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Baby Animals on Safari in Africa

Best Time to See Baby Animals in Africa


I never realized I was such a fan of baby animals until I saw my first day old warthog piglets in Chobe National Park. To share the love, I've put together some fun facts about baby gorillas, lions, elephants, cheetahs, and other little animals that live in Africa. When you are planning a safari you might be interested to know that many baby animals are born at the start of the the rainy season. Below you'll find information and interesting facts about popular baby animals, and where and when the best chance is of seeing them in the wild.

Baby Lion

African Lion in Masai Mara
Andy Rouse/Stone/Getty Images
Baby lions are called cubs and are usually born as part of a litter of up to four siblings. Unlike other cats, lions are very social and female lions even synchronize the births of their cubs within their pride so they can turns taking care of the little ones. Cubs will nurse from any female they can as they get a little older, not just their own mother. As newborns, lion cubs actually have spots shaped like rosettes. For the first six weeks of their lives, cubs will hide in the tall grass, out of danger and stay close to their mother. After 6 weeks, they begin to eat meat and start to brave the world and play further from the den. Cubs will play with each other and mimic behaviors and strategies useful for hunting. Cubs are in serious danger when a new male lion takes over the pride since he will try and kill them in order for their mothers to be ready to conceive again sooner (rather than later when the cubs are fully weaned). Here's a lovely video of the first few days in the life of a lion cub. The best place to see lion cubs in the wild include: Kruger (South Africa), Serengeti (Tanzania), South Luangwa (Zambia) and Masai Mara (Kenya). More about lions...

Baby Elephant

Baby elephant
Getty Images
Baby elephants are called calves and they sometimes suck their trunks for comfort. Baby elephants like to use their mothers large bulk for shade when the sun is high. They also like to play and wrestle with their siblings in waterholes. Their family unit is so strong, that a female elephant will nurse an orphan. Baby elephants are treated so well because they are so precious. An elephant is only fertile for 3 days every five years and gestation lasts 22 months. Baby elephants use their trunks as snorkels when they swim. I've seen this many times in Chobe National Park, one of the best places to see baby elephants. The Serengeti and Tarangire national parks in Tanzania are also great elephant destinations. If you want to see a pink baby elephant, there is one in Botswana's Okavango Delta! Check out this video for footage of a day old baby elephant. And see my video in the Serengeti of a baby elephant trying to figure out how to give itself a dust bath. More about African elephants...

Baby Gorilla

Kakula, an infant Gorilla living in Virunga, DRC
Baby gorillas are called infants and with only around 750 mountain gorillas left in the world, it's a real privilege to see them in the wild. I went gorilla tracking in Rwanda, and caught this little two year old playing in the bamboo. Female gorillas only have about three young during their lifetime. Babies are born around 8.5 months after conception and usually weigh in at 3-4 pounds. They learn to crawl at about 2 months old and are able to walk at 9 months. Mothers will hold their babies to their chest until they reach around 4 months of age, and then they will ride on their mothers' back. Baby gorillas are weaned at around 2.5 years of age, and will then also start to build their own sleeping nests. Mountain gorillas live in family groups, when you track them in the wild, most habituated groups will have a few young for you to enjoy watching. More about gorilla tracking...

Baby Cheetah

Cheetah Cub, Masai Mara, Kenya
Getty Images/Anup Shah
A baby cheetah is called a cub and is usually born in a litter of three to five cubs. Cheetahs are born with their spots and an extra fluffy fur lining on their necks and back. Cubs stay with their mothers for more than a year and then form a small group with their siblings for six months before moving on to a solitary life (if female). Young males remain together for life in a coalition. Cheetah cubs spend a lot of time playing and gearing up to learn how to stalk and catch prey. Since they are solitary hunters it is vital they learn to be successful for their survival. Unfortunately while their mother hunts, baby cheetah are easy prey since all they can do is hide in the bush and hope they won't get found. Baby cheetahs are rare to see while on safari, your best bet is the Serengeti (Tanzania), Phinda (South Africa), Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Namibia and Botswana), Masai Mara area and Samburu (Kenya). More about cheetahs...

Baby Giraffe

Baby giraffe
Getty Images
A baby giraffe is called a calf and is usually born solo with a unique coat pattern. Baby giraffes have very long spindly legs that take just ten hours to get accustomed to walking. Their little horns are small and fluffy with downy hair, and straighten up after its first few days out in the world. Their height at birth is an amazing six feet, but it's still a long way to fall at birth since their mothers stand at almost 15 feet. Baby giraffes are weaned at around eighteen months, but will start to eat some vegetation at around two months. Giraffes have a reputation for being silent, but calves do bleat for attention. Their mothers protect them from predators by using their powerful legs to kick. Despite this, more than a quarter of all babies don't reach their first birthday courtesy of lions, leopards and hyenas. Some attacks occur when the little giraffe is drinking at a waterhole, its legs are splayed so wide that it makes a quick getaway very difficult. Baby giraffes are not born at specific times of the year but can be spotted in all the major safari destinations in East and Southern Africa.

Baby Hyena

Young hyena
Getty Images
In my opinion the only cute hyena is a baby hyena, and they are called pups or cubs. Hyena cubs are most commonly born in twos and if they are the same sex, they may try and kill each other. Cubs are black when they are born and gradually lighten as they reach maturity. There is quite a difference between young spotted hyenas and young striped hyenas. Striped hyenas are born with adult markings, closed eyes and small ears. Spotted hyenas are born with eyes wide open and teeth intact, ready for action. They live in clans of up to 70 members, dominated by the larger built females. Hyena females only raise their own cubs. Here's a great BBC video of female cubs in their full, fighting glory. Spotted hyenas are more common and you can see their young in all the top safari destinations throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Baby Warthog

Baby warthogs
Getty Images
Baby warthogs are called piglets and the family group they live in with their mothers is called a sounders. Baby warthogs are usually born in litters of up to four siblings. They suckle for about 4 months but begin to use their little wide snouts to root for bulbs a few months earlier. Each piglet has its "own" teat and suckles exclusively from it. Baby warthogs are very playful, they are kept in their holes (dens) for the first week of life, and then there is no holding them back. Warthog piglets also have the characteristic tail with a tuft on the end that sticks straight up when running. It's thought that it makes it easier for their parents to see what direction they are going in since they tend to run in single file. I recently saw a day old litter of warthogs trotting around the dry Chobe (Botswana) bush, unbelievably cute but difficult to photograph since they don't keep still! Here's a national geographic video that captures the early life lessons of baby warthogs. Baby warthogs are usually born at the beginning of the rainy season and can be spotted in all the major safari destinations in East and Southern Africa. More about warthogs...

Baby Zebra and Wildebeest

Baby zebra
Getty Image
For sheers baby numbers, you can't beat the million and a half strong gang of zebra, wildebeest and impala that gather to have their babies in the southern Serengeti every year. If you like babies, this is the safari hotspot. Baby zebras are called foals and are usually born solo after a year long pregnancy. Their mothers will keep everyone else at bay until the 2-3 day old zebra is able to recognize her by sight, sound and smell. Babies are born with a unique stripe pattern, and start off with brown rather than black stripes that gradually darken as they mature. More about zebra... Baby wildebeest are called calves and are all born after a year of pregnancy within a 2-3 three week period, usually the beginning of February (in East Africa). Baby wildebeest are born in the middle of their herd and can run just minutes after birth. They can eat grass after just 10 days, but will still nurse for four months. More about the great annual migration and the unique relationship between zebra and wildebeest...

Bushbaby Baby

As a youngster growing up in Malawi, I peered through my mosquito net one night to see the cutest animal I'd ever laid eyes upon. A little bushbaby baby was clinging to the curtain. At first I though my mother had surprised me with a new toy but this one moved and you couldn't buy toys in Malawi anyway. This little three inch guy was alive and well. We fed it some fruit and it disappeared the next day. Later I found out that bush babies are also called lesser galagos. Babies are born with up to three litter mates and are suckled for six weeks. For the first few days of life, they don't leave their mothers' side, she will carry them in her hands or mouth. Once they can get a grip, they cling to her belly or back if she leaves the nest. They can feed themselves after 2 months. Their huge eyes allow them to see well in the dark, since they are nocturnal. The noises they make can sound like a human baby crying. Bushbabies love physical contact and sleep huddled together. They eat fruit and insects and live in trees. They are magnificent leapers and can jump distances of over 20 feet (impressive for such a tiny thing). Bushbabies are quite common throughout sub-Saharan Africa. More about bushbabies...

The "Little Five"

Elephant Shrew
You may have heard of "the Little Five", they are not the baby offspring of the "Big Five", but rather five small creatures that share a similar name to the "Big Five". They are the: Rhinoceros Beetle, Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, and the Ant Lion. They too are cute and their babies even more so, although some are difficult to see in the wild. Here's more information about the "Little Five"...
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