Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
The African elephant is the largest living land mammal. It can weigh between 3.5 – 6.5 tons. Elephants were once common throughout all of Africa. They have since disappeared from Northern Africa, where they had been since Roman times, due to overhunting and the spread of desert. Of all the special features, the muscular trunk is the most remarkable feature; being a nose, a hand, an extra foot, a signaling device and also a tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, digging and a variety of other functions.
There are 5 species of Rhinoceros in the world, 3 in Asia and 2 in Africa. In Ngorongoro and Serengeti one can be lucky enough to see the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis). This prehistoric mammal had their origins millions of years ago and they still exist today, but since 1970, there has been 80-90% reduction in the world population. In the wild they do not have any true predators, but human beings have killed the Rhino in order to use their horns for medicine, even though the horn doesn’t give any healing medical effect. The Black Rhino can weigh up to 1300 kg. It has poor eyesight and is rather ill-tempered. An attacking rhino lowers its head, snorts and breaks into a gallop (up to 50 kph) and gives powerful blows with its horns.
Read more about the danger of Rhino extinction here.
Read more about the danger of Rhino extinction here.
There are two races of African, or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer). Those that are found in Tanzania and Kenya are Savanna Buffalo, whilst one can find Forest Buffalo in West Africa. The buffalo is one of the most widespread and abundant of Africa’s large herbivores. They are unpredictable and can be very dangerous. Their horns are formidable weapons and used by buffaloes when jostling for space within the herd, and by males in their fight for dominance. They are also used in protection from predators. If attacked, the adults in the herd form a circle around the young and face outward. When they lower their heads and present a solid ”fence” of sharp horns, it is difficult for predators to attack.
Lion (Phanthera leo)
Once found in most of Africa, India and even the Middle East, the Lion is now confined to Sub-Sahara. They are the biggest and most powerful cat in the area. But also the laziest; sleeping and resting in the shade for up to 20 hours a day. They mostly live in big groups of up to 30 lions. The females hunt in groups and can take prey as large as wildebeest, zebra, rhinos, hippos and giraffes. The males patrol the territory and protect the group. Within the group the males are fathers of all the cubs. When a lioness is in her fertile stage she will be joined by a male who keeps her constant company for 4-5 days. At that time they are not lazy and will mate every 15-30 min. If a new male takes over a group he will kill all the cubs and feed the lioness.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
This cat has solid black dots and marked stripes in the face. They eat small antelopes, and will stalk as close as possible before attacking. The cheetah is incredibly quick with a final burst of speed of up to 100 kph, which can be maintained for about 500 meters. Whilst running at full speed, the Cheetah will trip its prey and seize it quickly by the throat in a suffocating grip.
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
This cat has black/brown spots arranged in rosettes. It is the most widespread cat in East Africa, but it’s very hard to see since it’s most active during night. This cat weighs only 45 kg, but it’s very strong. They take their prey (sometimes bigger than themselves) up into a tree to avoid disturbance and avoid sharing with another carnivore. When the leopard raises its tail with the whitish part shown, it is a signal to the cubs to follow their mother in the tall grass during the night. It is also to show the antelopes that there is no danger. The leopard can walk through herds of antelopes without disturbing them when the tail is raised.
Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardis)
These are the tallest animals in the world. The male can be over 5 meters tall. They were widely spread in most of Africa, but have been exterminated in many areas. They are still numerous in East Africa where one can find three races. They eat for 16-20 hours a day, mostly leaves and shoots from even the most thorny of trees and bushes. They do this with ease because of their prehensile lips and a very long tongue (45 cm). The adult giraffe has few predators, but the young can be taken by lions, hyenas and leopards.
There are two species of zebras in East Africa. The Burchell’s zebra (Equus burchelli) and Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi). The Burchell’s is the most common, famous for its huge migrating herds. They have a characteristic barking call: kwa-ha-ha that is frequently heard.
Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
Often called Gnu. These are the animals that make the famous migration in the Serengeti. The seasonal migration from southern Serengeti to the Masaai Mara and back covers a distance of 800 kms and at times columns of animals stretch for 40 kms.
Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
The hippopotamus is found south of Sahara across much of East Africa. It has an enormous body, only the elephant is heavier. Their body is devoid of fur and it stays in rivers and swamps during the day to avoid overheating, sunburn and dehydration. They’re also called the River Horse, and an adult can stay 5 minutes completely submerged in water. The babies are even adapted to nurse under water. The Hippopotamus will leave the water at night to graze.
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
The largest and most common hyena in East Africa. They are densely populated on open savannahs where “clans” can number up to 80 individuals. Females are larger and more aggressive than males and dominate the clan. They are extremely successful predators and, hunting as a pack, they are capable of bringing down large herbivores. They are most active at night. In a kill they utilize everything but the rumen content and the horns. In a quarter of an hour, 30-35 hyenas are able to polish off an adult zebra.
Amongst the primates in East Africa, monkeys are the easiest to see and there are many species. The left and right pictures are of the eastern black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza), which can be found in Arusha and Kilimanjaro National Park. Other more unusual monkeys are the vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops). In Lake Manyara you are most likely to meet the olive baboon (Papio cyncocephalus) when you have lunch. They gather around the picnic area and wait until you have finished, to eat the leftovers.
There are many kinds of antelopes in East Africa. The smallest one (Dik Dik) only weighs 5 kg. Eland are the biggest, weighing 900 kg. Thomson Gazelles and other gazelles form the main prey of many predators. The Impala is extremely fast and agile. Antelopes are able to cover 10 m in a single bound, which can be 3 m high. On the right is a picture of a Topi.
East Africa is a paradise for bird watchers, with more than 1000 species. You can find very seldom and endemic birds like Usambara weaver, Pemba pigeon and Uluguru bush shrike, but you will also find millions of Flamingos gathered in salt lakes. You should also see the largest bird in the world, the Ostrich, which can weigh up to 130 kg. During the breeding season several females may lay in the same nest, and more than 70 eggs have been recorded in one nest.
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