East African Safari Animals - Carnivores

This page features the various carnivore species that I've photographed whilst on safari in Tanzania, Kenya or Zambia.

 

The carnivores, which strictly speaking should be carnivorans, are members of the taxonomic order CARNIVORA of the class Mammalia. It's quite a diverse order, which is why it's split into two suborders - FELIFORMIA for the 'cat-like' species, and CANIFORMIA for those that are 'dog-like' in appearance. The categorisation isn't always obvious, for example Hyaenas are classed as 'cat-like' whereas the Honey Badger, which is a Mustelid, is 'dog-like'. Given that all the animals that I've featured here are in the order CARNIVORA I have only referred to their respective SUB-ORDER under classification.

Although the list is reasonably comprehensive for the regions I've visited, there are bound to be missing species, and there are always going to be species that you want to have better sightings of. I have three particular species in mind. The first is the Bat-eared Fox, which I've never seen. The other two are 'bogey species' that continue to frustrate me - Wild Dog and Serval. The African Wild Dog or Painted Wolf, as it's more often called these days, continues to elude me, although I finally had my first, albeit long-distant, sighting during our last visit to Zambia. Similarly with the Serval. We've seen three or four and have even got relatively close on a couple of occasions, but they've always been running away from us. I would like to think that one day I'll enjoy better sightings and photo opportunities.  

The above list (not viewable on mobile) is in a loose taxonomic sequence - it will take you directly to that particular animal thereby avoiding the need to scroll down the page. And, as you move down the page, you'll find a number of 'back to top' buttons on the right hand side that will bring you back to the menu.

There's a small thumbnail photo for each species, alongside which there's a brief note regarding classification (SUBORDER, family, and subfamily if appropriate), its current IUCN Red List conservation status and, for personal reference, a list of the countries and areas where I've photographed the animal. I've then included a reasonable amount of information to confirm where the species is found and some notes regarding identification, particularly for non-familiar species or similar subspecies. The notes are primarily to assist with identification and correct naming of the species I've seen rather than information regarding behaviour.

 

African Lion  [Panthera leo]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Felidae (cats)

> subfamily : Pantherinae (big cats)

Red List status :

Vulnerable (VU)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha, Selous & Katavi)

  • Kenya (Masai Mara & Mara North Conservancy)

  • Zambia (South Luangwa & Lower Zambezi) 

Although lions formerly roamed across much of sub-Saharan Africa and through some northern regions of the continent, their territories now are only patchily distributed in wildlife reserves and national parks. The situation with the Asiatic Lion [ssp.persica] is even worse. This subspecies once ranged from the Middle East to Arabia and into South East Asia, but only exists today as a single isolated subpopulation within India’s Gir Forest National Park. It is categorised as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. In Africa there were a number of defined subspecies, one of which was the Barbary Lion [ssp.leo], or Atlas Lion as it was also called, which has been extinct in the wild now since 1920 when the last one was shot in Morocco. This was the largest lion more closely related to the Asiatic Lion rather than to any of the sub-Saharan subspecies.  There are, however, a few descendants of the Barbary Lion still in captivity around the world, and perhaps one of the best examples is this particular majestic and beautiful male at Port Lympe Animal Park in Kent. There were also a number of other regionally named subspecies that were recognised, including the West African or Senegal Lion [ssp.senegalensis], Masai or East African Lion [ssb.nubica], Congo Lion [ssb.azandica], the Southwest or Katanga Lion [ssp.bleyenberghi], Transvaal Lion [ssp.krugeri] and the Ethipian Lion [ssp.roosevelti]. However, from recent taxonomic research, it is now thought that all the currently existing wild population are monotypic despite previously identified regional variations. African Lion populations in the wild have reduced considerably over the past twenty years or so, hence their IUCN Red List conservation status categorisation of ‘vulnerable’.

 

 

African Leopard  [Panthera pardus, ssp.pardus]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Felidae (cats)

> subfamily : Pantherinae (big cats)

Red List status :

Vulnerable (VU)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha, Selous & Katavi)

  • Kenya (Mara North Conservancy)

  • Zambia (South Luangwa & Lower Zambezi) 

The leopard's former range across Africa was actually more widespread than the lion's as its territories extended further into the Sahel and also into central and western parts of the continent. Today it is only found south of the Sahara as it’s been exterminated in North Africa. Sadly, and perhaps surprisingly, it has also been exterminated in large parts of South Africa. Leopards are solitary for most of their lives, mainly sleeping by day and roaming their territory by night. Whilst the full range of both male and female leopards may overlap, males will actively defend their core territory from other males. Some individuals have been know to have a full range in excess of 50km2. The problem with large ranges like this is that habitat loss will often encroach on, or split areas, such that populations become fragmented. Whilst it’s considered unlikely that leopards will face the same outcome as lions or cheetahs they were officially categorised as a ‘threatened species’ in the IUCN’s 2016 review. Although there are different colour forms, with the darkest coming from the uplands of Ethiopia and the palest from the arid regions of Somalia, all African Leopards are now considered a single subspecies, whereas traditionally there were as many as ten. The African Leopard is the nominate subspecies - other currently recognised species of leopard are the Indian, Javan, Arabian, Persian, Amur, Indochinese and Sri Lankan. 

 
 

 

Cheetah  [Acinonyx jubatus]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Felidae (cats)

> subfamily : Felinae (small to medium sized cats)

Red List status :

Vulnerable (VU)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha)

  • Kenya (Masai Mara & Mara North Conservancy)

Cheetahs once roamed through much of Africa, the Middle East and beyond into India. Today there is still a very small number of the critically endangered Asiatic subspecies in Iran, and some isolated populations in central parts of Africa, but essentially the cheetah is now a species that you’ll probably only encounter in eastern and southern Africa. Across their full range there were five generally recognised subspecies - the Asiatic, the Saharan and Sudan, and the more common East African and Southern, which is also called the Namibian. However, as with the lion, recent research has shown genetic similarity, such that these supposed subspecies are now considered unlikely. It’s a well known fact that cheetahs have suffered a dramatic decline as a result of persecution, hunting and habitat loss. It’s currently estimated that their original habitat and range has reduced by a massive 76%. As such, they are classified ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but many researchers are saying this is insufficient and that their conservation status should be uplifted to ‘endangered’ to help highlight their plight. Interestingly the cheetah’s closest relative is the American puma or cougar rather than any African cat species.

 

 

Serval  [Leptailurus serval]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Felidae (cats)

> subfamily : Felinae (small to medium sized cats)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha) - 'record shots' only, see text disclosure note

For whatever reason, information regarding the current distribution range of the Serval is both sparse and somewhat contradictory, so best to simply say that it occurs across most savanna areas of sub-Saharan Africa, albeit absent from a large portion of the southwest region. It may also have a small population in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. There’s also confusing information in respect of subspecies from none to eighteen! Most of these seem to be attributed to different coat patterns, such as the ’speckled’ animals from West Africa that are sometimes referred to as Servalines, which were considered a separate species [Felis brachyura] at one time until it was proven that the pattern just represented a different morph of the species. One thing though that is not in doubt, is that the Serval is indeed a beautiful, medium-sized, but relatively tall cat, that stands 54-62cm high at the shoulders. It has a small delicate head and rather large ears, longish neck, long slender body and legs, and shortish tail. The ears are largely black on the back with a distinctive white spot, and the tail has six or seven black rings and a black tip. The coat colour is pale yellow with black markings, either of large spots that tend to merge into longitudinal stripes on the neck and back, or of numerous small spots giving a speckled or freckled appearance. Sadly, my only photos of Servals are ‘record shots’ and, consequently, of no use for the purpose of identification, which is why I reluctantly decided to use this particular image of a captive animal that I took many years ago.

 

 

Caracal  [Caracal caracal]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Felidae (cats)

> subfamily : Felinae (small to medium sized cats)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Although solitary, mainly nocturnal and rarely seen and photographed, the caracal is actually far wider spread than most of the 'big cat' species. Today it survives in many areas of Africa including the northwest, the central zone above the equatorial forest belt, Ethiopia, Somalia and down through most of East Africa into all of the southern countries. It’s also well distributed around the margins of the Sahara, and is regarded as relatively common in the Kalahari regions. There are two recognised subspecies in Africa - the nominate [ssp.caracal] in Southern and East Africa, and another [ssp.nubicus] for the populations in the North and West. There is also an Asiatic population [ssp.schmitzi] found in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. The IUCN do not regard the Caracal as a threatened species.

Seen and photographed :-

  • Kenya (Masai Mara)

 

African Civet  [Civettictis civetta]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Viverridae

> subfamily : Viverrinae (genets and civets)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Zambia (South Luangwa)

Civets are common to both Eurasia and Africa and represent the oldest viverrid lineage. The African Civet can be found through sub-Saharan Africa except for the drier regions of the Horn, and most of southern Africa including much of Namibia and Botswana. There are geographical variations, but no formally recognised subspecies. It’s a largely nocturnal creature that’s very rarely seen during the day.  I’ve only had a couple of night-time sightings and this is my only photograph of one to date. They are described as a medium-sized, low-slung, stocky carnivore with a shaggy coat. The base coat is white or grey-white in colour with irregular black stripes, spots and rings on the back and flanks. They have a boldly marked face with black eye-rings, white muzzle and black shiny nose.

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Viverridae

> subfamily : Viverrinae (genets and civets)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Zambia (South Luangwa)

The Common Genet, also known as the Small-spotted Genet, is the most widely distributed genet species in Africa. It is also the only genet to occur outside Africa as there’s a small European population that originated from Morocco. They mainly inhabit the Balearic Islands, Spain, Portugal and parts of southern France. In North Africa, the species occurs along the western Mediterranean coast, and in a broad sub-Saharan band from Senegalin the west across to Somalia, then down through much of East Africa. There is also a discontinuous population inhabiting part of southern Africa from Angola across Zambia to Mozambique. There are numerous geographical variations and regional groups with over thirty different subspecies being described. Most are provisional and not universally accepted. Jonathan Kingdon refers to five subspecies with ssp.dongolana being given to the animals found in East Africa. The defining features of the species are its course fur with a short crest of longer fur along the spine. Its coat is a sandy colour with numerous small dark brown regularly spaced spots. Its ringed tail is nearly as long as its body.

 
 

 

Common Genet  [Genetta genetta]

 

Blotched or Rusty-spotted Genet  [Genetta maculata]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Viverridae

> subfamily : Viverrinae (genets and civets)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Zambia (South Luangwa)

Alternatively named the Large-spotted Genet, this species ranges across much of sub-Saharan Africa apart from the west, the Horn and the extreme south. Given that you mainly see genets at night, I think that telling the species apart from the Common Genet is sometimes harder than it may first seem. They are described as soft-furred and short-legged, which doesn’t really help when you’re looking at them at distance from a safari vehicle. The main difference though is that their blotchy coat is extremely variable with larger and irregularly spaced spots.  Its tail has a black or smudged tip, and some of the white rings are incomplete. The other visible difference is that it lacks the dorsal crest that is quite pronounced on the Common Genet.

 
 

 

Spotted Hyaena  [Crocuta crocuta]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Hyaenidae (hyaenas)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha & Selous)

  • Kenya (Masai Mara & Mara North Conservancy)

  • Zambia (South Luangwa)

This species formally ranged across most of non-forested Africa but now, like most animals, its territories are receding. One of the main problems is that it’s generally regarded as vermin and, as such, is readily poisoned outside of protected wildlife reserves. The IUCN’s hyaena specialist group identifies the Spotted Hyaena’s negative reputation as detrimental to the species’ continued survival, both in captivity and the wild. Although there are variations in colour and patterning there are no recognised subspecies. There are three other interesting facts. Firstly, the species’ best-known peculiarity, in that it has hermaphroditic sex organs. Secondly, its calls - the repetitive and reverberating hoot ‘whoo-up’ that can be heard from up to 5km away, and it’s famous, although rarely heard, laugh, hence its alternative name of the Laughing Hyaena. And, finally, the fact that it’s the most social of all the African carnivores with very large group sizes and complex social behaviour. Hyena is an accepted, and often used, alternative spelling of Hyaena.

 

Banded Mongoose  [Mungos mungo, ssp.colonus]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Herpestidae (mongooses)

> subfamily : Mungotinae

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha & Katavi)

  • Kenya (Masai Mara & Mara North Conservancy)

This species of mongoose primarily inhabits the woodlands, savannas and grasslands of east and southern-central Africa as far south as northern Namibia and Botswana, and on the east coast down through Mozambique to north South Africa. There are also smaller populations across the sub-Saharan belt through to the Gambia and Senegal in the west.  Up to twenty different subspecies have been described, but these are in need of revision before acceptance. However, four distinctive regional types have been identified - the now rare West African nominate population [ssp.mungo], those found around the Horn [ssp.zebra], the southern based animals [ssp.taenianotus] and those found in East Africa [ssp.colonus].

 

 

Bushy-tailed Mongoose  [Bdeogale crassicauda]

Classification :

FELIFORMIA > family : Herpestidae (mongooses)

> subfamily : Herpestinae

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Zambia (South Luangwa)

This is a relatively localised mongoose species that’s found in East Africa, primarily from central southern Kenya down through Tanzania into Malawi, Mozambique and across into Zambia. Within this area there are five geographic variations of the species with the animal that we saw in Zambia being the nominate subspecies [ssp.crassicauda]. Whilst the Bushy-tailed Mongoose is regarded as being widely distributed throughout its range, but not at all common, the IUCN note that in fact it’s one of the most common animals caught by camera-trap! Perhaps it’s just one of those species that is seldom seen.

 

 

African Wild Dog  [Lycaon pictus]

Classification :

CANIFORMIA > family : Canidae (dogs)

Red List status :

Endangered (EN)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Zambia (South Luangwa) - 'record shots' only, at distance

The Wild Dog, also known as the African Hunting Dog or Painted Wolf, is native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is the largest canid species in Africa, standing at 60-75cm at shoulder height and weighing between 20-30kgs. Wild Dogs are very social animals, living and hunting in packs. The size of the pack can vary from as few as two to nearly thirty adults, plus yearling pups. Males and females have separate hierarchies. The dominant 'alpha' pair are usually the only animals in the pack that will breed. Unfortunately with habitat defragmentation and human persecution there is a concerning decline in their numbers. In 2016 it was estimated that across the species range there were no more than 6,600 adults of which only 1,400 or so were reproductive. These animals are in roughly 39 sub-populations. There are five recognised subspecies all of which vary in appearance to some degree or another. The East African race [ssp.lupinus] are distinguished by their very dark coats with very little yellow, in contrast to the nominate [ssp.pictus] Cape Wild Dog, which has large amounts of orange-yellow fur overlapping black. The other three races are the West African Wild Dog [ssp.manguensis], Chad Wild Dog [ssp.sharicus] and Somali Wild Dog [ssp.somalicus].    

 
 

 

Black-backed Jackal  [Canis mesomelas]

Classification :

CANIFORMIA > family : Canidae (dogs)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Tanzania (Ruaha)

  • Kenya (Masai Mara)

The Black-backed Jackal is native to two well-separated areas of southern and eastern Africa. The nominate subspecies [ssp.mesomelas] known as the Cape Jackal inhabits the southern tip of the continent including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The other [ssp.schmidti] is found in the northeast as far as Eritrea and Dijibouti, into Ethiopia and down through the east coast countries of Somalia, Kenya and northern Tanzania. The East African Black-backed Jackal is distinguished from the nominate subspecies by its shorter and wider skull, and longer and narrower carnassials.

 

Side-striped Jackal  [Canis adustus]

Classification :

CANIFORMIA > family : Canidae (dogs)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Kenya (Masai Mara)

This particular canid species prefers wooded thickets and scrub areas which, coupled with the fact that it’s mainly nocturnal, is why it’s seen far less often than its cousin the Black-backed Jackal that roams the open plains. It has a far wider continuous distribution across Africa than the Black-backed variety. Its range extends from Gambia and Senegal in the west, across the Sahelian regions of West and Central Africa to the Horn, and then southwards into southern Africa. Some authorities say there are up to seven different subspecies across this range, but as these do not appear to be universally recognised, notably by IUCN and Kingdon, I have simply maintained the basal name of the species. It’s drabber, shorter-legged and shorter-eared than other jackals. The side stripes on the pair I observed were poorly defined with the most distinguishing feature being the white tip to their tail.

 

 

Honey Badger or Ratel  [Mellivora capensis]

Classification :

CANIFORMIA > family : Mustelidae (mustelids)

> subfamily : Mellivorinae (monotypic)

Red List status :

Least Concern (LC)

Seen and photographed :-

  • Zambia (South Luangwa)

A relatively small and chunky, powerfully built carnivore with short legs and short tail, and with a well-deserved reputation for being very aggressive and virtually devoid of fear. Their feet are armed with very strong claws, which are short on the hind legs, but remarkably long on the forelimbs. A Honey Badger's skin is both very tough and very loose, which enables it to turn and twist freely thereby making it very difficult to hold. Another defence mechanism is that their anal glands can discrete a foul smelling liquid when under stress that would deter many attackers. They are opportunistic feeders who specialise in opening bees’ nests and the excavation of insects, but will also readily take reptiles, birds or small animals. They are also known to scavenge carrion and will, on occasions, appropriate kills of other carnivores including lions. According to Wikipedia the species can be found through most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as through Arabia, Iran and western Asia to the Indian peninsula. This particular photo was taken in Zambia and, as with the African Civet, it represents my one and only sighting of the species.

 

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