The king of the jungle—though actually found in the savannas or grasslands—begin their journey at the top of the food chain by first looking quite cuddly. Lions are the most “social” of all big cats, and group together in prides of 10-15. Lion cubs are hidden in the tall grasses for the first two months of their life before joining the rest of the pride. By three years, they are fully grown. Did you know that the Swahili word for lion is “simba,” the same name used in Disney’s Lion King?
Cheetahs are the masters of disguise, not only for their uniquely spotted coats, but also for their amazing speed—they are the fastest land mammal, reaching speeds of more than 60 miles per hour! Female cheetahs are solitary, living only with their cubs. Males, however, form coalitions of two to three brothers. Typically, two to eight cubs are born in a litter. After six weeks, they will join their mother during hunts and stay with the mother for one to two years. Fun fact: cheetahs have anywhere between 2,000-3,000 spots that keep them camouflaged.
Hippos spend the majority of their time wading in rivers and lagoons, though they actually can’t swim, nor can they float very well! At birth, a hippo can weigh anywhere from 40 to 100 pounds. There are two different types of hippo: the common hippopotamus and the pygmy hippopotamus (pictured above). Although they can’t swim, hippos can hold their breath for up to five minutes underwater.
The unique black-and-white striped patterns of zebras have been known to confuse predators and help regulate their body temperature. Much like their close relative, horses, zebra colts are quick to stand and run shortly after birth to keep up with their migrating herds—zebras are known for migrating thousands of miles. There are three different types of zebras found in Africa: Grevy’s, plain, and mountain. Did you know that every zebra has a unique striped pattern at their shoulder so young colts can identify their mother?
When people first saw giraffes, they thought they were a cross between a leopard and a camel, hence their scientific name, Giraffa camelopardalis. At birth, giraffes are nearly six feet tall and can weigh up to 150 pounds. There are four distinct species of giraffe: northern, southern, reticulated, and Masai. Fun fact: an adult giraffe’s tongue is up to 18 inches long!
Elephants are the largest of all land mammals. At birth, they already stand up to three feet tall and weigh as much as 250 pounds! There are two different types of species in Africa: the African savanna elephant and the African forest elephant. For the first couple of months, they stay very close to their mothers, and you can often see them playing in a waterhole. One of our clients snapped this photo on our Great Elephant Migration.
Grey Crowned Crane chick
The only bird on our list is the elegant grey crowned crane. Much like other African birds, after a chick hatches it is almost instantly ready for life in the savanna. Within hours, they are swimming and floating. By three days, they are following their mother to help find food. It takes a few years for them to be fully grown. Did you know the grey crowned crane is Uganda’s national bird and is featured on their flag and coat of arms?
At birth, infant gorillas weigh about four pounds, though they grow twice as fast as human infants, and are often able to crawl and play within months. Mountain gorillas spend the majority of their time on the ground, either grooming or resting. There is nothing quite like seeing the interaction between a mother and an infant. Our Mountains Gorilla Safari and Ultimate Uganda Safari adventures venture into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda to admire gorilla families in the wild.
Two of the five species of rhino live in Africa, the black and white rhino. A mother will give birth to one and sometimes two calves at a time. They can weigh up to 140 pounds at birth and will stay with the mother until it is three to four years old. The white rhino (pictured above) can grow to weigh 5,100 pounds! Both rhino species in Africa are on the threatened and endangered lists, but we have good chances of spotting them on our Namibia Expedition. Fun fact: the group name for rhinoceros is a “crash”.
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