Syncerus caffer caffer
Local names – mbowa, nali, munyati

The African Buffalo is Africa’s only wild cattle species.

There are four subspecies of African buffalo – Forest (S c nanus), West African Savanna (S c brachyceros), Central African Savanna (S c aequinoctialis) and the largest which is the Cape, or Southern Savannah (S c caffer) which is found in Zambia.

Buffalo are a key species - they play an important ecological role due to their grazing which opens up areas of long grassland for other herbivores who have a more selective feeding habit.



Shoulder Height:  1.7 metres
Length:  2.1 – 3.4 metres
Weight:  300 – 900 kgs
Age:  26 years

African buffalo are large, cattle-like animals, with heavy horns.  They have a broad chest, large limbs and head.  They have drooping ears, and a tassel at the end of their tail.  Their coats are dark brown to black in colour.  Males are larger than the females, and have longer thicker horns.

Their thick horns spread outwards and downwards from their head.  In males the horns are joined by a large shield, called a ‘boss’ which covers their head.




Buffalo are hierarchical and gregarious, living in large herds which can consist of many hundred individuals consisting of females, their young and dominant bulls.  Adult bulls determine dominance by sparring with larger and older bulls to claim dominance, although violent fights are rare.  Young males form smaller herds and old males leave their herd for a more solitary existence.

They spend most of the day lying down in the shade to escape the heat, drinking water in the early morning and cooler afternoons and grazing and browsing at night.  The herd will travel to find food, preferring to graze on fresh grass, but will browse on herbs, shrubs and trees when grasses are not available.

Buffalo communicate through low-pitched calls.  Mothers call to their calf with a croaking sound, and a calf responds with a higher pitched croak.  They make a variety of noises when grazing, with bellows, grunts honks and croaks which are thought to help keep a herd moving in the same direction.  When threatened they make a drawn out ‘waaaa’.  They also make submissive and defensive displays, tossing their heads, using a stiff-legged walk and rubbing their horns on the ground.

Females normally give birth to a single calf, during the rainy season.  The bond between a mother and her calf is very strong and within a few hours a new-born calf is able to keep up with its herd although they are usually hidden in dense vegetation for their first two weeks.  Calves are kept at the centre of the herd for protection and are weaned at about 11 months although they may stay with their mother until they are three years old.

Buffalo live in a range of habitats, including open woodland savanna with abundant grass and access to drinking water, montane grasslands and forests and lowland rain forests.

Herds will stampede when alarmed and old males can be extremely dangerous when threatened.  If the herd is threatened by predators, they will surround their young and aggressively defend their herd, stampeding the attacker.  They are also known to rescue captured individuals.  Herds can outrun their attacker with old solitary bulls being more prone to be taken by lions.  New born calves are also preyed upon by cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena.




Population Size:  estimated at 670,000 individuals

Trend:  decreasing


African buffalo are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Threats:  habitat loss, poaching, human wildlife conflict and disease. Bovine tuberculosis is known to be prevalent in buffalo and is thought to spread to domestic cattle outside of the National Parks.




Best places to see them in the wild:  South Luangwa, Kafue, Mosi-au-Tunya, Kasanka and Lower Zambezi National Parks


Spotted Hyena

Crocuta crocuta
Local names – chimbwi,, sitongwani, suntwe

Spotted hyena are the second largest carnivore in Africa.

They are also known as ‘laughing hyena’ because of the ‘giggle’ sounds that they make and are the most vocal mammal in Africa.

There are four species in the hyena family.  The largest is the spotted (Crocuta crocuta) and the smallest is the aardwolf (Proteles cristata) which are both found in Zambia.  The others are the brown (Hyaena brunnea) which prefer the arid habitats of Southern Africa and the striped (Hyaena hyaena) which live in North Africa, Arabia and the Middle-East.

Spotted hyena are a key species - they are one of nature’s survivors, being very adaptable to living in different environments and they have a very strong immune system.  If their population starts to decline it is a major indicator that the ecosystem in which they live is becoming severely degraded.  They are a top predator and so they are vital in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.



Shoulder Height:  70 – 90 cms
Length:  up to 2 metres
Weight:  50 – 80 kgs
Tail length:  25 – 30 cm long
Age:  up to 25 years

Spotted hyena are dog-like with a large head, long muscular neck and high sloping shoulders with their front legs being longer then their back legs.  They have four toes with non-retractable claws.  Their short course coat is sandy to brown in colour and they have dark spots on their back and legs which fade with age.  They have an upright mane on their neck and shoulders and a dark bushy tail.  Unlike many other species, the females are up to 14% bigger than males.

They have the strongest jaws in the Animal Kingdom, and can crush bones enabling them to extract nutritious marrow.  They have a very good sense of sight and smell and can hear noises of other predators feeding from up to 10 km away.

A hyena’s heart is twice the size of a lions.  This means they can maintain speeds of up to 60 km per hour and can chase their prey over long distances.


Spotted hyena are very gregarious and have a complex social system.  They live in large groups, called ‘clans’.  The clan is led by a dominant alpha female who is larger, stronger and more aggressive than the males.  It is very hierarchical, with even the lowest ranking female being more dominant than the highest ranking male.  Each clan occupies a territory and will defend it from their neighbours.  Females normally remain with their clan for life whilst adult males leave to form a new one.  They are mainly nocturnal, spending the day resting in the shade, using water holes to cool off and cache their food and moving and hunting during the night.

Hyena are skilful group hunters and cover large distances to bring down their prey.  They are omnivores, hunting large antelope, zebra, wildebeest as well as smaller mammals, birds, fish and even eating insects and fruit.  They are very fast eaters and consume everything except their prey’s horns.  Although they have the reputation as being scavengers, they actually hunt 90% of their food.

They are very vocal and noisy.  Their distinctive ‘whoop’ is a long distance call and can be heard up to 5 kms away.  They yell, grunt, growl, whine and squeal.  Their giggle is made when fleeing from an attacker.  Hyena are very tactile and greet and groom each other.  They also scent mark their territory by ‘pasting’ tall grasses with a gland secretion and mark boundaries with communal dung latrines.

A female gives birth to one or two cubs after 102 days in a den.  Cubs are born with their eyes open and with canine teeth although they suckle until 18 months old.  Hyena milk is four times more nutritious than cow’s milk and has the highest protein content of any carnivore.  This means a mother can leave her offspring for several days whilst she is hunting.  Young cubs are raised in communal nurseries until about a year old.

Hyena live in many different types of habitat, including savanna, grasslands, and in montane forests.

Their natural predator are lions, who will try and steal their prey and kill young hyena cubs due to competition over food.




Population Size:  estimated at 47,000 individuals

Trend:  stable in Southern Africa and decreasing in Eastern and Western Africa


Spotted hyena are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Threats:  habitat loss, being caught in snares and poisoning due to human wildlife conflict



Best places to see them in the wild:  Liuwa Plains, Kafue, South Luangwa, and Lower Zambezi National Parks



Acinonyx jubatus
Local name:  chiseketa

Cheetah are the fastest land mammal in the world.

The name cheetah comes from the Hindu word ‘chita’ meaning ‘spotted’ or ‘sprinkled.

There are five sub-species of cheetah with four living in Africa and one (A. j. venaticus) living in Asia and Central India.  A. j. jubatus are found in Zambia and Southern Africa, whilst the other three are found in East (A. j. fearsoni), Northwest (A. j. hecki) and Northeast (A. j. soemmerringi) Africa.

Cheetah are a key species - they are a top predator within their environment playing an integral role in keeping a healthy balance of other wildlife, especially herbivores, which in turn helps to maintain the flora in the habitats in which they live.  They also have a growing economic importance for ecotourism.


Shoulder Height:  75 cm
Length:  112-135
Weight:  35-65 kg
Tail length:  66-84 cm
Age:  10 years

Built for speed, cheetahs have a slender, long-legged agile body with a flat muscular tail which acts like a rudder when they are running.  They have a distinctive face with black teardrops markings below their high set eyes and small rounded ears.  Their coat is straw coloured with small black spots.

Cheetah can run up to 110 kph (70 mph), reaching top speed in just 3 seconds.  At full speed, their stride measures up to seven metres (21 feet) with their feet only touching the ground twice during each stride.  They have non-retractable claws that allows them greater grip and traction when running at high speeds.


Cheetahs are typically solitary.  Females live with their young, whilst males live alone or in ‘coalitions’ with their male siblings.  They are not particular social and close contact is limited.  They are diurnal, resting in the heat of the day and being active and hunting during the cooler times.  This means they avoid competition with larger predators, such as lions, who normally hunt at night.

They are skilful hunters, mainly preying on small antelope as well as smaller mammals and birds. They observe their surroundings from raised areas, such as a termite mound, then will stalk their prey before sprinting in an explosive burst of speed for a short distance, overtaking and taking down their prey.  They feed quickly to avoid detection from other larger carnivores and scavengers.

Cheetahs have large home ranges depending on the location and movement of their prey.  Males are fiercely territorial and scent marking is a main part of their communication.  They are also vocal and make a range of bird-like calls which can be heard by other cheetah over 2 kms away.  They also hiss, growl, snarl and will purr when content.

Females give birth of litters of two to eight cubs after a gestation period of three months.  Cubs are born blind and are hidden in dense bushes until a month old and they are weaned at six to eight weeks.  They have a ridge of long grey fur running from their neck to tail called a mantle.  This is thought to resemble a honey badger and helps them to blend into long grass, keeping them safe from predators.

Cheetah live in open savannah areas, dry scrub areas and open woodlands.

Cheetah are vulnerable to attack from other larger carnivores and cub mortality is very high with about 75% of cubs being killed by lions, hyenas, baboons and leopards.



Population Size:  less than 8,000 individuals

Trend:  decreasing

Cheetah are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Threats:  Habitat Loss, the illegal pet trade and poaching and trafficking of skins and body parts, death by vehicles on roads and inbreeding due to low genetic diversity.


Best places to see them in the wild:  Kafue, Liuwa Plains and South Luangwa National Parks