Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (2023)

With our biology backgrounds, extensive research, and five trips to South Africa and Botswana, my husband and I have learned how to enjoy and stay safe with top predators.

If you plan well, learn the safety rules, and obey them, you can have a safe safari. The safest way to view Africa’s predators is from inside a safari vehicle with an experienced guide. In National Parks and private game reserves,wild animals treat the safari vehicles as non-threatening objects within their territory and tend to ignore them.

Is itsafe to go onsafari inAfrica?

Yes, it is much safer to go on a safari in Africa than it is to drive on a highway in North America.By learning how to avoid conflict with African predators and by laughing at our beginner mistakes, you can enjoy a safe safari.There are also some surprising threats to avoid such as malarial mosquitoes, sneaky Capebuffalo, black mambas, and packs of hyenas.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (1)

Planning our first visit, we wanted to explore the wilder parts of Kruger National Park,one of the world’s largest National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries.The park is 220 mi (360 km) long, and a daunting 7,523sqmi (19,500sqkm) in size – nearly the size of Belgium.This is “lioncountry,” and theyattack approximately 10unpreparedpeople a yearwho make the mistake of walking at night.

When I searched for answers to this questionabout safety, I laughed when what came up was “Plan an Affordable African Safari.” Obviously, there are lots of people like my family who want tosee Africa’s amazing wild creatureswithoutbreaking the budgetandtheywant to keep safe.We especially wantedA Safe First Trip, sowe splurged for five days ata private gamelodge.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (2)

Is a safari for you?

Awell-respected safariis not cheap, but it is invaluable for the safety it provides, especially if you are new to wildlife adventures in Africa or you plan to take your children. If you are concerned about mosquitoes, you will find beds with mosquito nets that don’t have holes and are properly set up for you at bedtime. Your room will be cleaned each day and there’s very little chance of a snake slipping under your bed.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (3)

Do animals attack safari vehicles?

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (4)

Even an open safari vehicle is safe. If you are a first-time safari tourist it may feel unprotected, but thousands of game drives are conducted every day in open vehicles without any problem. In thegame reserves,the animalsignorethe hefty safari vehicles since they do not see the big rolling objects as prey nor associate them with food.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (5)

Rarely, though, a safari vehicle might be chased and sometimes even pushed bya big bull elephant inmusth.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (6)
Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (7)

Is it safe to walk in the bush?

Yes, if you go with an experienced guideyou can safely enjoy walking in the bush.Choose alodge or safari trip that offers guided walks. Your guide will carefully watch for crocodiles and hippos near rivers and will keep an eye out for snakes hidden in the grass. Guides may carry a rifle on the off chance of a surprise attack. The National Geographic warns that antivenom is not readily available in Africa so walking alone indeadlysnake territory is not recommended.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (8)

Are private game reserves worth the cost?

I think they are worth the cost if it fits your budget, you’re looking for safety and an opportunity to see more wildlife up close with top guides. Theskilled guides on staff understand wildlife behavior.For example, they know when to retreat and can drive in reverse at top speed to avoid confrontations with bull elephants.

At our lodge westarted every day witha 4:30amwake-up call for dawn patrol, usually the best time to see nocturnal wildlife like leopards heading home.The private lodges allow off-roaddrivingto seeelusive creatureslike elusive leopardsand African wild dogs, whereas inthe National Parksyou are limited to the road.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (9)

We chose NalediGame Lodgebecauseit’s anaward-winning wildlife safari and lodge in the greater Kruger National Park area,opento the National Park without fencing.We wanted thesmall group experience andeducation theycould provide.Their local guides were born and grew up on thisland andaregreat trackers.Theykeepclosetrack of thelocationsof the various animals.So,whenone ofthe lion prideswas fullaftera bigfeast ofantelope, they safely took usto studyand photographthe animals up close.

When we went for walks outside the electric fence our guide carried a rifle. The rifles were meant only for an unusual emergency and the guides explained that it would break their hearts to have to injure an animal. When we came across the signs of an elusive leopard dragging an antelope, our tracker went on his own to see if the leopard was feeding in a cleft in the rocks. He reported back that the leopard had left his kill.

Early the next morning we drove back to see if the leopard was feeding on its antelope. The tracks showed the antelope had been dragged to the river – by a crocodile scavenging at night!

The first two safety lessons we learnedabout going on adrive in an opensafarivehicle:

1) Don’t stand up in the vehicle to get a better look or for a better photo angle.

2) Neverget out of the vehiclewithout the guides okay.

Our guidescontinuallyamazed us with their knowledge of not just the big five butallthecreatureswe sawgreatand small.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (10)

Is it safe to drive on your own in Kruger?

Yes, if you follow the rules and are careful! Kruger is where the average South African family goes on safari and it is set up for safety.There are fenced rest areas with tent sites or cabins for rent. Most have a restaurant, plus a small grocery and souvenir shop.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (11)

One of the big bonuses is the price of the National Park safaris is about $30 per person. You can take both early morning and evening safaris in a 20-passenger vehicle. We saw our first leopard on an early morning trip and had an interesting encounter with a bull elephant inmusth. Our guide told us our truck wastoo big even for this big guy to attack but as we drove away, the bull put on a good show of chasing us down the road!

Kruger is one of the best safari deals in Africa! Read our article to learn more.

WillIbe attacked by a wild animal while on safari?

The chances of being attacked while on safari are very slim. Kruger NP, one of South Africa’s top destinations, attracts more than one million visitors annually and it’s estimated that one person a year might die.

Skilled guides who understand elephant behavior seldom have confrontations with elephants, because they know when and how to back off. Guides practice driving backwards for times when a bull elephant comes around a bend in a BAD mood. Might be a good idea to practice your backwards driving skills at home! It’s amazing to watch this being done on YouTube.

Our wonderful guide in Botswana, Scar, told us stories that scared us enough to gain a higher level of respect forthe Big Five!Big Five” originally referred to the difficulty of hunting the lion, leopard, rhino,elephantand African buffalo. These five large African mammal species were known to be dangerous and it was considered a feat by trophy hunters to bring them home.Today these animalsareprotected in the National Parks and game reservesand are hunted mainly with cameras.

Do elephants attack cars? – yes, but not often!

Elephants, usually our beloved gentle giants, can be protective or become annoyed by a vehicle that approaches too closely. Revving the engine or honking the horn would be a bad idea! They could react by pushing or leaning on the vehicle, or even flipping it over.This applies to both matriarchs protecting young calves and bull elephants inmusth. A bull elephant inmusthis in pain and is especially dangerous. He has testosterone levels over 60 times higher than usual and will attack anything smaller than himself that comes too close.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (12)

How do you avoid being attacked by an elephant?

On our first day in Krugerwebrokeasafetyrule without knowing it and it could haveended badly for our vehicle and us!Beforeleaving home,wereadthe informative and inspiring book,The ElephantWhisperer”by Lawrence Anthony, and thoughtwe wereprepared.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (13)

We knew,of course, that you yield the right-of-way to any 7 to 10-tonanimal.Westopped our carforalarge female matriarchcalmly leadingher family across the road about50 feet in front of us. Sitting perfectly still,we quietly tookpictures and whispered!

Amedium sized elephantlagged behindthe rest of the herd and suddenly stopped rightin front ofour car.Hewas abull!He gave us theevileye andmoved towards usflapping hisears and trumpeting – a warning to back off! We froze like deer caught in the headlights,afraid toannoyhim by turning on ourengine. WRONG response.

We were lucky hewas young and notinmusth. He just wanted to let us know who was in charge.Nowwe know enough toalways keep the engine running,leaveLOTS ofroomandbackupas soon asan elephant displaysaggression.We’ve seen pictures ofcarsin Kruger that have been flipped and flattenedby elephants. Theyaren’t predatory but they do rank number five on the most dangerousanimals list

Most Dangerous Animalsin Africa

DANGEROUS ANIMALPeople Killedper yearTips
1. Mosquitoes:
Malaria, Dengue & Yellow Fever
725,000+Get your yellow fever shot. Check conditionsahead oftime.Use antimalarials, repellent, long pants, and long sleeves.
2. Snakes: Puff Adders Vipers, Black mambas50,000 +Watch carefully when walking, stay behind theguide, avoid sleeping on the ground, check your shoes. Antivenom is not easily availablein remote camps.
3. Hippos1,000Avoid rivers if without a guide. Hippos often grazefaraway from the water. Don’t get betweenmother and baby hippo
4. Crocodiles1,000Avoid rivers & banks unless with a guide
5. Rhinos600Bad tempered & aggressive
6. Elephants500Keep 75-100 yd away. If threatened, back away slowly with your vehicle.
7. Cape Buffalo200Stay in vehicle and avoid close contact
8. Lions200Stay quietly in vehicle,leave windows closed,back up if threatened
9. HyenasFewPacks can kill men, but mostly attack children & women
10. Monkeys & baboonsDangerous BitesMonkeys and baboons that have lost their fear of humanscan leap on you if you have food in your hand– drop any food and back off!
Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (14)

What is the most dangerousanimalin the World?The tiny mosquito!

The biggestkillers in theworld aremosquitoeslike thosein the Anopheles groupthatkill over a million people a year.

GOOD NEWS:  You can easily avoid mostmosquitoes in southern Africa by avoiding the hot summer rains November to March.The winter months of May to August are generally malaria and mosquito-free in South Africa. Onebonus is thatit is easier to spot wildlife during the dry season, when thesavanna vegetation is shorter.

We usually go inApril or May to Kruger when there are only 2 or 3 days a month with rainandwehaven’t been bothered by mosquitoesduring the day when we’re outside.See our article on finding the best time to visit any destination.

TheWorld Health OrganizationsranksDengueFever(Break bone fever)as a most important mosquito-borne virus disease. It isspread bytheAsian tiger mosquito,Aedesaegypti.Thereis no vaccine andthereare20 million cases a yearwitha mortality rateofabout20 percent for severe infections.

Don’t repeat my mistake! I caught Dengue or “break bone fever” in a Fijian wetland in 1985. I was naïve and the mosquitoes caught me by surprise after I’d fallen asleep. A few days later I had a high fever and horrible pain in my joints. I thought I had a terrible flu.

We flew home and I was admitted to our rural hospital in pain and with non stop vomiting. I was rehydrated and cared for but not diagnosed. There were several years of fatigue and painful joints which was called chronic fatigue. It wasn’t until I met someone several years later in Australia, who had the same recurring symptoms. He had been diagnosed inatropical disease centre and warned me not to get a second bout of Dengue because it would be worse.

Now I like to be prepared and worry less.In addition to routine vaccinations, yellow fever and an up to date tetanus shot, I like to be prepared for cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. This way I can eat anything that looks good and not miss any local treats.

Each person will have differentpreferences concerningavoiding mosquitodiseasesranging from head totoe clothing,DEETand/or different medications.I avoid wet mosquito areas and come prepared with everything.Iadvise folkstotalk toadoctor,well in advance,about the best form of protection for you.Medicationsandvaccinationsusually need to be startedbefore yourtrip,double vaccinationssometimesbeginthree months in advance.

In Southern Africa when a person presents with a high fever and severe pain in the joints,it‘susually the less dangerous Chikungunya. This is common in the United States and causes lingering joint pain but isn’t deadly, but still agood reason to avoid mosquitoes.they find me as soon as I get out of the bed net at night.A good Travel Medical center will organize all your needs.

If you stay in high-end resorts, you may be fine without taking antimalarials. Your accommodation should be mosquito-free with screened windows and a secure net over the bed. Luckily for us, mosquitoes don’t like air conditioning or big fans.

What are the most dangerous snakes on safari?

Snakes killabout 20,000 to 32,000 people a year in Africa.Puff Adders are Africa’s deadliest snake,so it is wise to give them lots of space!

The puff adder,Bitisarietans,is avenomous species of viperfound in savannah and grasslands.Theygrow up to 1 metre in length, and are solidly built with a thick girth. Their color patten differs depending on their location. Theirhabitat, extendsthroughout the entire African continent except forwetrainforests and deserts.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (15)

The puff adder boasts big fangs, with venom powerful enough to kill a grown man with a single bite. They depend on camouflage for protection and, if approached, will simply lie still – which makes them especially dangerous since they are so difficult to spot.

Black mambashave a reputation for beingextremely aggressivewhen cornered and don’t hesitate to attack. Their territory isin southern and eastern Africa. They are Africa’s longest venomous snake, reaching an average of 8 feet up to 14 feet in length. They are also among the fastest snakes in the world, slithering at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

How to stay safe in snake country

I bought a pair of thick double layer leather hiking boots to protect against snakebite,but I’ve never seen avenomoussnake up close, except dead ones on the road or asleep at a distance. This is probably becauseon safariI always zip up my tent, never go walking through the bush without a guide, and I’m usually in the safety of a jeep.

The walking we did in Botswana was with a guide who knew the trail and was walking in front of us with a sharp eye out for snakes. We always zipped up our tent so snakes couldn’t slip in for a nap. It’s a good idea to always shake out your boots before putting your feet inside!

What’s the most dangerous mammal inAfrica?

Hippos are more dangerous than lions or leopards!On our paddle trip in the Okavango, our local guide, Scar, not only knew the hippos along our route, he kept track of which channel they were feeding inand made sure he detoured around them.See our article explaining why hippos are so dangerous. Experienced guides cringe when they see how unaware tourists can be of the dangers posed by hippos!

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (16)

Locals have good reason to be afraid of these dangerous animals. They are the world’s third largest land mammal and kill over 500 people a year.Many attacks happen when people are collecting water in the morning.

It’s debated how many people (500 – 1,000) per year die from hippo attacks. Hippos actively protect and defend their territories along the banks of rivers and lakes. Female hippos can also act out with extreme aggression if they sense a threat coming between them and their babies.

After dark, hippos graze on land often at a distance from their pool.It’s not possible to out run a hippo moving at 20 mph (32 kph) on land or 8 mph (13 kph) in the water.

How do you watch hippos safely?

Hippos are best admired with a guide or from inside a lodge beside the river.

As an example, when my back was sore and I was using a hiking pole, our Naledi guides very kindly adapted the safari to my needs. The jeep was our safe refuge for observation almost all the time, but there were hippos singing as part of their mating ritual. When we approached a hill overlooking the hippo pool, our guides apologized that this could be dangerous for me to get out. Hippos often wander away from the pool to graze and if you are between them and thewaterthey become aggressive.

Our driver maneuvered the jeep beside a tree on the hill.I stood beside the tree a few feet from the jeep, scanning with my binoculars while the guide stood nearby with his rifle ready. My husband and the other guide scrambled over the rough terrain. I was delighted toclearly watch the hippos with their little ears twirling and pink nostrils peeking out of the water as they made loud snorts and piggy like sounds.I wouldn’t have taken this opportunity without a guide.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (17)

How do you avoid being killed by a crocodile?

Thousands of lethal attacks by hippos and crocodiles provide a warning to stay alert beside rivers and lakes.Nile Crocodilesare notoriouslyaggressive. They will go for anything that moves and manage tokill1,000 people a yearworldwide!There are many powerful predators roaming the savanna, but inrivers, freshwater marshes, and mangrove swamps, crocodiles are the apex predator.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (18)

Crocodiles are not stupid brutes – see our article about what researchers are learning about smart crocodiles.

Africa’s largest crocodiles can reach up to 20 feet (7 m) and can weigh up to 1,650lb (750 kg). Usually they areabout16 feet(over 5 m)and 500lb.(227 kg)

Crocodiles will kill baby hippos and have been known to break into a tent on a ridge above the river to attack the people sleeping inside.Most human fatalities occur when people are washing/collecting food near riverbanks or lake shores, or when fishermen take their boats in or out of the water.

My advice? Stay far away from rivers in Africa unless you are staying in a lodge.


Rhinosare notorious for being bad tempered andcan charge at up to 40 miles per hour.It may be their poor eyesight that makes them easily feel threatened and aggressive. Females with their young are very protective and dangerous. Malesprefer a solitary life unlessthey are enjoying a feastofsucculenteuphorbia. In Naledi we watcheda couple ofdocilemalerhinosstay munching on their juicy euphorbia for two days. Our native guide said the sap was an intoxicant for them.

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Rhinoslook like one-ton armor-plated prehistoric tanks with their thick skin and two horns. They are vegetarians using their lips to pluck grasses or bushes. The white rhino has a flat upper lip for grazing while the black rhino has a tip on its upper lip for browsing.

Unfortunately, Rhinoceros are killed by poachers for their keratin horns. These aresold on the black market, especially for Asian buyers, and often for the same price as gold.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (20)

We were fortunate to be able to stay inHluhluwe-ImfoloziPark on a recent visit to South Africa where they protect the endangered white rhinos. The tourist presence discourages poachers and park fees help pay for rhino security. This included evening and morning helicopter patrols.

Many parks have had to remove the horns to protect rhinos from armed poachers.ThulaThulaGame reserve, which is a favorite of ours, had individual armed guards for the young rhinos commonly seen on the front lawn.

Cape Buffalo

The Cape Buffalo,or African Buffalo, is one of the Big Five andthey can be very aggressive. The buffalois often regarded by locals as Africa’s most dangerous animal. They have been reported to gore and kill over 200 people each year in Africa.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (21)

These creatures can weigh up to 1.5tons andcan grow up to 9 feet (2.7 metres) long. When threatened, they use their razor-sharp horns to attack and gore. They usually travel in intimidating mobs and can be one of the few animals in Africa that, if alone and injured, will resort to actively stalking and killing humans. Often called “the Black Death,” buffalos are still widely pursued by trophy hunters in various parts of the continent.

Our guide in the Okavango, Scar, described a father breaking the rules and leaving his tent early one morning to get some photos. When the son and guide went looking for him, they found his trampled body and his camera. The recording clearly showed the buffalo attacking. Scar described how buffalo have a mean streak. They have been known to pretend not to see a person and to continue grazing until the person comes close enough for a sudden attack and the likelihood of being trampled to death.

Lions are the apex land predators in Africa

As Africa’s apex land predator, lions can kill anything! There are areas in Africa where thelion prides are as large as 40 members and they have become skilled at taking down elephants.Lions are the onlyanimals that can kill an adulthippo. Reliable observers have recorded watching apride of lions forseveral hours as they finally overcame an adult hippo by drowning it.

Lions can reach 10 feet long and weigh up to 550 pounds. They are highly intelligent, solve problems cooperatively, and use teamwork in hunting.

Is it Safe to go on Safari with Africa’s Top Predators and Most Dangerous Animals? | Nature & Biology Web (22)

Lions kill 200 people a year in southern Africa. Around 10 people per year, mainly poachers and refugees from Mozambique, are caught by lions as they attempt to walk through Kruger at night. South Africa has set up stations along their border to help refugees fleeing war zones.

One thing to keep in mind if you are on a self-drive safari – people have been attacked by lions through an open car window. If you are anywhere near lions keep your windows closed, no matter how badly you need that photo!

Are leopards dangerous onAfricansafaris?

Although leopards are dangerous in some parts of India, Kruger NP has only recorded 5 deaths in ten years. These incidents happened mostly at night in unfenced areas. One woman was out for a run. Another incident happened with a leopard that had been fed and the leopard, looking for more food, jumped on a guide and bit his arm. The guide punched the leopard off. But the leopard was later shot as a nuisance even though some thoughtless person had habituated him by illegally feeding the animal. Guides have described shoving a fist into the leopard’s mouth to prevent a neck bite.

Leopards are naturally elusive, nocturnal, efficient hunters. They are incredibly strong for their size and weight, about 140 lb and 6 ft long, and they will quickly secure their kill by pulling a carcass up into a tree before lions or hyenas can steal it. They eat a wide variety of small to medium sized prey.

Are hyenas dangerous to humans?

Yes, but very rarely and not during the day. They are formidable predators and frequently steal fresh kills from lions, leopards and cheetahs. The spotted hyena is the more dangerous of the two species, being larger, more predatory, and more aggressive than the striped hyena.Like most predators that attack humans, hyenas tend to target women, children, and infirm men, though both species can and do attack healthy adult males on occasion. If attacked, fight back as hard as you can with a stick or rock, and kick and punchto the head.

Rarely will a visitor need this advice: “With leopards and hyenas, never turn your back on them or run. Walk backward slowly and be prepared to fight the animal off if attacked.“

Better yet, don’t walk outside at night.If returning to your cabin after a night safari, walk in a group, with a flashlight.InImfoloziPark, we returned to our cabinin this manner andcrawled into bed. Shortlyafterthe hyenas began to partyjustoutsideour windows.Their giggling vocalizations sounded like hysterical human laughter and identified them asSpotted hyenas, often called “laughing hyenas.”

Can hyenas kill a lion?

In a group, hyenas can wound or kill a lion. However,a male lion in his primecanintimidate a small group of hyenas.Hyenas may havestrongerteeth and bite forcethanalion, but thelionisbiggerin body and they are both relentless when it comes tohuntingfor food and surviving.

How dangerous are monkeys?

Monkeys don’t try to kill people, but their bites can cause disease and deadly infections in humans. Never show that you have food if there are monkeys present. Take your food inside to eat. If your skin is broken by a bite or scratch, wash with soap and water immediately and see a doctor.

Unfortunately, some visitors in campgrounds think they look cute, give them snacks and create little monsters. Then when monkeys see people eating food, they pounce on them to grab the food out of their hands. They bite hands, arms and faces in the process. Fortunately, there is little chance of rabies in South Africa, but they can pass on: Ebola Reston, Hep B virus (Cercopithecine herpesvirus 1), monkeypox,yellow fever, simian immunodeficiency virus, and tuberculosis.

In conclusion

Safaris are safer than driving on the highways in North America. Stay in your safari vehicle and stay safe. Learn about the habits of Africa’s amazing predators and you’ll gain enough confidence to avoid becoming dinner. Elephants, hippos and Cape buffaloare vegetarians and you are not on the menu.

But you must give these wild creatures their comfort space, a respectful distance to avoid making them feel threatened, especially if they have young ones to protect.

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