May, 23 2013



Cape Buffalo

Commonly found in protected wildlife areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa, four sub-species of African Cape Buffalo have been recognized. Although they are extremely dangerous when threatened, they are quite placid when not provoked. The best places to find herds of buffalo are in Botswana (Chobe National Park), Kenya (Amboseli National Park), Namibia (Etosha National Park), South Africa (Greater Kruger Area), Tanzania (Serengeti National Park, and the Selous), Zambia (South Luangwa National Park).

Buffaloes are large, heavy animals that resemble cows. They vary greatly in size, color, and in the shape of their horns. Both male and female buffaloes have heavy, ridged horns that grow straight out from the head or curve downward and then up. The horns are formidable weapons against predators or for male fights for dominance. If one individual is under attack from a predator, the herd will rush to the victim's defence, and a herd is easily capable of driving away an entire pride of lions. Both savanna buffaloes and forest buffaloes live close to water. In general buffaloes are found throughout the northern and southern savanna as well as the lowland rain forest. The size of the buffalo herd can range from a few hundred to a few thousand, the later occurring especially in the Serengeti during the rainy season. The females and their offspring make up the bulk of the herd since males spend much of their time in bachelor groups. From age 4, females usually calve every two years, and this is usually during the rainy season when abundant grass improves the nutritional level for the females when they are pregnant or nursing.

Swahili Name:Nyati
Scientific Name:Syncerus caffer
Weight:1,500 pounds
Lifespan:20 years
Habitat:Dense forest to open plains
Gestation:Between 11 and 12 months
Predators:Humans and lions


A symbol of power, nobility and pride, the lion is an impressive creature. Contrary to other cat species, the lion lives in a pride or an extended family unit centered about a group of related females. The average pride consists of about 15 individuals, including five to 10 females with their young and two or three territorial males. Only male lions boast manes, the impressive fringe of long hair that encircles their heads. The pride usually remains intact until the males are challenged and successfully driven away or killed by other males, who then take over. At maturity, young males leave the units of their birth and spend several years as nomads before they become strong enough to take over a pride of their own. Within the pride, the territorial males are the fathers of all the cubs. When a lioness is in heat, a male will join her, staying with her constantly. The pair usually mates for less than a minute, but it does so about every 15 to 30 minutes over a period of five days.

Lions are found in savannas, grasslands, dense bush and woodlands. The division of labor between the females is clear: females do 85 to 90 percent of the pride's hunting and males patrol the territory and protect the pride. Despite this, adult males eat first, followed by the females and then the cubs.

Lions typically attack large prey at night and hunting together increases their success rate. When not hunting or eating, they spend 16 to 20 hours a day sleeping and resting.

Swahili Name:Simba
Scientific Name:Panthera leo
Weight:330 to 500 pounds
Lifespan:13 years in captivity
Habitat:Grassy plans and open woodlands
Gestation:A bit over 100 days


The African elephant is the largest living land mammal, and its muscular trunk is remarkable since it serves as a nose, a hand, an extra foot, a signaling device and a tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, and digging. Powerful enough to tear down a tree but delicate enough to pick berries, the trunk of the African elephant has two finger-like structures at its tip. The tusks are greatly elongated incisors (elephants have no canine teeth) and about one-third of their total length lies hidden inside the skull. The largest tusk ever recorded weighed 214 pounds and was 138 inches long. Tusk size is an inherited characteristic, and since poachers and hunters have killed elephants with the largest tusks, such impressive sizes are no longer found.

Tusks differ in size, shape and direction and are so unique that researchers use them to identify an individual. They also use the ears since tears, scars and different vein patterns help distinguish between individuals. Elephants not only use their ears to display, signal or warn when alarmed or angry, but they also use them to control body temperature. The elephant is known to be an intelligent animal that follows sophisticated methods of behavior and communication within a complex social structure.

Elephants are generally gregarious and form small family groups consisting of an older matriarch and three or four offspring, along with their young. Usually only one calf is born to a pregnant female. An orphaned calf will usually be adopted by one of the family's lactating females or suckled by various females. Elephants are very attentive mothers, and because most elephant behavior has to be learned, they keep their offspring with them for many years. Several interrelated family groups may inhabit an area and greet each other affectionately when crossing paths or meeting at the watering hole. Elephants make low-frequency calls, many of which, though loud, are too low for humans to hear. These sounds allow elephants to communicate with one another at distances of five or six miles.

An elephant' spends about 16 hours a day eating and since it digests only 40 percent of what it eats, it needs tremendous amounts of vegetation and about 30 to 50 gallons of water.

Elephants are no longer common in Africa due to overhunting and the spread of the desert. Surviving populations are pressured by poachers who slaughter elephants for their tusks and by rapidly increasing human settlements, which restrict elephants' movements and reduce the size of their habitat. Today it would be difficult for elephants to survive for long periods of time outside protected parks and reserves. But confining them also causes problems without access any longer to other areas, they may harm their own habitat by overfeeding and overuse.

Swahili Name:Tembo or ndovu
Scientific Name:Loxodonta africana
Weight:31/2 - 61/2 tons (7,000 13,200 lb)
Lifespan:60 to 70 years
Habitat:Dense forest to open plains
Gestation:About 22 months


These mammals are easily recognized by their prehistoric features and the horns on their forehead. There are two principal types in Africa. The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is actually gray and is also known as the square-lipped rhino. It is found across game parks and nature reserves in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. The white rhino can weigh 7,700 lbs. and stand over 6 feet high at the shoulder. The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is sometimes called the hook-lipped rhinoceros because of its long, almost prehensile upper lip. Both sexes have two horns, the larger of which can be up to 5 feet long. The black rhino lived across sub-Saharan Africa but is now limited to parks and game reserves.

Vegetarians, these animals have poor sight but a keen sense of smell. During the day they can usually be found dozing under a tree or wallowing in shallow mud to keep cool. The rhinoceros can run at a speed of 30 to 40 miles per hour.

While they can live between 35 to 40 years, the quickly decreased Rhino population is principally a result of unrestrained illegal poaching. Poachers kill the animal for its horn because it is sought after for its ornamental and supposed curative and medicinal uses. In fact, studies by international pharmaceutical companies reported no medicinal value in rhino horn, and also, in 2010 China’s official traditional-medicine authority publicly refuted the horn's curative powers.

Swahili Name:Faru
Scientific Name:Black (Diceros bicornis), white (Ceratotherium simum)
Weight:1 to 11/2 tons (black rhino), over 2 tons (white rhino)
Lifespan:35 to 40 years
Habitat:Grassland and open savannas
Gestation:16 months


Elusive, shrewd and powerful, the leopard is a strongest climber of the large cats and capable of killing prey larger than itself.
Leopards come in a wide variety of coat colors and while their spots are circular in East African leopards, they are square in southern African ones.

Leopards adapt to many places in both warm and cold climates and this has helped them survive the loss of habitat to increasing human settlement. Primarily nocturnal and solitary, a leopard usually does not tolerate intrusion into its own territory except to mate. However, they continually move about their home ranges, seldom staying in an area for more than two or three days at a time. Brilliant hunters, they often store their larger kill in tress so that lions and hyenas cannot steal from them.

Swahili Name:Chui
Scientific Name:Panthera pardus
Weight:Up to 140 pounds
Lifespan:21 years in captivity
Habitat:Bush and riverine forest
Gestation:Approximately 21/2 months