Nestled between Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia, Zimbabwe is a landlocked country best known for its dramatic scenery and incredible wildlife. National parks, reserves, and safari zones punctuate the landscape, home to a diverse array of flora, fauna, and wild creatures, but you might be wondering, are there dangerous animals in Zimbabwe?
The Southeast African nation was once known as the ‘Jewel of Africa’ thanks to its great prosperity. The Limpopo and Zambezi rivers flow on either side and on the banks of the latter, Victoria Falls thunders 108 meters down into the Batoka Gorge. The waterfall provides a habitat for unique plants and animal species, and just downstream at the Matusadona and Mana Pool National Parks, you’ll find hippos, rhinos, and birdlife.
These aren’t the only incredible yet dangerous creatures that call Zimbabwe home but we’re here to explore them all. From the ‘big five’ to more unlikely contenders, it pays to be aware of the risks before visiting. Let’s get into it.
We don’t need to tell you that crocodiles aren’t typically the friendliest of creatures and wild populations are rife in Zimbabwe. They live freely in Zimbabwe’s waterways, and not just in national parks, lurking in small streams, swamps, pools, and marshes. Zimbabwe is home to over 12,000 Nile crocodiles, concentrated in the northern parts of the country.
The Nile crocodile, a patient and stealthy hunter, is an apex predator at the top of the food chain. Attacks are prevalent and even common in Zimbabwe, although many go unreported due to the remote areas in which they happen. Around 30 people are killed a year in Zimbabwe as a result of crocodile attacks and the use of inflatable boats as means of transport or for tours in crocodile-infested areas is often put to blame.
You can even spot crocs at Victoria Falls as the Zambezi River boasts high populations. The average adult male Nile crocodile measures between 3 and 4.4 meters long (9 ft 8 to 14 ft 5), weighing up to 415 kg (914 lb). The Nile crocodile is the most widespread of the 14 different Crocodylidae species and dominates the freshwater lakes and rivers in 26 countries in Africa.
Among Africa’s ‘big five’ of safari creatures are buffalo, herds of which throng to waterholes during Zimbabwe’s dry seasons, populating the southeastern parts of the country on commercial land, as well as western and northern National Parks like Hwange. Hwange National Park is home to over 10,000 Cape buffaloes across its 14,600 square kilometers of grassland, but you’ll likely be less excited about bumping into one of these African giants in the wild.
Buffalo prefer Zimbabwe’s savanna grasslands, but with grazing spots shrinking, they have been known to encroach on human spaces like maize fields and pose a threat to livestock and people. Buffaloes are generally short-tempered and have been known to attack. It’s estimated that some 200 people are killed every year by African buffalo across the continent, sometimes causing more fatalities than any other of the ‘big five’.
The term ‘big five’ originally delineated the big game that trophy hunters found most difficult to kill, encompassing lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and African buffalo. Now, although still sadly hunted and still very dangerous, the ‘big five’ are deemed some of the most impressive mammals to witness on safari.
Cape buffalo have a predominantly herbivore diet but it’s their temperament and size that make them a danger. Zimbabwe’s buffaloes typically weigh between 300 and 840 kg (660 to 1,840 lbs) and can be distinguished by their dark coloring and horn shape.
Buffalo are hardy with a herd mentality and no stranger to fighting off lions to protect their young. They dwell in herds of 50 to 500, and these numbers can jump to their thousands in the Serengeti during the rainy season. Groups of this size can deter leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, and big cats and humans stand no chance against a stampede. Yet, even on their own, their weight, horns, and aggressive nature make buffalo a force to be reckoned with.
Zimbabwe is home to a relatively large population of lions, with Hwange National Park housing the biggest game reserve in the country with 500 of the majestic big cats. Populations are under threat, but they also live freely in the wild in small prides and it’s not uncommon for lions to attack people and cattle, most commonly after escaping from captivity.
Lions are one of the ‘big five’ and one of the most prized trophies kills for poachers. Still, unarmed individuals stand little chance against the pride of lionesses and their males. Prides generally consist of four to twelve females and one to six males and they hunt both collectively and individually, although most hunting is done by the females. Lions are carnivores who feast on hyenas, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffes, zebra, porcupines, and warthogs.
Contrary to myth, lions don’t have a taste for human flesh, but they can be aggressive, defensive, and ruthless killers. Lions are thought to be responsible for over 50 attacks in Zimbabwe per year, killing around two people annually. Lions aren’t considered a huge threat to humankind as people tend to not live as close to them now as they once did. Still, attacks are commonplace in Africa in places where humans live in close proximity to wild lion populations.
Statistically the most dangerous animal in Africa, and the most deadly large land mammal in the world, the humble hippopotamus is a semi-aquatic beast that’s indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa. With its name coming from the Greek for “river horse”, hippos are shockingly hostile and aggressive towards humans and they’re thought to kill approximately 500 people in Africa every year.
While lions are responsible for more attacks in Zimbabwe, the hippo is still a stealthy killer, responsible for around 40 attacks but some 15 fatalities a year. They spend most of their day in the water, peeking out from lakes and swamps with only their beady eyes visible above the surface. However, hippos usually hunt at night and can travel over two kilometers for their food, often grazing in maize fields which is when they are known to stumble across unsuspecting humans.
Hippos are vegetarian but thanks to their extremely aggressive nature and protective instincts over their young, they’re responsible for around 3,000 animal kills a year too. Hippos are the third-largest animal in Zimbabwe, and Africa at large, reaching up to five meters (15 feet) in length and between 1,500 and 1,800 kg (3,300 to 4,000 lbs) in mass.
Home to around 100,000 elephants, Zimbabwe has the world’s second-largest population of these gracious beasts and around one-quarter of all the elephants in Africa. Poachers might have damaged wild populations in much of the world, killing elephants as trophy prizes or for their tusks, but Zimbabwe’s elephant populations are on the rise and growing by about five percent every year.
They might be majestic, but elephants are the largest land mammal on earth with distinctly large bones, ears, and trunks. Humans stand little chance against their mammoth weight and elephants can charge at up to 30 miles per hour.
A stampede is a dangerous force, but solitary ellies are just as dangerous, with old males, in particular, being prone to charging without provocation. Mothers are also very protective of their young and elephants have been known to roam freely into areas where humans dwell, destroying crops and wreaking havoc.
Human deaths due to elephants range from around 100 to 500 per year, with 60 fatalities being reported in Zimbabwe in the first half of 2022 alone. Botswana yields the highest world population of elephants, but Zimbabwe’s fatalities exceed those in the neighboring country due to the concentration of elephants near human settlements in Zimbabwe.
They might look terrifying, but baboons are generally withdrawn and only dangerous when threatened. Still, baboons can be very destructive, raiding houses for food, destroying crops, and killing domestic livestock.
Chacma baboons are the only species found in Zimbabwe and they dwell all along the Zambezi River in the north, right down to the Limpopo in the south. Chacma baboons are very adaptable and live in a range of habitats from mountainous terrain to riverine forests. However, they are water-dependent so if you’re ever lost and dehydrated, follow the baboons to be led to a permanent water source, although we wouldn’t recommend getting too close.
Baboons rarely attack, but when they do, their sharp canine teeth and claws can rip anything to shreds. They might try to steal food from people or get hostile if they feel that their young are under threat. Baboon attacks do happen in Zimbabwe but deaths are rare. Still, we wouldn’t want to risk provoking a troop.
These carnivoran mammals with their distinct long bodies and giggly demeanors are the stuff of cartoons, but you wouldn’t want to bump into one in the wild. Although likened to wild dogs, hyenas belong to neither the cat nor dog family but are so unique they have their own biological family, the smallest class of mammal known as Hyaenidae.
Hyaenidea includes the striped hyena, the spotted hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf, all of which can be spotted widely across Sub-Saharan Africa, although the striped hyena and brown hyena are much shyer and recluse. Populations in Zimbabwe are unknown.
Spotted hyenas are found in most rural areas in the country, particularly the Luangwa Valleys on the Zambian border. Hyenas are formidable predators, hunting wildebeest, monkeys, and birds, but have been known to take on even bigger prey like leopards and cattle.
The only true predators of hyenas are lions and humans, but they’re incredibly intelligent and fierce creatures, so have managed to protect their populations in Africa for decades. Hyenas have been known to target women and children, and their jaws are as powerful as a great white shark’s. They could crush an elephant’s leg and devour every morsel of their prey, bones included. Hyenas are wired for aggression but don’t seek human prey. They will, however, attack if they feel threatened. More than 10 hyena attacks on humans are recorded in Zimbabwe every year.
What dangerous animals live in the Zambezi River?
The Zambezi River flows for two and a half thousand kilometers from Zambia, through Angola, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, before it finally empties into the Indian Ocean. Victoria Falls, where the river tumbles over 100 meters into the Batoka Gorge is the climactic highlight of Zambezi, but it also plays host to a diverse array of wild flora, fauna, mammals, and birdlife.
Elephants are prevalent along the river’s course, as well as big game like buffalo, hippos, and lions. You’ll also find baboons, zebras, and hyenas dwelling at the water’s edge and crocodile populations are rife in all the Zambezi waterways.
What is the most deadly animal in Africa?
Africa’s most deadly animal, and ultimately the deadliest large land mammal in the world, is the hippopotamus, responsible for around 500 deaths a year in Africa alone. Hippos are a force to be reckoned with and very aggressive by nature. Their healthy population, incredible size, unpredictable temperament, and extremely sharp teeth, paired with their tendency to dwell near human areas, make them a considerable threat to the people of Africa.
Are there tigers in Zimbabwe?
Although Zimbabwe is the home of all of the ‘big five’ when it comes to large African mammals, there have never been wild tigers in the country, or in Africa on the whole. Despite popular belief, tigers are not indigenous to the continent but they can be found in zoos, reserves, or even kept as pets. For these reasons, you could come across a tiger in the wild in Zimbabwe, although it’s very uncommon.