Top Ten African Animals That You’ve Never Heard Of


What animals do you think of when someone says “Africa”? Most people imagine lions, zebras and maybe a rhino or two but what about the greater kudu, the dwarf mongoose or the African civet?

Earth Rangers has teamed up with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to shine a spotlight on some of the lesser-known animals that live in Africa. The conservancy is located in northern Kenya, with over 62,000 acres of protected land and is home to tons of animals, including the species on this top ten list.

Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

greater kudu

greater kuduSize and weight: Males can measure 195-245cm (6.4-8ft) and weigh up to 315kg (694lbs)

Habitat: Savannah, woodland, avoids open grasslands and forests

Status: From least concern to endangered depending on the location in Africa

Interesting facts

1. They might look big and clumsy but they are actually swift and excellent jumpers. They can clear a fence 2m (6.6ft) high!

2. They have long necks that they use to reach food on high branches. The giraffe is the only animal that beats their impressive reach.

3. Only the males have horns, which take a spiral shape and can grow up to 100cm (over 3ft)


Grey Crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)

grey crowned crane

grey crowned craneSize and weight: Adults measure 100-110cm (3.3-3.6ft) from head to tail with a 180-200cm (5.9-6.6ft) wingspan. They weigh 3-4kg (6.6-8.8lbs)

Habitat: Wetlands and open grasslands

Status: Vulnerable

Interesting facts

1. They aren’t picky eaters; they will feed on insects, lizards, amphibians, fish, grasses and seeds. This has helped them adapt to changes to the landscape made by humans. In fact, they are often found around agricultural lands and man-made wetlands.

2. Thanks to their long hind toe, they are one of only two species of crane that perch and sometimes build nests in trees. Staying in trees helps these cranes avoid predators on the ground.

3. On average, they lay 2-3 eggs at a time. This is the largest average egg clutch of any crane.


African civet (Civettictis civetta)

African civet

African civetSize and weight: Head and body length is 67-84cm (2-2.8ft) with an extra 34-47cm (1-1.5ft) for the tail. They can weigh anywhere between 9.5-20kg (20-44lbs), which is a huge range in size!

Habitat: Lowland, highland, forests, swamp, open savannah (with thickets or long grass for shelter)

Status: Least Concern

Interesting facts

1. Each African civet has a different pattern of brown and black spots on their coat. This colour combination provides excellent camouflage in the forest.

2. They produce a secretion that used to be a very important ingredient in perfume. Today, these additives in perfumes are made from synthetic alternatives.

3. They have a very broad diet that includes millipedes, small mammals, and crabs. Unfortunately as their habitat increasingly overlaps with humans they have been known to rummage through trash to find a meal. This flexibility in diet allows them to adapt to a wide range of habitats.


Beisa oryx (Oryx beisa beisa)

beisa oryx
Photo Credit: Rainbirder

beisa oryxSize and weight: Can be 90-120cm (3-4ft) at the shoulder. Males tend to be bigger, weighing about 175kg (390lbs).

Habitat: Dry plains and scrublands

Status: Near threatened

Interesting facts

1. Both sexes grow horns but the females’ tend to be longer. Usually horns grow to about 73cm (2.4ft) but they can grow up to 110cm (3.5ft).

2. They have to make an effort to keep their spear-like horns away from each other while walking and lying down so that they don’t hurt other members of their herd.

3. They are well adapted to the dry habitats that they live in. They regulate their body temperature and have a great capacity to conserve the water that they get from the plants they eat.

Elizabeth Cary Mungall. Exotic Animal Field Guide: non-native hoofed mammals in the United States. Texas A&M University Press, 2007. Pages 165-166

Guereza colobus (Colobus guereza)

colobus monkey
colobus monkey

Size and weight: They can grow 90-150cm (3-5ft), with over half belonging to the tail. They weight 3-15kg (6-33lbs).

Habitat: Closed forests

Status: Subspecies tend to be least concern, but one is endangered (Colobus guereza ssp. percivali)

Interesting facts

1. “Colobus” comes from the Greek word for “mutilated”, referring to the fact that these monkeys have no thumbs.

2. Like cows, these monkeys have stomachs that are divided into pouches, usually three or four. They prefer to eat young tender leaves but their specially designed stomach allows them to digest food other monkeys can’t, like mature or toxic foliage.

3. These monkeys rarely come down from the trees. Instead, they travel by jumping from branch to branch, sometimes leaping as high as 15m (50ft) in the air. The hair on their shoulders and their long tail help them keep balance and act as a parachute, slowing them down as they land on a branch.

Maurice Burton and Robert Burton. International Wildlife Encyclopedia: Chickaree – Crabs. Marshall Cavendish, 2002. Pages 501-503

African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)

african wild dog
african wild dog

Size and weight: Measuring head and body, they grow to 85-141cm (2.8-4.6ft). They can weight 18-34kg (40-75lbs)

Habitat: Plains, bushy savannahs, woodlands, upland forests, semi-deserts, mountainous areas

Status: Endangered (current population estimated at 5500 individuals)

Interesting facts

1. Like the African civet, each of these dogs has a unique coat but they also stand out because of their interesting toes. While all other canid species have five toes, the African wild dog only has four.

2. One of the African wild dog’s most striking features are their ears. Their large and round ears are not only perfect for hearing calls over large distances, they also are important for heat loss and temperature regulation.

3. They are very efficient hunters capable of reaching speeds of up to 55km/h (34mph), which allows them to chase down their prey. They hunt in packs, led by the alpha male, and are capable of taking down huge animals, like wildebeest that weigh up to 250 kg (550lbs).


Lelwel hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel)

lelwel hartebeest
Photo Credit: Berniedup
lelwel hartebeest
Photo Credit: Rainbirder

Size and weight: Measuring head and body, they grow to 160-215cm (5-7ft), with an extra 30-70cm (1-2.3ft) for the tail. They can weigh up to 218kg (480lbs).

Habitat: Savannahs and grasslands

Status: Endangered, fewer than 70,000 in 2008

Interesting facts

1. They might look large and bulky, but like the Greater kudu, they are actually nimble and really fast. When they really need to, they can reach speeds of up to 70km/h (43mph).

2. They have a very long and narrow head, which is perfectly suited for grazing on grass and avoiding eating the stems and stalks.

3. These animals live in herds, but the number of animals depends on the amount of fresh grass available. Sometimes there can be 20 in a herd and at other times they can number in the hundreds or thousands.


Somali ostrich (Struthio camelus molybdophanes)

somali ostrich
Photo Credit: Donna Brown

somali ostrichSize: Males can grow to an average height of 220cm (7.2ft)

Habitat: Plains and dense bush habitats

Status: Least concern

Interesting facts

1. Ostriches hold all kinds of bird records. They are the biggest bird in the world, have the biggest eyes of any land vertebrate (about the size of a tennis ball), and they lay the largest eggs of any bird. They are also the fastest two-legged animal in the world, reaching up to 70km/h (43mph).

2. Ostriches are also the only bird to have two toes. One of these toes has a claw that can grow up to 10cm (4in).

3. You can tell a Somali ostrich from a Common ostrich by their appearance and habitat. Somali ostriches are found in scrub areas, not open plains, and they live by themselves or in pairs instead of small flocks. They have darker plumage, with a blue-grey neck and legs instead of pink, and they are missing the white ring at the base of their neck that is seen in the Common ostrich.

Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson, John Fanshawe. Birds of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Socotra. A&C Black, 2009. Page 34
Clive Roots. Flightless Birds. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. Page 26

Dwarf mongoose (helogale parvula)

dwarf mongoose
Photo Credit: Haplochromis
dwarf mongoose
Photo Credit: Miika Silfverberg

Size and weight: They measure 18-26cm (7-10in) with an extra 12-20cm (5-8in) for the tail. They weigh around 275g (10oz).

Habitat: Savannah, woodlands, mountain scrub brush country

Status: Least concern

Interesting facts

1. Dwarf mongooses co-exist with rough-scaled plated lizards (gerrhosaurus major), which live in the mongooses’ homes and eat their dung. They also have a symbiotic relationship with red- and yellow-billed hornbills. These birds eat the insects that the dwarf mongoose disturbs, and in return the hornbills will warn the mongoose when predators are approaching.

2. In many other species, the alpha male is dominant, but for dwarf mongooses, it is the female that is in charge. The group is made up of her relatives and they will stay together until she dies.

3. They are the smallest member of the mongoose family

Lee Gutteridge. The South African Bushveld: A Field Guide from the Waterberg. 30° South Publishers, 2008. Pages 92-93

Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus)


Size and weight: They can grow 75-115cm (2-4ft) and weigh 8-18kg (18-40lbs)

Habitat: Rugged, rocky areas with short vegetation

Status: Least concerned, but endangered in Nigeria and Central African Republic

Interesting facts

1. Klipspringer pairs are monogamous; they stick together until one of the pair dies. They are rarely seen apart and spend the majority of their time within a few metres of each other.

2. They are the only antelope to walk on the tips of their hooves. This gives them extra grip so they can climb smooth surfaces and hop from rock to rock.

3. They have a very dense coat made up of hollow hairs. When they are threatened, sick or hot, their fur stands up which makes them seem bigger than they actually are.

Lex Hes. The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik, 1997. Page 263

What other animals live in Africa? Go crawling for critters online or at your local library to discover more amazing animals. And don’t forget to leave a comment to share what African animal is your favourite.

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