by Matthew Sterne
on January 18, 2017
5 min read

Africa is brimming with special experiences.  The wildlife encounters are so raw, the sunsets so intense and the stars so thought-provoking that it can sometimes be overwhelming. And yet, it’s just another day in Africa. Another perfect, spectacular, normal day in Africa.

And then there are some experiences that are so dazzling and limited that they even stand out amongst all the expected beauty. The following 10 sightings are the ones that really stand out in Africa. If you have any you’d like to add, please let us know in the comments. But first, the good stuff…

1. Tree-climbing Lionslion in a treeLions don’t climb trees, right? RIGHT? Well, it turns out a few of them do, and it makes for one of Africa’s most mystifying sights. Lions have little natural tree-climbing ability and their awkward movement contrasts sharply with the agility and ease of a leopard’s. They seem so out of place, and yet, reports of this unorthodox behaviour are growing. Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park are the traditional regions where this occurs but recently Botswana’s Savuti region, Tanzania’s Serengeti and South Africa’s Kruger National Park have reported sightings.

2. Melanistic Servalsserval-kenya-jeremy-goss“Melanism is a development of the dark-colored pigment melanin in the skin or its appendages and is the opposite of albinism.” In simple terms, it means they’re completely black. Servals, slender, medium-sized cats with a spotted and striped coat, are rare enough as is. So sightings of melanistic servals cause quite a stir, as the photos of recent sightings in Kenya and Tanzania have shown.

3. Breaching Great White SharksGreat White Shark Breach near Cape PointWhat can compare in power to the brutal spectacle of a great white shark bursting out of the ocean, shooting up from deep below, flashing its white belly, with a seal in its jaws? I’ve seen it myself and it’s the most exciting wildlife experience I’ve ever had. In winter, off of South Africa’s coast, the great white shark activity picks up and brave travellers can bob on the water in small boats waiting for the sharks to explode out of the water. To understand the nature of this spectacle watch the David Attenborough video below.

4. White LionsWhite male lionThese ghost-like creatures are the result of a rare colour mutation and are indigenous to the Timbavati area in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. These wonderful mutants are the same as the tawny African Lion and not a separate subspecies. Regarded as divine by locals, white lions first came to public attention in the 1970s in Chris McBride’s book The White Lions of Timbavati.

5. Rhino-Riding Genetsgenet on rhinoA conservation company and our good friends, Wildlife ACT, have repeatedly captured photos of a genet riding on top of other animals. They explain, “Last year, Wildlife ACT and our conservation volunteers came across camera trap images of a genet riding a buffalo. If that wasn’t strange enough, a few nights later we found more images of the genet, now nicknamed Genet Jackson, but this time he was hitchhiking on a white rhino. With the help of our camera traps we were able to capture many instances of this genet riding on the backs of these large herbivores.”
6. Sardine Run Along South Africa’s Coast

sardine run shark

Photo Credit – Lesley Rochat

The sardine run is a natural phenomenon in Southern Africa that occurs between May and July when billions of sardines – or more specifically the Southern African pilchard – spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy along the coastline. In terms of biomass, researchers estimate the sardine run could rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration. All you need to know is that it’s massive and it’s the feeding frenzy that is its chief attraction.

7. Big Tuskers

Photo Credit -Johan Marais

Photo Credit -Johan Marais

There are elephants, and then there are the big tuskers – the kings of the elephants. A big tusker is typically defined as an elephant with tuskers reaching the ground or tusks exceeding 100lbs (45kg). Once a common sight, roaming far and wide across East, Central and Southern Africa, now there are very few big tuskers left on the whole continent. The Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu Natal and the Kruger National Park have a few big tuskers but it is the Tsavo National Park in Kenya that has the last notable population of big tuskers in the whole of Africa.

8. Zambia’s Epic Bat Migration 

Zambian bat migration

Photo credit – Will Burrard-Lucas

Between October and December each year, about 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats descend into a tiny patch of evergreen swamp forest inside Kasanka National Park, Northern Zambia. This natural phenomenon, unique only to Kasanka lends itself to some truly astonishing birdlife sightings set against a backdrop of incredible scenic surrounds and dramatic skies. Let’s return to our old friend, Mr Attenborough, for an explanation.
9. Great Wildebeest MigrationWell, this certainly counts as extraordinary and enchanting. You’re probably damiliar with this story: over a million wildebeest, along with gazelle and zebra in tow, charge towards better grazing areas on the endless plains of the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara National Reserve. This is the stage on which the ‘greatest wildlife show on earth’ plays out, as it is by far the greatest mass movement of land mammals on the entire globe. ‘Nuff said.

10. Lunar Rainbow at Vic Fallslunar rainbow victoria fallsLunar rainbows, also known as “moonbows”, are rainbows that take place at night, when a rainbow is seen in the light of the moon. Victoria Falls is one of the few places on earth where this natural phenomenon occurs regularly and where it can be witnessed with ease. Each full moon, the Victoria Falls rainforest re-opens in the evening for special tours to witness the mystical magic of the lunar rainbow – spray and cloud permitting!

This list is not nearly complete as there are many natural phenomena throughout Africa. Do you have any you’d like to add?