Before looking into Tanzania as a safari destination, I wasn’t sure what wildlife I’d get to see while on safari there. In fact, I’d never really given Tanzania much consideration as a safari destination. In my mind, safaris happened in South Africa, Botswana, and Kenya. I never actually realised that Tanzania would be one of the best places to go on safari in Africa! So if you are wondering what wildlife you might see in Tanzania, here is the list of everything we saw (that I remember!). I have also noted the best time of year and national parks in which to see them.
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What wildlife can I see in Tanzania?
Here is the complete list of everything we saw that I made a note of. We actually saw a lot more, but I have either forgotten or don’t know the name. So what animals can you expect to see in Tanzania?
African Cape Buffalo
White Backed Vultures
Lappet Faced Vulture
Black-faced Vervet Monkeys
Lilac Breasted Roller Bird
African Long-Eared Owl
African Harrier Hawk
Black Headed Heron
And the list goes on!
You will not be short of wildlife to see on your visit to Tanzania! I thought I’d highlight some of the most interesting ones below, either because they are unique or because our encounter with them was memorable. I’ve also noted where the best place is to see them.
Can I see the Big 5 in Tanzania?
Yes! Tanzania is home to 430 species and subspecies of animal, totalling more than four million wild animals in Tanzania alone! In fact, Tanzania is home to a whopping 20% of Africa’s total large mammal population, including Africa’s Big 5.
There is nothing more special than getting the opportunity to see the ‘King of Africa’ up close, and Central Serengeti is the best place in all of Africa to spot lions. There are roughly 3,000 lions spread across an estimated 300 separate prides in Central Serengeti. So it’s not unusual to stumble upon lions sleeping on the side of the track.
If you’re hoping to see some adorable lion cubs, and potentially even a live birth or two, then the best time to visit Central Serengeti is January or February. This is what’s known as Serengeti’s ‘Calving Season’ and the most likely time to see cute furry babies be it cubs, calves, or piglets!
Although the Serengeti is the oldest and largest ecosystem in the world at approximately 30,000 km (12,000 sq miles), there are many other parks where you can also find lions, such as:
- Ngorongoro Crater
- Lake Manyara National Park (this park is ideal if you want to see lions in trees!)
- Ruaha National Park
- Nyerere National Park
- Tarangire National Park
The early bird catches the worm
My best tip for seeing lions would be to get up early. They are most active during the early morning, and we were lucky enough to see a couple of hunts. As the day warms up, you will likely just see them lazing in the sun!
One of the things that surprised us is just how close you can get to the lions. They often use the same tracks as the safari vehicles. So it is not unusual to find them happily lazing by the side of the road. We had an amazing encounter with a pride on the move who passed within inches of our truck! In fact, I felt a little exposed with our windows fully open. We would have made an effortless meal for them!
There was one animal I wanted to see above all else when in Tanzania, and that was elephants! The first thing Malaki (our guide) asked us en route to Tarangire was, “What animal would you most like to see?”. When I replied with “elephants” he chuckled and said, “that wish I can definitely grant!”
It turns out that the best place to see African Elephants is Tarangire National Park, nicknamed ‘Elephant Paradise’. Tarangire National Park is currently home to approximately 2,500 African Elephants! This number is increasing by about 6% each year.
The best time to visit is between June and November, which happens to be the dry season! During this time, you’ll be able to catch the elephant migration to the Tarangire river valley. With limited water sources, large numbers of animals congregate around the water sources making for ideal viewing. It was rather surreal as all animals seemed to arrive simultaneously as if following a specific timetable. And just as quickly as they descended on the watering hole, they were gone!
If you want to see some baby elephants (who doesn’t?), then the best time to visit would be during the ‘Calving Season’ from January to February. However, even in August, when we were there, there were still plenty of baby elephants about. As it happens, one decided to stop a mere metre from our truck for a little rest. It was a truly unforgettable memory that will live with me forever.
Some other places where you can see Elephants in Tanzania are Serengeti National Park, Selous Game Reserve, and Ruaha National Park, which has the highest concentration of Elephants in East Africa!
Despite being one of the most intelligent and dangerous hunters, the leopard is one of the hardest predators to spot. Their shy nature and solitary hunting habits make them very difficult to find. Central Serengeti is one of the most common places to spot Leopards, although only about three-quarters of tourists manage to spot one! There are currently an estimated 1,000 Leopards in Central Serengeti, all playing hide and seek. However, you may also spot Leopards in other parks, such as Ruaha National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a haven for many endangered species.
The best time to see these shy creatures is during the dryer months between December and February, and June to October. You’ll mostly find leopards in bushy areas with plenty of trees. Leopards hide their kills to keep scavengers like Hyenas from stealing them.
We were lucky enough to see not one but two leopards! Honestly, having a good guide will make all the difference, and Malaki had an incredible ability for finding wildlife! Our first sighting was at a distance. We were able to see it with binoculars, but it was far from the track, so we were unable to get up close (since leaving the designated tracks is prohibited!). Our second sighting however, was right next to the road!
It happened as we travelled at speed between Northern and Southern Serengeti. I was asleep in the back, and Doug was engrossed in his phone as we enjoyed our Tanzania massage (bumpy road). All of a sudden, Malaki slammed the brakes on and started shouting. “Doug, camera, DOUG, Camera!!”. We were now reversing back up the road, both Doug and me disoriented and unsure of what was happening. But then suddenly we spotted it. A leopard perched on a tree, staring right back at us! Doug had about 3 seconds to get the photo before the leopard vanished!
African Cape Buffalo
The African Cape Buffalo is Africa’s only wild species of Cattle. There are roughly 400,000 African Cape Buffalo in Africa, and herds can get together in gatherings of more than 1,000 at a time!
The best time to see these giants is during the dry seasons between December and February (which includes calving season) and June to October, where you’ll commonly find them near waterholes. Due to their high population, you have a very high chance of seeing African Cape Buffalo in most parks. Still, the best places to spot them are Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Nyerere National Park.
Unfortunately, the current population of rhinos in Tanzania is very low. There is only an estimated population of 80 individuals! Sadly, due to their lack of numbers and impressive camouflage capability, rhinos are a scarce sight, even in well-known rhino territory.
You will most likely spot black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. If you are lucky, you might also see them in Serengeti National Park, in one of the many rhino protection zones within the park. Unfortunately, we weren’t fortunate enough to see one. Not up close anyway. I still stand by the fact that I did spot the bum of one with my binoculars, but neither Malaki nor Doug believed me!
During the dry seasons, between December and February and June to October, you may be lucky enough to see them around waterholes.
However, if you are really keen to see Black Rhinos and have the time, there is a small park in Eastern Tanzania where it is actually effortless to see rhinos. That park is Mkomazi National Park! Two large areas within the park are fenced off to protect the rhinos. One is a breeding ground, which tourists can’t access, and the other is a conservation area that tourists can visit.
What are the African Ugly 5?
It feels a bit mean that there is a list of the ugliest animals. But, unfortunately, it is true. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so this doesn’t mean you have to agree with the grouping! Whether you think they are ugly or not though, they are still fascinating animals to see!
Hyenas have long been characterized as one of Africa’s most cowardly and ugly-looking wild animals. However, the Hyena is actually quite the opposite, as they are one of Africa’s most powerful and intelligent wild animals.
The Spotted Hyena is the most common species located in Tanzania and has a bite power that is 40% stronger than a leopard!
There is an estimated 7,000 individual Hyena in Tanzania! Serengeti National Park, Nyerere National Park, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area are the best places to see both spotted and striped hyenas. Like most other wildlife, the best time to see them is during the dry seasons.
I think the Lion King ruined hyenas for me. I just can’t bring myself to like them. It is probably the fact that they eat their prey while they are still alive that I can’t make peace with!
We have all come to know and love our good friend Pumba the Warthog from Disney’s ”The Lion King”. And it’s safe to say that Disney was pretty accurate regarding Warthogs. Their smelly nature and love of rolling in sloppy mud sums them up nicely! You will most commonly find them near waterholes during the dry seasons in places such as Ruaha National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Tarangire National Park! Warthogs love to eat, so chances are you’ll find them nose to floor searching for yummy bugs and grass.
We saw Warthogs everywhere we went, and they never failed to put a smile on my face as we’d watch them trot across the horizon with their tail in the air!
Nicknamed the ‘Bird of Nightmares’, the Marabou Stork is said to be one of Africa’s ugliest animals. However, the Marabou Stork isn’t just an ‘ugly’ face; they play a crucial role in helping keep the African Savanna clean by scavenging!
You’ll most likely see these interesting creatures near riverbanks, swamps, or watering holes during the dry seasons, mainly between December and February. There are currently approximately 10,000 wild Marabou Storks, and the best places to see them in Tanzania are Central Serengeti and Tarangire National Park.
There are eight different species of vulture found in Tanzania, the most common being the White-backed vulture and the biggest being the lappet-faced vulture with a wingspan of 3m! With their long necks and strangely bald heads, most vulture species can be a sight for sore eyes.
There are currently roughly 270,000 White-backed vultures in Africa, and you will commonly find them in open wooded savanna where carcasses are most likely to be found. Due to the large population of vultures in Tanzania, they are prevalent in most national parks.
Malaki hit the nail on the head when describing a wildebeest: horns of a buffalo, head like a grasshopper, legs like a hyena, main and tail of a horse. Check out a photo; they really do look like they’ve been put together with spare parts.
But aside from their somewhat peculiar look, what is remarkable about them is that every year over 1 million wildebeest migrate in a large circle through Tanzania and Kenya following the seasonal rains. It is the largest herd movement on the planet! Many consider it one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. Each wildebeest will cover up to 1,000 kilometres as they search for greener pastures.
The great migration
The journey starts in the Ngorongoro Conservation area during the calving season. Between late January and early February somewhere in the region of 4,000 calves are born! So it’s a brilliant time of year to visit if you are interested in seeing the birthing process as well as many baby wildebeest!
It is also prime time for predators as the young are easy prey. Although not everyone would enjoy seeing this, it is a part of the circle of life.
Around April, the herds start moving north towards central Serengeti, where they will find fresher grass. In May, the mating season starts, which also means fighting amongst male wildebeest. However, the migration continues regardless until eventually, a large number of wildebeests gather at the banks of the Grumeti River, ready for a mass crossing. Although not as spectacular as the Mara River crossing, it is still a sight to behold as thousands of Wildebeest muster the courage to rush through the river, hoping not to be the crocodiles’ dinner that evening!
The river crossings continue through into June while those that have crossed continue to head north towards the western edge and the much more famous crossing: the Mara River crossing!
The famous Mara River
You can expect more or less daily crossings as the wildebeest head into the Masai Mara of Kenya throughout July and August. Not all wildebeest cross though, with some choosing to remain in the Northern Serengeti plains. Watching the river crossings is one of the most exhilarating wildlife events on the planet. It is absolute chaos! If the crocs don’t get them, then the fast-flowing water might. But even if they survive, they still have to contend with the predators waiting on the other side!
By late September, the chaos has generally ended as the wildebeest continue to move eastwards, but not before needing to face a second crossing of the Mara River to return to the Tanzanian plains! As the year progresses, the wildebeest slowly make their way south back to the Ngorongoro Conservation area, ready for it all to begin again.
We were lucky enough to see not one, but two Mara River crossings! One from the air, during a hot air balloon safari, and the second from the vehicle. We nearly saw a third, but unfortunately they got spooked before crossing. There are no words or pictures that can describe the sheer number of wildebeest that we saw. They were everywhere, for miles, like a colony of ants on a mission.
What other wildlife might you see on safari in Tanzania?
If zebras are your favourite animal then Tanzania is the best place to visit to see them! There are currently around 300,000 Zebra in Tanzania which is 40% of Africa’s total zebra population! Did you know that each zebra’s stripes are as unique as our fingerprints? No two zebras are the same!
Around 200,000 zebras join the wildebeests on the great migration yearly, so you will find large herds alongside the wildebeest. We saw them in every park we visited, as well as on the side of the road outside of National Parks, and even grazing in someone’s front yard!
The Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, yet unfortunately it is one of the most endangered animals in Tanzania too. Despite being listed as endangered, Tanzania has the largest giraffe population in Africa, totalling an estimated 28,580 giraffes. These elegant creatures can be found in most national parks, but one place you won’t find them is the Ngorongoro caldera since they can’t cope with the steep slope down! You can see these giants mainly during the dry season between June and October.
Mongooses (Timone for Lion King lovers) are small creatures characterised by how they stand on their back legs. They live in packs of between 6 and 40. Although there are no exact numbers of the banded mongoose population, it is estimated that there are roughly three banded mongooses every km2 in the Serengeti alone! As the banded mongoose has such high population numbers, you will see them across most parks while on safari in Tanzania! You’ll find them in the savannah and heavily forested areas, mainly during the dry season, scavenging for bugs and grubs!
The ostrich is known to be the largest and fastest living species of bird that currently roams the earth. The most common species of ostrich in Tanzania is the Masai Ostrich, of which there are approximately only 150,000 ostriches left in the wild.
Most commonly you will find Masai ostriches in the grassy plains and savannahs across Tanzania, in areas like Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The first thing that comes to mind when we think of a flamingo is the bright pink colour that has always made them stand out. However, the flamingo isn’t naturally pink! Their colouring actually comes from the algae and brine shrimp they eat! There are between 1.5 and 2.5 million lesser flamingos in East Africa, with the vast majority of them in Tanzania.
The best time to see flamingos is during the migration season, from November to April, around the lakes in Arusha national park, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Other wildlife you can see in Tanzania
There are so many animals I haven’t covered in this guide, like the smelly hippos, the elusive serval cat, the fastest sprinter on earth (cheetah), the most abundant wild animal in Tanzania (Thompson Gazelle) and of course the many birds. Although I share no words on them you can see the photos we captured.
There are also many primates that live in Tanzania. We mainly saw baboons and black-faced vervet monkeys: one was cute, and the other was a troublemaker! Baboons are one of the largest monkey species and live in large social groups with a strict hierarchy. The best place to see baboons is Lake Manyara National Park, but be very careful! Baboons can be very aggressive! You won’t need to go into the park itself to see them either, as they often leave the confines of Lake Manyara to terrorise the roadside banana sellers!
As for the very sweet-looking black-faced vervet monkeys, they are found in large groups in the forested areas of Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National park, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. If you visit during the spring, you’ll most likely see babies too!
Are there any reptiles in Tanzania?
Yes! We spotted the following reptiles in Tanzania: an Anaconda, a Puff Adder, a Python, a Chameleon, and a Leopard Turtle!
How Malaki, our guide, managed to see the chameleon still baffles me! We were on our way out of the park, driving at about 50 km/h, when he came to an abrupt stop. “Can you see what I see?” he said. We looked everywhere and couldn’t see anything. He then pointed precisely where the chameleon stood, camouflaged perfectly against the yellowing grass and red dirt. We still couldn’t see it! It took more pointing until we finally spotted it! Yet he had seen the camouflaged chameleon at speed! It definitely pays to have a good guide on safari!
Should I go to Tanzania on safari?
You get a big YES from me! We were there in August 2022 and had the most amazing time. You can read about what we got up to on our 10-Day Tanzania Itinerary blog. If you already know you want to visit but are not sure how to choose the best company to travel with, or want to get the most for your money, then I share some tips in my How to Find an Affordable Safari post.
I love nothing more than talking about travel, so I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have about visiting Tanzania. If you want to chat, either drop me a comment below or send me an email at email@example.com
Most photos taken by Doug – you can check out the full gallery on Smugmug