An African safari is sure to include many incredible wildlife encounters. From the big cats such as cheetahs and leopards to herds of antelope and flocks of birds, there is an endless array of life on the plains and savannahs of Africa. Another thrilling realisation is that a safari will bring you closer than ever before to some of the most dangerous animals on the continent. When going on safari, it is important to bear in mind that you are in the animals’ territory and must always keep a good distance between yourself and any animal – out of respect to them and for your own safety.
Hippos cause more human deaths than any other large land animal in Africa. Despite their size (they are the third largest land animal in the world) they can run very fast. Their mouths open up to over one metre high, and their jaws are powerful enough to crush a crocodile. Male hippos get very aggressive when defending territory and the females when defending their young. However, even though hippos are dangerous, they are easy to hunt, which is why they did not land up as part of the Big 5.
They may look like docile cattle most of the time, but the African buffalo is a volatile and aggressive animal that has been nicknamed “the black death”. They become extremely dangerous when threatened, especially when the threat is directed at their young. They live in herds and are quick to defend one another against predators and hunters.
The biggest land mammal in the world, the elephant is generally a peaceful animal. However, they are highly unpredictable and can attack without warning. Their great size works to their advantage, keeping predators at bay and even crushing them underfoot.
The Black mamba is the largest snake in Africa and gets its name from the black lining of its mouth, which it displays when threatened. It is fast and aggressive, and one strike contains venom strong enough to kill a dozen men within an hour – the Black mamba usually strikes up to 12 times in a single attack. Without anti-venom, the bite is always fatal.
Nile crocodiles are the second largest reptile in the world. They often live in close proximity to people, making conflict inevitable. Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they are prone to attack anything that stumbles across its path, including zebras, porcupines, other crocodiles and unsuspecting villagers.
Lions are strong and fast, but attacks on humans are rare; nevertheless, the infamous story of the man-eating lions of Tsavo in Kenya is not a myth. However, it is mostly sick male lions responsible for attacks that occur.
Rhinos, particularly the more solitary Black rhino, have poor eyesight and can be bad-tempered. When threatened they will not hesitate to charge, attacking and goring the threat with their horns.
Puff adders move slowly, but are aggressive and attack quickly. They can strike sideways, without moving their head back first. They eat rodents, and will lie in wait for them. People are usually attacked, because the snakes are disturbed while lying in wait for rats and mice they wish to eat.
The list is endless and includes other snakes such as the Cape cobra and the boomslang, as well as various amphibians and marine animals. The most dangerous animal of them all may come as something of a surprise, because it is so small. It is the mosquito, and it kills more people than any other animal in the world, passing malaria, dengue and other diseases to humans when they suck their blood. If you are travelling to Africa for a safari, make sure you find out whether or not the national park or game reserve you are visiting is a malaria area. If it is, prepare for your trip by ensuring you take the proper medication, as well as bringing along adequate insect-repellants.
Another animal we cannot leave out of the equation is one that kills more animals than all of the above, except for the mosquito. This species kills all manner of animals, including their own kind, in a wide variety of ways – the human being. War, genocide, murder, poaching, habitat destruction and climate change are just some of the ways in which humans kill animals and other human beings.
While all these safari animals are dangerous, in most cases they attack merely because they feel threatened, are protecting their young or have mistaken you for something else and will just eat you as an incidental snack. They are not “man-eaters” as depicted so voraciously in pop culture and all they ask of you is that you respect their space and keep a safe distance.