, is the one you are most likely to spot here.
The painted dog
Also known as the African wild dog, the painted dog is unique to Africa and, unfortunately, is one of the continent's most endangered species. Zimbabwe is one of the few places that still has a strong population, making keeping your eyes peeled for one on the prowl particularly worthwhile. Typically, they gather in packs of around 10, and are especially impressive when seen in full sprint - at which point they can reach as much as 64km/h.
See Cox & Kings' wildlife holidays to Africa here
Read the other articles in this series – Part 2: The Far East
, Part 3: India
and Part 4: Latin America