Tanzania has a vast and varied wildlife showing off some fan favorites and introducing several less-known animals that call the national parks home.
The idolized photos of a safari only begin your story with unique landscapes, captivating culture, and wildlife abundance completing the script. Witnessing animals in large herds or spotting the elusive species hiding in the bush, any sighting is sure to thrill.
The following article can guide you on the wildlife you may encounter in Tanzania, from predator to prey.
Lions are probably the most famous of Africa's animals and remain the king and queen of their landscape. They're also the easiest large predator to find, elegantly lounging without thought of hiding. Sometimes the scene couldn't be more revered, a lone lion peering out from an elevated rock. Sometimes it comes as a surprise, like a mating pair seeking solace in thick bushes. Nothing can prepare you for seeing a lion in the wild; they are bigger and broader than most anticipate, and there's a grace that belies their power.
Where to See Lions: Serengeti National Park | Ngorongoro Crater | Lake Manyara National Park | Selous Game Reserve | Ruaha National Park
The elephant is one of Africa’s great symbols and inhabits most parks and reserves across Tanzania. One elephant is always an impressive sight but seeing a herd gives you a wonderfully intimate and enigmatic experience. The bounty of trees naturally lures them to woodlands and denser savanna leaving evidence of devouring the landscape with uprooted trees and gaping pathways through the forest. Elephants are continually on the move, following a matriarchal structure and constantly searching for fresh food. You can get extremely close, the elephant towering over you in an exhilarating parade.
Where to See Elephant: Serengeti National Park| Ngorongoro Crater | Ruaha National Park | Tarangire National Park
A little-known fact is that the giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. Spread out across the vast landscapes of the country’s national parks, giraffes are a delight to spot on a game drive. Graceful, serene, and standing tall, they are almost a must on any safari itinerary. Marvel at the star-like outlines of the markings on the Maasai giraffe as they roam the plains of the African bush. The calving season brings the opportunity to see these majestic animals, big and small, as they blend into their picture-perfect setting.
Where to See Giraffe: Serengeti National Park| Ngorongoro Crater | Ruaha National Park | Tarangire National Park
Leopards are hard to find, which gives them a certain mystique in the wild and makes every spotting a real treat. Elegant paws silently explore the grass, an effortless camouflage keeping the big cat from your view. Beautiful rosette patterns mark the fur, and they are found all across Sub-Saharan Africa, adapting to most environments. Whether on an isolated acacia on an open grassland or in the heart of thick woodland. Being solitary adds to the challenge of finding them, but tiny movements often betray their camouflage or prowling as they inspect their home range.
Where to See Leopard: Serengeti National Park | Ngorongoro Crater | Tarangire National Park | Selous Game Reserve | Katavi National Park | Ruaha National Park
The wildebeest is one of Africa’s most abundant mammals and is famed for their migratory pattern when some 1.5 million of them maraud between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya’s Maasai Mara. The scraggly horned antelope prefers safety in numbers and has become a mainstay of the landscape. The wildebeest tend to move in batches between 200,000 – 300,000. Their interaction with predators elevates the experience. The great wildebeest migration continues all year and can be seen regardless of when you go to Tanzania as they move around different parts of the grassland during other months.
Where to See Wildebeest: Ngorongoro Crater | Serengeti National Park | Tarangire National Park | Selous National Park
The cheetah is Africa’s fastest mammal and offers another elusive and solitary cat that brings along an enchanting figure on any safari. They hide in the grasslands and savanna, effortlessly camouflaged when rain brings profuse rising grasses, elegantly standing above the plains when the grass is short. They can accelerate up to 60mph in just a few seconds but can't follow prey over large distances. They're secretive and veer from away from the noise, making them relatively difficult to find but result in an electrifying sight when they burst across open grassland.
Where to See Cheetah: Serengeti National Park | Ngorongoro Crater | Ruaha National Park | Tarangire National Park
Reddish-brown in color, striking black patches on their face and tanned legs, these bucks are found in the Serengeti and stand out in the crowd. Their horns are magnificent, with deep ridges highlighted. They dot the landscape in open savannas and are excellent at posing for the camera, hanging out with wildebeest and zebra to dine together on the soft grass. Their predators include the lion, leopard, and cheetah, to name a few. They certainly fall into the category of “something different” and a joy to see on a game drive.
Where to See Topi: Serengeti National Park | Ngorongoro Crater
Black and white rhinos are both actually gray or dark gray in appearance. Both are equally enticing spectacles, gracious exemplars of Africa's natural splendor. Black rhinos are smaller and distinguished by their hooked-lip, something that aids their browsing. These rhinos feed off small trees and bushes, with white rhinos almost twice the size of a black rhino and preferring grasslands and savanna. The endangered status makes spotting rhinos even more poignant. There's always a fleeting feeling that these could be the last generation of the majestic mammal.
Where to See Rhino: Ngorongoro Crater | Serengeti National Park | Selous National Park
This caracal is a nocturnal lynx spotted only during a night game drive. Their pointed ears and charming complexions create a unique image with a face made of smooth golden fur that resembles a cute but large house cat. Their power far outweighs their size, especially when the caracal picks off young gazelle. They inhabit most of Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is rare to see them during the day, which only adds to their elusive nature accompanied by their loner status and mysterious habits.
Where to See Caracal: Serengeti National Park | Ngorongoro Crater | Tarangire National Park
Spot these fascinating and interesting-looking birds during your Tanzania safari. Primarily found in central Tanzania, they are often nestled in a tree or seen roaming the savanna, where there is no shortage of insects and bugs available to them. Their black and white spotted feathers are contrasted by their striking red bill perfectly designed for digging in the African earth. Larger than you may think, they are one of the smaller of the hornbill species. Seeing them on a game drive adds a wonderful twist to the must-see safari list.
Where to See Red-Billed Hornbills: Ruaha National Park | Serengeti National Park | Lake Manyara National Park
Majestic in stature and quiet and still in nature, the buffalo roams the plains and lap up the rivers in several Tanzanian parks. Male buffalo can get up to one ton in weight, large, robust, and in command. They love to graze in a variety of settings, from swamps to savannas and prefer to stick together with some herds numbering in the hundreds and even thousands. Rounding up the Big Five in sightings, spotting a buffalo while in Tanzania is part of the essential experience.
Where to See Buffalo: Serengeti National Park | Ngorongoro Crater | Tarangire National Park | Selous National Park | Lake Manyara National Park
An integral part of the great migration, you can find these fascinating animals far and wide throughout the Tanzanian safari circuit. Each year young and old embarks on a trek north, a journey over around two thousand miles as they search for water. They graze the open savanna and grassland and travel in herds that range in size. A quintessential sighting on any safari, you are bound to spot a few on a game drive. The stripes have perplexed many over the years, living true to their collective name, a dazzle of zebra.
Where to See Zebra: Serengeti National Park | Tarangire National Park | Selous Game Reserve | Ngorongoro Crater
Tanzania’s diverse environment allows you to immerse in some of the world’s most exciting wildlife experiences. You can get acquainted with lions and elephants, wildebeest and giraffes, and so many more. Knowing when to visit will give better chances for witnessing the types of events that inspire you the most. If you’re thinking of planning a trip and are perhaps looking for tips and inspiration on the best time for a Tanzania safari, you can find more information with your Tanzania Travel Guide. You can also speak with a Tanzania safari specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.