Rothschilds Giraffes in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Five of the most endangered African animals to spot on safari

Pip
May 14, 2015

When most people venture to Africa on safari, the goal is to spot the ‘Big Five’ - lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. But once you’ve seen them and secured all those great shots, what should you set your eyes on next? Poaching, land clearing and development projects have taken their toll on many of Africa’s great wildlife species over the years and numbers of some are in significant decline. While searching out endangered and rare species can be challenging, the rewards are worthwhile, and the experience of seeing an animal few may ever witness is thrilling. So if you’ve had your fill of lion kills and elephants bathing gloriously in their hundreds, here are five of Africa’s most endangered species to travel the continent in pursuit of.

1. The hook-lipped Black Rhino

Black RhinocerosSenegal, Bandia Nature Reserve, Senegal
To spot hook-lipped Black Rhino, visit Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa or North Luangwa National Park in Zambia and head out at night, dusk or dawn.

Listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Black Rhino was once the most numerous rhino species and roamed over most of southern and eastern Africa. Relentless poaching throughout the 19th century resulted in only 65,000 animals remaining in the 1970s before an increased demand for rhino horn in Asia and the Middle East had a drastic impact on the species. Today there are around 5,500 left in the wild, although these are restricted to a few protected nature reserves where Black Rhino numbers have been maintained or animals reintroduced after becoming extinct. To spot them, visit Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa or North Luangwa National Park in Zambia and head out at night, dusk or dawn (when they are most active), and look for a solitary figure browsing on shrubs and bushes. The Black Rhino is known for not only being shyer than the White Rhino, but also more aggressive, and while its eyesight may be poor, it has an enhanced sense of smell and sound and has been known to charge when threatened - so beware!

2. The grunting Mountain Gorilla

Mountain Gorilla Silverback in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Civil wars, poaching for bushmeat, habitat loss and the spread of human disease have seen its numbers plummet to less than 900 individuals.

The largest living primate, and one of our closest relatives, the Mountain Gorilla is an entrancing animal to come into contact with. But civil wars, poaching for bushmeat, habitat loss and the spread of human disease have seen its numbers plummet to less than 900 individuals. Now protected within four main national parks: Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks in south-west Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in north-west Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the number of Mountain Gorillas have stabilised or are even on the increase in some areas. Visiting the gorillas is an expensive but once-in-a-lifetime experience, allowing you to get within metres of a grunting silverback and his young. Education initiatives within local communities and jobs generated by gorilla tourism have discouraged poaching and created a financial incentive to protect these fascinating creatures and their environment for future generations.

3. The Afro-alpine Ethiopian wolf

Simien Wolf in Ethiopian Highlands
The Simien Mountains National Park in the north of the country and the Bale Mountains National Park in the south are home to the two largest populations of wolf.

In Ethiopia, if you kill a wolf you face a two year jail sentence. This is part of the country’s initiative to protect the high-altitude canis simensis and its dwindling numbers. While the Ethiopian Wolf has always been restricted to limited Afro-alpine environments, recent habitat loss, encroachment from agriculture and grazing, disease and population fragmentation have resulted in a serious decline in numbers. There are now only around 400 mature animals left in the wild, spread across a number of isolated protected areas. The Simien Mountains National Park in the north of the country and the Bale Mountains National Park in the south are home to the two largest populations of wolf (around 100 and 250 respectively) and offer your best chance of seeing these red and white-furred canids in action. Head out on safari during the day when rodent prey are at their most active and look for their long, narrow skull and broad pointed ears protruding from a natural camouflage.

4. The ‘mule-like’ Grevy’s Zebra

Grevy’s Zebra, Samburu National Park, Kenya
While Grevy’s Zebra may be the largest zebra species, it is also the most endangered and is now restricted to limited parts of Kenya and Ethiopia.

While Grevy’s Zebra may be the largest zebra species, it is also the most endangered and is now restricted to limited parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. From the 1970s its numbers have dropped drastically from 15,000 to less than 2,500 left in the wild today. Habitat loss, hunting and competition with livestock grazing across its natural distribution have been the main factors leading to its endangered classification. Considered more primitive-looking and ‘mule-like’ than the other zebras, it has a distinctive large, narrow head with bulbous ears. To spot Grevy’s Zebra, take a safari in Samburu National Park in Kenya or Yabelo Wildlife Sanctuary in Ethiopia where it can be found grazing on semi-arid grasslands.

5. The towering Rothschild's Giraffe

Rothschilds Giraffes in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
Its population is now severely restricted to just a few protected areas, including Lake Nakuru in Kenya and Murchison Falls Park in Uganda.

With less than 700 animals left in the wild, Rothschild’s Giraffe is one of the most threatened sub-species of giraffe in the world. Poaching, loss of habitat and conflicts with humans have led to the tallest of land animal’s rapid decline. Its population is now severely restricted to just a few protected areas, including Lake Nakuru in Kenya and Murchison Falls Park in Uganda. The most distinguishing feature of the giraffe is in the colouring of its pelt, with more rounded patches and a creamier undercoat than other giraffe sub-species. It also has no markings on its lower legs, giving it the appearance of being dressed up in white stockings. The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya has a captive breeding program which is helping to increase the gene pool of this rare animal and bolster its numbers in the wild, so if you can’t spot one on the plains, this is your next best option.

Limited time to see them in the wild

While these animals may be illusive and difficult to spot, their rarity makes it particularly special when you do find one. And, with their futures uncertain and constantly under pressure from habitat loss and human development, it may be a limited time to see these magnificent animals in their natural, wild surrounds.

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