With vast and varied wildlife that thrives in diverse terrain, the top 15 animals of Tanzania and where to see them highlights the biodiversity of the African safari circuit.
Photos of safaris capture only the beginning of the story, with unique landscapes, culture, and abundant wildlife demonstrating the breadth of wonder. Witnessing large herds of animals or spotting elusive species hiding in the bush embody the thrills of a safari experience.
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 the easiest large predators to find.
Sometimes a lone lion will peek out from behind an elevated rock, while at other times you will happen on a surprise, like a mating pair in thick bushes.
Nothing can prepare you for seeing a lion in the wild. They are bigger and broader than most anticipate, and their grace belies their power.
Where to see lions: Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater • Lake Manyara National Park • Nyerere National Park • Ruaha National Park • Tarangire 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 provides a wonderful experience.
Bountiful trees lure them to woodlands and denser savanna, where they devour the landscape, uprooting trees and leaving gaping pathways in the forest.
Elephants are continually on the move, following a matriarchal structure and constantly searching for fresh food. You can get extremely close while remaining safe, with elephants 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 Maasai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. Spread out across the vast landscapes of the country’s national parks, the animals are a delight to spot.
Graceful, serene, and standing tall, they are almost a must on any safari itinerary. Marvel at the star-like outlines of Maasai giraffe markings as they roam the African bush.
The calving season brings the opportunity to see these majestic animals, big and small, as they blend into their surroundings.
Where to see giraffe: Serengeti National Park• Ngorongoro Crater • Ruaha National Park • Selous Game Reserve • Tarangire National Park
The elusive leopard adds a certain mystique to the wild, making every spotting a real treat. Elegant paws silently explore the grass, an effortless camouflage keeping the big cat from view.
Beautiful rosette patterns mark their fur and they are found across Sub-Saharan Africa, adapting to most environments. Whether on an isolated acacia in open grassland or in the heart of thick woodland, leopards find shelter in the most compelling landscapes.
Being solitary adds to the challenge of finding them, but tiny movements often betray them as they inspect their home range.
Where to see leopard: Central Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater • Tarangire National Park • Selous Game Reserve • Katavi National Park
Wildebeest are among Africa’s most abundant mammals, famed for a migratory pattern during which some 1.5 million of them thunder 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.
Wildebeest tend to move in groups of between 200,000 – 300,000. Their interaction with predators elevates the experience. Their great migration is an all-year-round affair and can be seen regardless of when you go to Tanzania, and you can experience the event on our Tanzania Great Migration Safaris.
Where to see wildebeest: Ngorongoro Crater • Serengeti National Park • Tarangire National Park • Selous National Park
The cheetah, another elusive and solitary cat, is Africa’s fastest mammal. They hide in the grasslands and savanna, effortlessly camouflaged in the rainy season, while elegant 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 away from noise. This makes them difficult to find, but when they burst across open grassland it’s electrifying.
Where to see cheetah: Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater • Ruaha National Park • Tarangire National Park
Reddish-brown in color, striking black patches on their faces and tanned legs, these buck are found in the Serengeti and stand out in the crowd, their deep-ridged horns being magnificent.
They dot the landscape in open savannas and are excellent at posing for the camera, hanging out with wildebeest and zebra as they dine on soft grass. They certainly fall into the category of “something different” and are a joy to see.
Their predators include lion, leopard, and cheetah, to name a few.
Where to see topi: Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater
The spotted hyena, which can be heard from afar, is a playful animal that displays a lively disposition when around dens and waterholes.
A little misunderstood, the intriguing hyena lives in a clan, usually in open savannahs or forested havens, and is identified by its giggling call. Despite their reputation for being rather unfortunate looking, they are rather cute.
Watch as they wander silently to the remains of a kill, where they can wait patiently for hours for leftovers.
Where to see hyena: Lake Manyara • Ngorongoro Crater • Serengeti National Park • Tarangire National Park
The caracal is a nocturnal lynx. They have pointed ears and charming faces of golden fur, resembling cute, but large house cats.
Their power far outweighs their size, especially when picking off young gazelle. They inhabit most of Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is rare to see them during the day, adding to their elusive nature and mysterious habits.
Where to see caracal: Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater • Tarangire National Park
Spot these fascinating birds during your 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. These fascinating creatures are larger than you may think and 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 • Tarangire National Park
Majestic in stature, quiet and still in nature, buffalo roam plains and lap up the rivers in several Tanzanian parks. Large, robust, and in command, males can weigh a ton.
They love to graze in a variety of settings, from swamps to savannas, and prefer to stick together, with some herds numbering in the thousands. Spotting a buffalo while in Tanzania is an essential part of the Big Five 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 throughout the Tanzanian safari circuit. Each year young and old embark on a trek north, a journey of around 2000 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
Often referred to as “painted dogs”, the wild dog is beautiful and intriguing. Their patterned fur is an individual trademark and large, rounded ears suggest an air of cuteness.
They live and travel in packs, and have great social skills, often heard and seen playfully tackling each other outside their dens. They are intelligent hunters and start their hunts with a meeting ritual that includes chatter and wagging their tails, their fluffy white tips drawing patterns of excitement in the air.
Visit Tanzania’s south and discover wild dogs in their natural habitat in places like the Selous Game Reserve, observing them as they cover large distances as they move from den to den. These monogamous animals are greatly endangered, but remain a treat to discover for any safari-goer.
Where to see wild dog: Selous Game Reserve • RuahaNational Park • Tarangire National Park • Katavi National Park
A wonderful add-on to any Tanzanian safari, chimpanzee trekking is a thrilling activity that highlights the characteristics and lifestyle of these animals.
Dr. Jane Goodall spent a great deal of time studying and embracing these wonderful creatures in Gombe National Park. Witness these incredible animals in their forested habitat as you track them for a couple of hours with your qualified guide.
Charming and cheeky characteristics are displayed as they swing from trees and bustle about the leaf-lined jungle floors.
Where to see chimpanzee: Gombe National Park • Mahale Mountains National Park
Home to one of the world’s largest breeding grounds for pink flamingos, Tanzania’s lakes become a colorful display of beauty as they gather in numbers throughout the day.
Appropriately called a flamboyance of flamingos, their color is mostly derived from the beta-carotene that is found in what these regal characters eat. The hue varies, adding to the overall collage you can see when looking out over the waters.
Spending time near glistening waters filled with flamingos is a treat not to be missed on an east African safari.
Where to see flamingos: Lake Natron near Arusha • Lake Manyara • Lake Magadi around Ngorongoro Crater
Tanzania’s diverse environment allows you to immerse yourself in some of the world’s most exciting wildlife experiences. Enjoy game drives that bring you close to lions, elephant, wildebeest, giraffes, and so many other incredible animals. Knowing when to visit will give you better chances to witness the types of events that most inspire you.
If you’re thinking of planning a trip and are looking for tips and inspiration on how to visit Tanzania for a safari, you can find more information with our Tanzania Safari Guide or find inspiration for your trip with our Tanzania Safaris & Vacations sample itineraries.