If you’re looking to observe African wildlife in the wild, it’s hard to beat Tanzania in terms of its sheer numbers and variety of animals.
Home to more than three dozen national parks and game reserves, Tanzania is said to boast a fifth of Africa’s large mammal population. The country is of course home to big name destinations like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro as well as national parks like Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, and the Mahale Mountains.
You have the chance of seeing every iconic African animal in Tanzania including the Big Five, the big cats, hippos, crocodiles, and all kinds of antelope species. You can even seek out reserves that are home to African wild dogs and chimpanzees.
The country’s control of poaching has enabled its wildlife to flourish and with so many animals on offer it’s hard to put a spotlight on just a few. That being said, here are seven animals that are often on every safari-lover’s bucket list.
For the best chance of spotting wildlife, I recommend traveling during the dry season which runs from roughly June to October or attempt to time your visit during the Great Wildebeest Migration.
Seven Amazing Animals You Can Spot on Safari in Tanzania
Tanzania is arguably the best country in Africa to spot wild lions being that it is thought to contain upwards of 50% of Africa’s total lion population.
That equates to roughly 15,000 wild lions roaming throughout Tanzania’s parks and reserves, most commonly spotted via safaris through the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, and Tarangire.
Over 90% of visitors to Tanzania who go on a safari end up spotting prides of lions, so it’s safe to say your chances of spotting one yourself are really good.
Tanzania’s efforts to monitor and protect its lions are impressive, with even Maasai warriors who once regularly hunted lions now being encouraged to become “lion guardians”.
Tanzania is also home to rather unique tree-climbing lions. Africa’s largest cats aren’t usually known for their tree climbing skills, but it seems some of Tanzania’s prides think they’re leopards and have been spotted lounging high up in acacias in both Lake Manyara National Park as well as more recently Serengeti National Park.
You can always be assured of observing wildebeest herds in Tanzania throughout the year. While they may not be the most beautiful of animals, they are definitely abundant and engage in one of the most incredible journeys of the animal kingdom.
Each year in Tanzania, the population of around 1.5 million blue wildebeest makes a long arduous migration known as the Great Migration which sees the herds follow the rains and green grass in order to continue to feed.
You can catch the massive wildebeest herds in Northern Tanzania’s Serengeti region during the months of July-October. Witnessing the herds cross the croc-infested Mara is a sight like no other. Come February, you can witness the herds all congregating together in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as calving season takes place.
Booking a tour with a company like www.tanzaniaodyssey.com is the best way to witness the Great Migration for yourself. You have the option of joining a mobile camp that follows the herd or can choose to base yourself at a relaxing permanent lodge.
Oh, and did I mention the Great Migration doesn’t just include wildebeest. You will also witness hundreds of thousands of zebras alongside large numbers of different antelope species.
Now on to the skyscrapers of the animal world. With large males towering nearly 6 meters above the Tanzanian landscape, the Masai giraffe is the largest of the giraffe subspecies and tallest land animal in the world.
Tanzania is home to Africa’s largest population of wild Masai giraffes, with encounters likely in places like the Serengeti and Selous National Park.
So prolific are the giraffes that they have become the national animal of Tanzania, with the country hoping to emulate their ability to see life from all angles from their elevated point of view.
One of the most fun things about spotting giraffes is the fact you can begin to identify individuals, since no two giraffes have the same pattern of patches, much like human fingerprints.
They also sport almost a foot-and-a-half-long tongue which I can say I have been on the receiving end of during my trip to Africa.
The rarest of the Big 5 African animals to spot in Tanzania is by far the black rhinoceros. Numbering less than 200 individuals and having the ability to surprisingly camouflage themselves quite well makes them difficult to spot.
However, there is a decent chance of spotting one in Ngorongoro Crater, one of the last strongholds for this critically endangered animal. A few years back, Ngorongoro was home to the world’s oldest black rhino who reached 57 years of age before passing away from old age.
Tanzania’s black rhino is a unique subspecies known as an Eastern black rhino and has a distinctive long, curved horn.
Recent efforts have been made to reintroduce more black rhinos into the country, with nine rhinos being transferred to the Serengeti from South Africa, along with a captive eight-year-old rhino all the way from a UK who was brought to the Udzungwa Forest.
The last decade was not kind to Tanzania’s elephant population, as it saw illegal poaching take place on an industrial scale.
In just five years, the number of elephants in Tanzania dropped by a staggering 60%, with upwards of 60,000 elephants being killed for their ivory tusks which can reach lengths around 3.5 meters.
Thanks to Tanzania’s National Taskforce on Anti-Poaching, its elephant population has begun to see a rather dramatic increase and now numbers once again around 60,000 animals.
African bush elephants can readily be spotted in Tarangire NP, Ruaha NP, and the Serengeti. Tarangire is an especially good spot to observe elephants, with some herds within the park numbering well over 500 individuals.
One of the most rewarding animal encounters to be had in Tanzania is a close encounter with wild chimpanzees who share over 98% of our DNA.
Most travelers to Tanzania sadly miss out on or simply don’t realize this opportunity is available due to their focus being put on the Northern Tanzania region with Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.
Observing chimpanzees in Tanzania is possible in both the Gombe National Park, where the famous primatologist Jane Goodall extensively studied the species, as well as the Mahale Mountains National Park near Lake Tanganyika.
Chimpanzee troops here have been habituated to human presence, so getting close and observing their actions in full detail is possible with guided interactions.
However, there are a number of restrictions to ensure their safety such as not allowing visitors to have food or smoke, no flash photography, only small groups of people at a time, and no children under a certain age being allowed.
They may not be the most attractive or clean animal in Tanzania, but hippos are another animal that tops the list of most safari-goers.
Found throughout the lakes, rivers, and waterholes of the country, they can often be spotted in large groups that number in the hundreds.
The Selous Game Reserve offers the chance to observe hippos by boat, while you’re likely to spot hippos bathing with large crocs in Northern Serengeti’s Mara River.
The deep waters of the Retina Pool in Central Serengeti is another top spot to view large numbers of hippos, where you’ll be able to exit your safari vehicle to get an up-close view on foot.
Other places where hippos can readily be seen include Tarangire’s swamps, Ngorongoro’s Lake Magadi, Lake Manyara, and Katavi NP. Wherever you choose to spot them, you can be assured you’ll likely see them in the water since they spend upwards of 16 hours a day being wet.
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