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Africa's Most Dangerous Animals

Africa's Deadliest Animals

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Facts and photos about Africa's most dangerous animals (defined as any living thing). This top 10 list of Africa's most deadly animals includes: the hippo, lion, crocodile, mosquito, black mamba, great white shark, buffalo, elephant, puff adder, and of course man himself.

1. Hippopotamus

Hippo, Uganda
Getty Images
The hippo is responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal. Male hippos actively defend their territories which run along the banks of rivers and lakes. Females have also been known to get extremely aggressive if they sense anyone coming in between their babies, who stay in the water while she feeds on the shore. Hippos can run at speeds of over 20 miles an hour and they have enormous jaws which host up to 20 inch canines.
  • Fun Facts:
  • Hippos secrete a natural sunscreen that is colored red and eventually turns brown
  • The hippo's closest living relative is the whale
  • Hippos can kill crocodiles
  • Hippos consume over 100 pounds of vegetation per day.
  • The hippo is in danger of becoming extinct
  • Hippos can't jump

2. Mosquito

Malaria blog mosquito biting arm
Getty Images
The most dangerous creature in Africa is probably the mosquito since it's responsible for killing more Africans than any other through the spread of malaria, dengue and other diseases. Malaria kills over a million Africans every year, most of these are children under the age of five.

Malaria is only spread by the female Anopheles mosquito. They are most active around dawn and dusk. There are in fact around 3,500 species of mosquito flying around and their average life-span is about two weeks.

Make sure you read How to avoid malaria when traveling to Africa. And for more on Malaria and what is being done to prevent so many deaths, see the World Health Organization's Global Malaria Program.

3. Human

Soldier in the Congo, 2008 playing with a bullet
Getty Images/Uriel Sinai
Mankind has been responsible for more deaths than any other animal on this list, except perhaps the mosquito. War, famine (often man-made), and environmental destruction have all played their parts. Millions of Africans have lost their lives (and continue to) in civil wars.

Some conflicts made the news, like the current conflict in Darfur and Rwanda's genocide.
But others you may not even have heard about:

4. African Elephant

African elephant, Masai Mara, Kenya
Getty Images/Anup Shah
It's unlikely you'll bump into an elephant outside of a protected wildlife reserve, but when you encounter this 12,000 lb beast, things can potentially get ugly. African elephants, especially older bulls and young males, can be aggressive even when they're not provoked. Most deaths occur by the elephant trampling their victims to death, like a recent case of a school girl killed in Kenya. In places where poaching is rife and/or the elephants' habitats are threatened, elephants are more aggressive.
  • Fun Facts:
  • Elephants live in rain forests, deserts and savannas.
  • An elephant's trunk has more than 40,000 muscles
  • In Asia, elephants were used to crush prisoners to death as a method of execution.
  • The African elephant is a threatened species.

5. The Black Mamba

Black Mamba
CC
The Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is one of Africa's most dangerous snakes and feared in East, Central and Southern Africa. It's aggressive when cornered and will not hesitate to strike. It can reach speeds of up to 12 mph (20 km/ph). It's the largest venomous snake in Africa with adults reaching an average of 8 feet in length (2.5m). Black Mamba's are not black at all, but brown/olive skinned. Their mouths are inky black which they show when threatened. Black Mambas live in savanna, scrub, tree hollows, and sometimes people's homes. If a Black Mamba encounters prey it can strike up to 12 times, each time delivering enough neuro and cardio-toxic venom to kill a dozen men within 1 hour. Without anti-venom, the mortality rate is 100%.

6. Nile Crocodile

Nile Crocodile, Kenya
Getty Images/Anup Shah

Crocodiles kill hundreds of people each year in Africa. The Nile Crocodile can be found in almost every major river throughout the continent as well as many lakes. Most fatalities occur while people are washing or collecting food near river banks and lake shores. Fisherman are also prone to attack as they slide their boats in and out of the water. Crocodiles attack by dragging their prey under water and drowning them. Some crocodiles will also then roll their bodies repeatedly to weaken their prey.

  • Fun Facts
  • Crocodiles have been around for 200 million years, outwitting dinosaurs
  • Only large crocodiles (10 feet or over) will attempt to attack humans
  • Nile Crocodiles have green eyes
  • Crocodiles can hold their breath for 2 hours

7. Great White Shark

Image of Great White Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai, South Africa
Africa Shark Dive Safaris

Great White shark encounters are rare but attacks are serious when they happen, and have led to fatalities. While some adventure seekers will actively go out and dive with great whites, most of us should probably avoid contact. Luckily Shark Spotters are working hard to keep people safe. There have been more than 200 Great White shark attacks off the coast of South Africa in as many years. Recent attacks include a diver being almost swallowed whole. Great Whites attack by propelling themselves at their prey with great speed. They take a single huge bite and drag their victims down into deeper water. Then they let go and the prey just bleeds itself to death before being gobbled up.

8. Lion

male lion Botswana photo safaris africa
David Hutchinson
Lions live throughout sub-Saharan Africa (except for forests and deserts) in protected areas. Lions can be extremely dangerous and the famous man-eating lions of Tsavo were not just a myth. A 2005 study showed that lion attacks on man were on the rise in Tanzania and Mozambique. Sick male lions are mostly responsible for the hundreds of human deaths that occur each year because of lion attacks.
  • Fun Facts
  • Lions live for 12-14 years
  • Lions are the only members of the cat family where the male and female look very different
  • Male lions can weigh up to 550 lbs (250kg)
  • Lions are inactive for about 20 hours a day
  • A Lions' prey is often killed by strangulation
  • Lions will attack elephants
  • Crocodiles are a lion's only predator (besides man)

9. Puff Adder

Puff Adder
CC
The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) is considered to be Africa's deadliest snake because it is responsible for the most human fatalities. Puff Adders reach an average length of around 1 meter, and they're solidly built with a wide girth. Color patterns vary depending on where they live, their habitats extend throughout Africa except for dense rain forests and deserts. The Puff Adder has large fangs and its venom is powerful enough to kill a grown man with a single bite. Puff Adders rely on camouflage for protection and lie still if approached. Because of this, people tend to step on them and get bitten. Many fatalities occur because bites are not treated correctly, leading to infection and gangrene.

10. Cape Buffalo

Africa hunting safari image of cape buffalo
David Hutchinson
Cape Buffalo are said to have killed more big game hunters than any other animal (and so they belong to the "Big 5"). Buffalo are thought to kill around 200 people every year, first they charge and then they gore their victims. An injured buffalo is incredibly dangerous. When you see Cape Buffalo in Africa, they're usually not alone. They appear in very large (and intimidating) herds. Even when looking at them through binoculars from a distance, the males always seem to be staring right at you with intense dislike. Weighing in at over 700 kg's (1540 lbs) most lions don't even dare take a chunk out of this beast. Buffalo will mob any predator that dares to take its young (check out this amazing video).

11. African Rhino

Rhino Conservation issues big Five
© Getty Images
While the African rhino (both black and white) are fighting to survive and their numbers are dropping at alarming rates due to poaching -- it's still important to keep your guard if you get the chance to see one in the wild. A recent report about a young woman being gored by a rhino in South Africa illustrates how unpredictable and deadly the animal can be. Rhinos are large mammals (only second in size to the elephant), an adult white rhino can weigh in at 6,000 lb's! Rhinos are shortsighted, a little bad tempered, which makes them very dangerous. They'll charge at full force and use their horns to kill or injure what they deem to be a danger or annoyance to them. Never get in between a mother and her baby, or anywhere near an older male. More about the African Rhino...
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