Everything You Need To Know About African Mammals

Africa is home to several wonders of the world. Consisting of plain, semi-desert, and hilly areas, tourists visit the country every year to witness and experience sights not found anywhere else. A major source of attraction are the animals, particularly mammals. Africa is home to a wide variety of African mammals. Featuring distinct characteristics, each species plays a pivotal role in maintaining the ecosystem.

From Impalas to Elephants, almost every mammal could be found here. Since South Africa is divided into two regions, the mammals are spread throughout depending on the availability of water, habitats, and geographic location. While some mammals can live years without water, others depend heavily on it. Let us explore Africa’s enormous mammal diversity and discover what it has to offer.

With over 300 mammal species, you can see a lot of animals in the jungles of South Africa. Firstly, there are “Big Five”: Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, and Rhino. The term “Big Five” was coined last century because these animals were found the most difficult to be hunted on foot. Also, this term is used to describe the strength and power of the animals.

Introduction to “Big Five”


Lions tend to be the most popular sight in Africa. Pioneers of hunting, lions are spread throughout Africa and sometimes even become a source of entertainment for the tourists as they hunt live. Known as the king of the jungle, Lions are fierce animals. They travel in groups consisting of both males and females.

Furthermore, they are the largest type of cats and would often fight for dominance. When it comes to intruders entering a territory, the males step ahead and defend their family.

However, an unfortunate aspect of Lion’s nature is that it will even kill the cubs of the opponent Lion if it were to gain dominance. Although they are found in bushy and wooded habitats as well, but lions mostly prefer open areas to hunt and hide their young.


Buffalos are a seriously dangerous animal if someone was to poke them. They are recognized as one of the deadliest animals on the planet that gore, trample, and kill hundreds of people every year. Buffalos travel in packs and are very conscious about their young. Furthermore, they do not easily accept intruders in their territories as well.  Most often, they will get in a sparring session and fight using their horns, which could cause deadly injuries. This is a way for the adult buffalos to show their dominance. However, female buffalos do not spar at all. The African Buffalo, which is the most popular type across the world, stands amongst crocodiles and hippos in terms of annual kills of humans.


If you are in Africa, there is nothing more majestic than watching a group of elephants in the wild. Featuring a gigantic body with tough skin, enormous tusks and mammoth ears, elephants are a treat to eyes. It is not only the biggest land mammal but also intelligent as well. Almost every feature of elephants is distinct and unique. To begin with, its big ears help it cool down and will also be used to communicate. The tusks come in use when there is a fight about to take place and it needs to defend itself or its territory. Moreover, if you were to observe closely, elephant feet are cylindrical shaped. This allows them to travel without creating too much noise. Elephants are emotional creatures. They like to interact with each other and care for their young. Due to excessive illegal hunting, elephants are now threatened in terms of population. They are poached and their tusks are sold in the black market for millions of dollars.


Unfortunately, Rhinos share the same fate as Elephants in Africa. They have been poached to extinction for their horns. In fact, the last male white Rhino breathed its last a year ago and conservationists are trying to breed rhinos so that the population could be increased. It is one of the oldest mammals on the planet and features two curved horns on its head that are used to fight and defend itself. Depending on the type of rhino, physical features may vary, however, all of them tend to be extremely tough and can run pretty fast. Furthermore, rhinos are herbivores. They prefer eating grass using their lips rather than teeth. Both White and Black rhinoceros had lost their front teeth over the years and solely rely on their lips for eating.


Leopards are the biggest spotted species amongst cats. They are extremely agile and able to run at very high speeds. At first, one might confuse a leopard with cheetah but the difference in spots helps differentiate the two. Depending on the region, the leopards will differ in terms of spots, color, and physical features. For instance, you shall also find melanistic leopards that are completely black. Black color allows these cats to camouflage extremely well in the dark and the prey does not have even the slightest idea of danger above its head. Like Lions, Leopards tend to be specialized hunters as well. They will either hunt individually or sometimes in groups. However, when it comes to sharing meat, fights may break out.

Interesting African Mammal Facts

Rhinos have poor eyesight

It might come as a surprise considering their sheer size that rhinos have pretty bad eyesight. Their eyesight is so poor that they will often attach rocks and trees accidentally. If you were to stand nearly 3 meters close to them, they would find it difficult to decide whether you are a tree or a human. However, their keen sense of smell and hearing makes up for the loss.

Buffalo Are Avengers

Buffalo are known to counter-attack their predators. If a lion or a cheetah were to attach them or kill their young, buffalo will not let go easily. It will roam in the same territory and wait for the attacker. Once found, they will usually form a group and attack at one, even if it kills the animal. Since they possess sharp memories, buffalos have been recorded to attack lions and hunters including humans who they have encountered previously.

Elephants Do Not Forget

As already mentioned, Elephants are emotional creatures. At the same time, they tend to remember things for long and will not forget easily. This proves that they possess incredible memories. Furthermore, elephants are able to recognize and identify their family members using their smell and sight. A chief characteristic related to emotional ability is that elephants experience trauma as well. They mourn for the dead, cry, and even recognize themselves in the mirror.

Following is the list of most common South African mammals:

ANTBEAR – Orycteropodidae

Generally referred to ask the ‘aardvark’, the Orycterpodidaeantbear is native to Africa and resembles a pig due to its snout. It is basically a medium-sized nocturnal animal that feeds on insects by digging them out using its sharp claws. The aardvark feeds on termites and ants by using its powerful sniffing power. Although it’s number is decreasing, relevant authorities such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature seems to be least concerned about it.


HYAENAS – Hayenidae

Although Hyenas are dangerous carnivorous mammals but they are vital for the African ecosystems. Hyenas tend to use their teeth for hunting rather than claws, while at the same time, their scent marking, grooming, mating and defecating habits tend tobe similar to other forms of felines. Furthermore, hyenas always work as a team to scare off large predators such as lions from their pray, even though they are known for their cowardly personality.

Spotted Hyaena – Brown Hyaena – Aardwolf

ANTELOPE – Bovidae

Antelopes belong to the family Bovidae, which consists of approximately 135 species of antelope. All male antelopes in Bovidae have horns, which could either be short or long. Mostly found in Eurasia and Africa, antelopes with time have adapted to different habitats, environments, which is evident by their size, diet, social organization, and shape. Antelopes due to their horns have been hunted for years. In many countries, the antelope horn is considered as a prized possession and a powerful magical item. Relying on its speed, antelopes travel in a herd that allows them to be safe from predators.

Buffalo – Blue Wildebeest – Black Wildebeest – Red Hartebeest
Tsessebe – Eland – Kudu – Nyala – Bushbuck – Oryx – Springbok
Waterbuck – Sable – Roan – Klipspringer – Impala  Oribi – Puku
Sitatunga – DamaraDik-dik – Common Duiker – Sharpe’s Grysbok
Suni – Bontebok – Blesbok – Reedbuck – Mountain Reedbuck – Grysbok
Grey Rhebuck – Steenbok – Blue Duiker – Red Duiker – Red Lechwe

HYRAXES – Procaviidae

Also known as dassies, Hyraxes are thick and small herbivorous mammals. They usually weigh around 2-5 kilograms and measure between 30-70 centimeters in length. Uptil now, five species of hyraxes have been identified known as the rock hyrax, koppies, yellow-spotted rock hyrax, southern tree hyrax, western tree hyrax, and the eastern tree hyrax. Hyraxes use their perfectly combed teeth to cut and chew on grass and other tough plant materials and retain water during the process to survive in arid conditions.

Rock Hyrax 

– Tree Hyrax – Yellow-spot Hyrax

BABOONS & MONKEYS – Cercopithecidae

Baboons and monkeys belong to a family of primates, which is known as Cercopithecidae. Furthermore, the common English name used is ‘Old World Monkey’. Today, around 138 species and 24 genera have been identified, which makes it the largest family of primates in the world. The Old World Money genera feature baboons and macaques. While the smallest old world monkey is the talapoin, the largest member is the male mandrill. Moreover, old-world monkeys and baboons differ in terms of characteristics, particularly facial.

Vervet Monkey – Baboon – Samango Monkey


Jackals & foxes belong to the family Canidae that are basically dog-like carnivores. Found in almost every continent except Antarctica, the Canids have adapted themselves either independently or along with human beings with the passage of time. Canids are more or less similar interms of having upright ears, bushy tails, and long legs. Furthermore, their behavior when it comes to living as a family also resembles one another. Over time, jackals & foxes by continuous interaction with humans have made them one of the most widely kept domestic pets.

Wild Dog – Cape Fox – Black-backed Jackal – Bat-eared Fox – Side-striped Jackal

BUSHBABIES – Lorisidae

Bushbabies also known as nagapies or galagos are a sister group of lorisidae. These are called bush babies due to their appearance or cries. Mostly found in Africa, bushbabies have big eyes that feature excellent night vision along with acute hearing, strong hind limbs, and long tails, which allows them to balance on trees. Furthermore, bushbabies hunt at night and usually either catch prey on the ground or mid-air. Using their acute hearing, they remain attentive to their surroundings, which protects them from potential danger.

Lesser Bushbaby – Thick-tailed Bushbaby

PANGOLIN – Manidae

Pangolins are usually recognized by their long hard protective skin covering their bodies. Sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters, pangolins are both found in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, pangolins happen to be nocturnal mammals that feed on termites and ants. Depending on the species, they may live in burrows or trees. Pangolins use their long tongues to capture ants and termites. Today, pangolins are threatened creatures due to poaching. Moreover, they are one of the most illegally trafficked animals in the world as well. Due to this reason alone, more than eight species of pangolins have been brought near to extinction.


CATS – Felidae

The Felidae is a family of carnivorous cats. It is one of the largest families existing in the world today due to diverse characteristics in terms of hunting, breeding, and praying habits. Furthermore, their body patterns differ as well. However, all of them feature sharp claws and powerful bites to hunt and kill their prey. Adapted to arid environments and forest habitats, these carnivores are found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. Ranging from domestic cats kept as pets to notorious big cats such as lions, the Felidae family highlights a broad range of cats that have continuously evolved over the years.

African Lion – Leopard – Cheetah – Caracal – Serval – African Wildcat
PORCUPINES – Hystricidae

Porcupines are identified by their coats that consist of long spikes used to protect them from predators. They are categorized into two types, the old world porcupines and the new world porcupines. Although the species existing in these two categories maybe the same due to similar quill coats but they are quite distinct overall. The old world porcupines tend to live in  Asia and southern Europe and are strictly nocturnal. Whereas, the new world porcupines are only found in North and North-South America.


CANE RAT- Thryonomyidae

Cane rats are basically rodents that are found in Africa and South Sahara. While Cane rats tend to be considered as pests but they are also consumed at the same time. Covered with brown fur, cane rats can weigh upto 10 kilograms. Furthermore, they are mostly found alongside riverbanks and feed on grass. Not only that, but they will also feed on crops and plantations, making them pests that are no way beneficial for the crops. Known for its taste and tenderness, cane rats are kept in captivity in West Africa to be consumed once they are mature.

Greater cane rat

PIGS – Suidae

Pigs belong to the Suidae family, which consists of boars and wild hogs etc. They are omnivorous mammals, meaning that they consume a large variety of foods. Since pigs share similar biological characteristics to humans, they are often used for research purposes. Pigs are kept as pets by most people across the globe, especially farmers but their consumption is restricted in Asian Muslim countries.  Depending on the type, pigs will exhibit tusks and often kill their babies if the mother happens to become stressed.

Warthog – Bushpig

CIVETS, SURICATES, GENETS & MONGOOSES – Viveridae             

The Viverridae family consists of mammals that are small to medium-sized. Genets, Civets, Mongooses, and Suricates are some popular examples. Found in Southern Europe, Africa, South, and Southeast Asia, almost all viverrids share the same features and characteristics. They have four or five toes on each foot in addition to claws that are half-retractile. Furthermore, each jaw consists of six incisors and molars. A gland or a pouch is present underneath the anus while a cecum is not found.

African Civet – Large spotted Genet – Small spotted Genet
Water Mongoose – Banded Mongoose – Dwarf Mongoose
Large Grey Mongoose – Slender Mongoose– Selous’ Mongoose
Yellow Mongoose – Small Grey Mongoose – White-tailed Mongoose

RHINOCEROSES – Rhinocerotidae

A rhinoceros is identified by its horn on its head and tough gigantic body. They are herbivores and are found in Sothern Asia and Africa. The most unfortunate thing about rhinos is that they have been killed to extinction for their horns. The horns are then sold in the black market. Moreover, there are 5 types of rhinoceros, white, black, Indian Javan, and Sumatran. All types share the same body size and characteristics and could weigh upto 1 ton. The Sumatran and African types consist of two horns that are made of keratin, a type of protein used by hair and nails.

Black Rhinoceros – White Rhinoceros

ELEPHANTS – Elephantidae

Elephants are the most majestic creatures on earth. Even though they are huge but smart and intelligent. Like rhinos, elephants have also been killed over the years for their tusks, which is amongst the most expensive items. Feeding on plants and leaves, elephants travel in a group and are considered similar to humans when it comes to emotions. Furthermore, they are recognized as African Bush, African forest, and Asian elephants. For years, elephants have been used as transport and war animals as well. The most noticeable feature is their big ears, which they use to communicate and keep the heat at bay.

African Elephant

SPRING HARE – Peditidae

Even though spring hares are mammals but considered rodents. They are recognized by their strong and long rear limbs with a long bushy tail, with the rear end colored black. There are two species of spring hare, the South African and East African springhare. Since these mammals are nocturnal, they sleep inside burrows they dig and feed on roots, foliage, and other vegetable type material. Today, its total number is decreasing due to hunting and habitat loss.

Spring Hare

GIRAFFE – Giraffidae

Featuring a long neck with horn-like ossicones on its head, giraffes are herbivores and consist of different coat patterns. It is a strong animal that uses its long legs to fight off predators such as lions and leopards etc. Furthermore, it is the tallest land mammal on earth. Giraffes use what is called ‘necking’ to communicate with each other and is also used when threatened. Lastly, giraffes are kept in zoos across the globe due to their intriguing size and height, which attracts thousands of visitors.


SQUIRRELS – Sciuridae

Squirrels are small to medium-sized rodents. These mammals are smart and clever, which comes to use when they are in the hunt for food. They were first discovered in Australia and today spread across Eurasia, America, and Africa. A chief characteristic of squirrels is their speed. They are agile and will take seconds to climb any type of tree and run away from predators. Furthermore, squirrels build their nests in trees, where they care for their young and feed on vegetables and fruits. The strong rear legs help them climb, jump, and run while the long tail helps them balance at high speeds.

Ground Squirrel – Tree Squirrel

HARES – Leporidae

People normally term hares as rabbits and rightfully so. Hares belong to the same family as rabbits and share nearly the same characteristics. Hares are herbivores, share the same size as that of rabbits and big ears. However, unlike rabbits, the young hares wander off for food and other things soon after birth. Furthermore, hares differentiate themselves from rabbits by living above the ground in their nests rather than in the ground. In addition to that, they do not live in groups and are comparatively a bit larger in size.

Scrub Hare – Cape Hare


The mustelidae family is mostly carnivorous and consists of badgers, otters, polecats, weasels, ferrets, and minks, etc. Although Mustelidae differs in size and shape but shares some common characteristics. All of them possess round ears, short legs, and thick fur. Another significant feature is that these mammals use anal secretions to communicate with each other and for sexual signaling as well. Not only are these animals hunted for their furs but kept as domestic pets as well.

Striped Polecat – Honey Badger – Clawless Otter

HEDGEHOG – Erinacidae

Most people tend to confuse hedgehogs with porcupines. Although a hedgehog looks physically similar to porcupine there are certain differences. Hedgehog has hollow hair with spikes on their spines that are neither poisonous nor detach easily from the body as in the case of porcupines. Furthermore, they are able to form a ball shape when threatened to point the pines outwards in self-defense. Hedgehogs sleep during the majority of the day under rocks, bushes, and grasses, etc. Depending on the species, some can hibernate as well.


ZEBRAS – Equidae

Zebras are distinctive mammals due to their white and black stripes. They are basically grazers and rely on vegetation for food. Prayed mostly by lions, zebras have the ability to deliver life-threatening kicks and bites. Furthermore, zebras are categorized into three types, Grevy’s, plains, and mountain zebra. The stripes differ on each individual and are said to protect zebras from biting flies. Even though zebras resemble horsesinterms of height and physical appearance, they have never been kept as pets. Due to their wild nature, zebras are better off in the wilds to which their both young and adults adapt better.

Mountain Zebra – Burchells Zebra

Final Word

Concluding, African mammals are nothing short of being wonders. Name almost any animal and you shall find it here, especially felines, rhinos, giraffes, leopards, and cheetahs, etc. A major positive aspect of Africa is that it features habitats for all types of animals. Each animal directly or indirectly contributes to the ecosystem of Africa, which helps it thrive. Therefore, if the most popular mammals were to be found anywhere in the world, it would surely be in Africa.


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