Top 10 Animals in Zambia: Wildlife in Sub-Saharan Africa

September 26, 2022

Zambia is a landlocked nation with a deep history, diverse cultures, and magnificent landscapes. There is plenty to see in this glorious nation, from the banks of the Zambezi River in the south to Lake Tanganyika in the north.

You also have a wide variety of places to visit, with a third of the country consisting of protected national parks and game management areas.

So it’s no surprise that you can see an abundance of animals in Zambia, including all of the Big 5.

Don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry. We’ve compiled a list of wild animals you can spot in this beautiful country.

Next Read: Learn all about the best time to visit Zambia.

Zambia Animals List

Zambia is home to many mammals, including lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, buffalos, cheetahs, and hippos. With over 780 bird species, this wildlife sanctuary is also an ideal place for bird watchers. Alongside the vast birdlife, here are the ten best Zambian animals you can look out for during your time in this beautiful country.

Top Tip: For optimal wildlife spotting opportunities, check out this guide on Zambia safari tours.

Zebras in the savanna

1. Lions

The lion is often called the king of the savanna. They’re known for having magnificent roars, tremendous strength, and territorial nature.

They are Africa’s largest cat species, and there are around 1,200 lions in Zambia. Lions live in prides, made up of a few males, numerous lionesses, and their cubs.

While lions aren’t that rare, your best option for finding them is by visiting the South Luangwa, Kafue, and Lower Zambezi national parks.

2. Elephant

Elephants in Zambia are beautiful and enormous creatures. For example, an elephant calf weighs 260 pounds at birth. These giant animals can spend up to 22 hours per day eating and can drink almost 13 gallons in one sitting. African Elephants – Loxodonta Africana – are very intelligent animals and work together as pack animals. They are most commonly found in the Luangwa Valley.

3. Zebra

At first glance, Zebras look like they wouldn’t fit in the vast grasslands of Zambia. Their black and white stripes should make them stick out. However, these stripes are said to create an optical illusion that confuses predators.

Another spectacular feature is that each zebra’s stripes are unique – much like a human’s fingerprint. In Zambia, you can spot either the Burchell or Crawshay zebra species. The Burchell’s zebra can be found in most Zambian national parks, whereas the Crawshay’s zebra is only found in East Zambia.

Wildebeest in grasslands

4. Wildebeest

Every year, roughly 45,000 wildebeest migrate to the Liuwa Plains in Zambia. It is the second biggest animal migration in Africa after the Masai Mara – Serengeti migration. This event is a must-see when visiting Zambia.

The Blue wildebeest, whose weight ranges from 397 – 550 pounds, can be found from Zambia’s border with Angola to the Kafue National Park. You can also find the Cookson’s wildebeest, which is an endemic species of the Luangwa Valley region.

5. Giraffe

Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world, with distinctive long necks, legs, and backs. While giraffes may appear quite slow-paced, they can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour if threatened. Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley is the only region where you can find the Thornicroft giraffe, the shortest of all giraffe species.

A giraffe crossing a dirt road in Zambia

6. Rhinos

Zambia has both White and Black Rhinoceroses. Black rhinos are smaller than their counterparts and are hook-lipped, whereas the white rhino has a square-shaped upper lip. Read this guide about white versus black rhinos for more information on the differences.

Sightings of rhinos in Zambia are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it’s become increasingly difficult to find this critically endangered species. You can see white rhinos at the Mosi-Oa-Tunya or Lusaka National Park and black rhinos at the North Luangwa National Park.

A leopard sitting behind grasses in South Luangwa National Park

7. Leopard

Leopards are one of the more elusive cat species. These mammals are well-known climbers, so don’t be surprised if you see them in trees. This is because leopards are primarily nocturnal and don’t want their kills taken from lions or hyenas.

They are powerful and can even kill prey larger than them. Leopard coats are beautiful arrays of black spots amongst an orangey-gold, which helps them camouflage.

Top Tip: Go on a night safari or a walking safari for an excellent opportunity to spot these cats.

8. Spotted Hyena

The spotted hyenas are scavengers and quite dog-like. They have a rough brownish coat and are known for their powerful jaws. Hyenas are nocturnal so listen out for their whooping calls, which can be spine-chilling on a quiet African night.

They belong to territorial clans and build their dens underground. Your best chance of seeing hyenas is in the Luangwa and Kafue National Parks.

A buffalo standing in the savanna

9. Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffaloes are huge animals of Zambia and weigh around 1,540 pounds. They are part of the Big 5 and are known to move in large herds. Buffaloes have massive, low-sweeping horns and can be extremely dangerous as they will charge if threatened.

If attacked, the herd gets into a circle formation around the young and faces outwards to create a protective barrier. You can spot these majestic giants in the Kafue and South Luangwa National Parks.

10. Hippo

These majestic animals are vegetarian and feed on grass, reeds, and the fruit of the sausage tree. While it seems like the hippos are great swimmers, they actually push off from the bottom of the river and use momentum to glide and float.

You can find many hippos throughout Zambia’s bodies of water. They are most common in the Luangwa River, where the official count is 48 hippos per 0.6 miles. You can also find them in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

A hippo opening its mouth in South Luangwa National Park

Final Thoughts on the Animals of Zambia

Zambia is a beautiful place to spot these majestic African animals. You are bound to leave with unforgettable memories, from witnessing leopards in the treetops to elephants bathing in the Zambezi River.

With this list, you’ll be booking your tickets and packing your binoculars for a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife Zambia vacation in no time.

Don’t know where to stay? Check out this guide on the best Zambia safari lodges.

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