There’s a common misconception that around every corner in Africa, there’s a deadly or dangerous animal just waiting to make you its next victim. However this is not at all the case.
In reality, the most dangerous animals in Africa occur only in national parks and designated wildlife areas.
The truth of it is that most of Africa’s wild animals are in more danger from human beings than we are from them. That being said, the continent is home to incredible biodiversity and an array of mega-species which are without a doubt some of the most dangerous animals on the planet.
How many dangerous animals are in Africa?
Africa is extremely vast and home to more than one million species. With a huge variety of large mammals, aggressive predators, and venomous snakes and insects, many of these can be considered as dangerous.
The continent provides a home to 1100 mammals, 350 reptiles, 2300 birds and a plethora of insects. Included in these are; the world’s largest land mammal, the ‘King of the Jungle’, the apex predator of the oceans and the animal responsible for the most human deaths every year!
Most animals aren’t dangerous to humans in the traditional sense. i.e they don’t want to eat you, aren’t capable of crushing or goring you, and don’t have a venom inflicting bite. However all wild animals are driven by a strong sense of instinct and will fight if they feel like it is their only option.
Here are the 10 most dangerous animals in Africa:
Nicknames like ‘widowmaker’ and ‘black death’ don’t get given cheaply, and the cape buffalo has definitely earned its reputation as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
Renowned for its aggression and unpredictable temperament, the buffalo is thought to have killed more trophy hunters than any of the Big Five. These giant beasts can grow up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200lbs) and stand 1.7 metres tall.
They live in large herds, which move with an intimidating presence. Even at a safe distance, the stares of aggressive bulls are impossible to ignore. Herds work together to eliminate any perceived threat, and are known to circle back on their victims. Approaching from behind – they charge, trample and gore them do death with their large, fused-bone horns. Even prides of lions aren’t always brave enough to take on a buffalo herd at full force.
Injured buffalo are perhaps even more dangerous and are one of few animals who will actively stalk and attack humans, even when alone. It is estimated that Cape Buffalo kill around 200 people every year.
Buffalo are widespread across the African continent and are commonly seen on open grasslands and near water sources. They are exceptionally susceptible to domestic cattle diseases like bovine tuberculosis, however they are listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN redlist.
Unbeknownst to most, the hippo is the most dangerous land animal in Africa. Despite being a herbivore that doesn’t actively hunt other animals or people, they are responsible for almost 3,000 human fatalities every year.
When observed from afar, hippos appear to be gentle and amusing animals, as they laze around in the shallows. However male hippos are exceptionally territorial and act with extreme aggression against any perceived threats along their section of river or dam.
Females are not territorial but will attack anything that comes between them and their young or whatever might dare to come between them and the water. They are most vulnerable while out grazing under the cover of darkness and don’t take kindly to threats.
Hippos are the third largest animal in Africa, but despite their massive bulk they can run at speeds of over 30 kilometres per hour (19mph) on land and can weigh in excess of 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lbs). A male hippo’s canine teeth can exceed 50 centimetres (20 inches) and are set in enormous jaws which open to almost 180 degrees.
Seen in almost all of Africa’s wild waterways, the hippopotamus is a common sighting while on safari, however due to human-hippo conflict and habitat-loss they are currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN redlist.
Lions are one of only 2 wildlife species on the African continent known as man-eaters. The most famous instance of this was the pride who killed over 100 men working on a railway line in Tsavo, Kenya in 1896.
It is thought that sick or elderly lions, no longer able to hunt fitter prey, turn to humans in search of an easy meal – primarily old males who are no longer supported by a pride. Lions are the apex predators in Africa and are responsible for an estimated 250 human fatalities each year on the continent.
Mozambican refugees crossing into South Africa via the Kruger National Park are often killed and eaten by lions and in Tanzania, it is reported that these powerful cats kill up to 70 people a year.
Under normal circumstances, lions do not usually target humans for food but rather perceive us as a threat. Their first reaction is to turn and run, however if they feel cornered they will attack. Mothers with cubs are known to be extremely aggressive and do not tolerate any threats.
Lions are common across all of sub-Saharan Africa and spend 20 hours a day sleepy under shady trees before becoming active at night. They are currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list.
The mosquito is probably the last creature you’d expect to appear on a list of the most dangerous animals in Africa, however they are the deadliest of any life form on the continent.
The different genus’s carry a variety of diseases, which include: Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, and West Nile Virus. All of which can be fatal.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than one million people are killed every year by malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases. 90% of these people are Africans and most of them are children under five years old.
The malarial parasite is only transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito. Often called cerebral malaria, this form of the disease is particularly dangerous and accounts for the vast majority of malaria-related deaths.
Mosquitos are most active around dawn and dusk and are particularly prominent in tropical and wetland areas. There are approximately 3,500 known species of mosquito, and individuals have an average lifespan of around two weeks.
Prevention against mosquito bites usually comes in the form of sprays, lotions or candle repellents as well as mosquito nets used to doors, windows and sleeping areas.
The black mamba is one of the deadliest snake species in the world and without a doubt the most feared serpent in Africa.
The fastest of all African snakes, black mamba’s can move at 20 kilometres an hour (12 mph) and are notoriously aggressive. They are known to strike out when cornered. They are the only snake species known to have actively chased after humans.
They are also the largest venomous reptile in Africa, reaching lengths of up to 4.2 metres (14ft). The black mamba has well-developed vision and is active both during the day and at night. Their methods of hunting vary between ambush and pursuit, with repeated strikes releasing a neurotoxic venom directly into their victim’s bloodstream.
Black mambas inject enough venom in a single bite to kill 10 fully-grown men. The venom triggers an almost immediate onset of symptoms including asphyxiation and cardiovascular collapse. When untreated, the human death rate is 100% after a black mamba bite, and usually occurs in less than seven hours.
Contrary to their name, black mambas are not black. Rather their skin is a grey/brown/olive colour. The name comes from the inside of their mouth, which is inky black and used as a sign of aggression when threatened.
They are usually found in savannahs, woodlands, scrub and tree hollows, andare widespread across East, Central and Southern Africa.
The African elephant is the largest land mammal on earth, and even from inside a vehicle, an angry elephant is an extremely intimidating sight. Elephants can reach weights of over 6 metric tonnes and a height of 3.3 metres (11 ft) at the shoulder.
Estimates suggest that elephants are responsible for approximately 500 human fatalities every year.
Attacks on humans are mainly carried out by bull elephants in musth – a period of heightened sexual activity, when testosterone levels increase drastically. During musth, bulls become particularly aggressive and can be unpredictable.
They often attempt to trample or gore anything that comes too close and unprovoked attacks are not uncommon. Protective mothers will attack if they feel that their babies are being threatened.
In areas with high human-elephant conflict, herds are far more aggressive. On average, 100 African elephants are killed every day by poachers. Historically, herds in certain regions have been culled and/or relocated for various reasons and these extremely traumatic events have caused major distrust towards humans.
These populations are renowned for being far more aggressive. African elephants are currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN redlist.
The rhinoceros is a large and powerful animal, equipped with surprising speed and large horns – capable of inflicting serious damage.
Both the African species – the white rhino and the black rhino – charge when threatened and have both been responsible for multiple human fatalities. Rhinos have poor eye sight and an excellent sense of smell. They are extremely irritable and often choose the ‘hit first and ask questions later’ approach, which makes them very unpredictable.
The black rhino is by far the more aggressive of the two species, and will charge at any perceived threat. When approaching there victims, black rhinos aim to trample and gore with there two sharp horns. It’s impossible to outrun a rhino at close range as they can reach speeds of up to 64 kilometres and hour (35mph). Black rhinos have even been seen charging and ramming into vehicles.
The rhino is second only to the elephant when it comes to size, and the largest-ever male black rhino weighed in at over 2,890 kilograms (6,380lbs). Males are territorial and always on high alert, while protective mothers will act on any threat against their young.
Usually seen feeding on shrubbery in dense tickets, black rhinos are right to be wary of humans, as severe poaching has led them to their current status as ‘Critically Endangered.’
While not as venomous as the black mamba, the puff adder is one of the most widespread reptiles in Africa and is thought to be responsible for the most human deaths of any species.
Along with their distribution throughout the continent, what makes the puff adder one of the most dangerous animals in Africa is their prevalence in areas of high human density as well as their methods of camouflage.
When threatened, puff adders will rather lie still than flee, in order to avoid detection, and most bites occur when people accidentally step on them. Mortality rates are quite low with the majority of deaths occurring as a result of inadequate medical treatment. However these still add up to nearly 32,000 fatalities per year.
Puff Adders are a short, heavy-bodied species that averages at around 1 metre (3.5ft) in length. They’re equipped with long fangs and a potent cytotoxic venom.
Their skin colour varies depending on their location, which ranges across the whole of Africa with the only exceptions being the rainforest and Sahara regions.
The continent’s largest freshwater predator – The Nile Crocodile – is one of the most feared and most dangerous animals in Africa, and one of the two known man-eating species.
Draped in thick, armoured skin with razor-sharp teeth and extraordinary bite force, nile crocs are known for their ambush method of hunting. They lie-in-wait in the shallows and will indiscriminately attack any anything that comes within reach.
Attacks occur with the ferocious reptiles launching out the water at incredible speeds and grabbing its victim in its powerful jaws before dragging it back in and drowning them underwater. Not a nice ending for an individual of any species.
Once dead, crocs will sometimes stash their kills under branches, rocks or in underwater caves. They return later to feed and tear their meal apart with their famous ‘death roll’.
Nile Crocodiles are the largest reptile in Africa and can grow to over 5 metres (15ft) long and weigh close to a ton.
The number of unreported attacks means it is difficult to determine exact numbers, however it is estimated that Nile crocodiles kill around 300 human beings every year.
Crocodiles are found in almost every major river system throughout Africa, as well as most bodies of water in national parks and game reserves. Attacks occur in regions where humans use rivers for agriculture, washing and fishing. Approximately 40% of croc attacks on people are fatal, with children being at greater risk due to their size.
GREAT WHITE SHARK
The Great White Shark is the most dangerous animal in Africa’s oceans – a ferocious marine predator that strikes fear into the hearts of surfers and beachgoers around the Cape of South Africa.
Though it is said that great whites don’t actively seek out humans as prey, cases of mistaken identity are often enough to cause fatalities.
Most attacks involve just a single bite, before the shark realizes that the human is not its preferred prey and swims off. Unfortunately even an exploratory bite can cause the loss of a limb or extreme bodily trauma and in 20% of cases, the attack ends with the victim bleeding to death. Great whites are responsible for the majority of fatal shark attacks in Africa, and across the globe.
‘White sharks’ charge their prey at up to 40 kilometres per hour (25mph), and hit them from below with enormous force while simultaneously inflicting a devastating bite. Most often they then back off and let their victim bleed out but in some instances they grab them and drag them to the bottom of the ocean.
With all that said, shark attacks are extremely rare and there have only been around 200 Great White shark attacks off the coast of Southern Africa in as many years.
Africa is one of the most wildlife-rich continents on earth. The continent is famous the world over for its iconic wildlife species, and the unforgettable viewing experiences on offer. Despite the danger element, visiting Africa to spend time observing and learning about amazing animals species is one of the best vacations you’ll ever go on.
In reality, provided you follow the rules and use common sense, a wildlife experience in Africa is not dangerous at all. Whether its a bush safari or ocean experience, there are a plethora of professional tour operators who will guide you with safety.