No matter how old you were when you first watched Disney’s The Lion King, we’d guess that you weren’t able to resist the charms of its catchy soundtrack, gripping plot and brilliant cast.
Nodding along as you read this? Then chances are you’re as excited as we are about Jon Favreau’s phenomenal photo-realistic animation remake. And so, to get you feeling that animal magic ahead of the release this July, we’ve pulled together a list of destinations that allow you to spot the wildlife that inspired this new take on a Disney classic.
Meerkats, Kalahari Desert
Stretching more than 900,000 square kilometres across Southern Africa, the Kalahari Desert covers areas of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. This semi-arid, sandy savanna is well-known for being home to a most mischievous critter – the meerkat. A member of the mongoose family, these small mammals hang around in “mobs” or “gangs” made up of several families. They live together in large underground burrows to keep safe and cool but come out into the open to hunt and forage. Hunting in groups, one meerkat keeps lookout whilst the others gather supplies. This probably presents your best chance of seeing these cute creatures.
If you don’t have plans to visit the Kalahari, no worries. You’ll also find meerkats in much of the Namib Desert as well as parts of South Africa.
Warthogs, Kruger National Park
As one of Africa’s biggest game parks, Kruger National Park spans almost 20,000 square kilometres. Popular because of its ample opportunities to see the Big Five, it also houses another rather comical-looking character – the warthog. Instantly recognisable because of their wiry manes and curled tusks, these animals crave wide open spaces. Often found grazing on the savanna, wallowing in mud pools or drinking from watering holes, they aren’t shy and should be fairly easy to make out.
If you’re skipping Kruger, don’t panic. Several species also live in parts of Djibouti, Botswana, Namibia and Kenya. Some have even been clocked on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro at heights of up to 3,000 metres.
Hyenas, Masai Mara National Reserve
Rolling hills, grassy plains and flowing rivers make up the 1,500 square kilometres of the Masai Mara. Located in southwestern Kenya, this patch of well-preserved wilderness accommodates cheetahs, elephants, hippos and zebras. Aside from these safari superstars, you’ll also find spotted hyenas. Keep an ear out for these beasts as you’ll likely hear them before you see them, with their high-pitched screeches carrying for up to five kilometres. For your best chances of observing them, get up nice and early as they’re especially active in the morning or travel during the Great Migration.
If you’re not heading to the Masai Mara, fear not. Spotted, striped and smaller brown hyenas can be found across Namibia, Botswana, and parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa too.
Hornbills, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
A large primeval forest set in southwestern Uganda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is known for sheltering the world’s remaining population of majestic mountain gorillas. However, it’s also a perfect destination for avid bird watchers with over 300 types to be spotted – one of which is the hornbill. Whether they’re red-billed or white-crested these tropical birds are characterised by their large beaks. As you’re carving your way through the forest be sure to look up, as you’ll occasionally see them darting through the trees when a chimp swings by.
Various kinds of hornbill can be found all over tropical and subtropical Africa, but they’re not limited to this great continent alone. You can also see them in parts of Asia such as India and Sri Lanka.
- 4-day Uganda Gorilla Shortbreak
- 9-day Remarkable Rwanda & Gorilla of Uganda
- 27-day Gorillas, Game Parks & Beaches
Lions, Serengeti National Park
Now, it’s not about saving the best until last but there’s no hiding that travellers are almost always most excited by catching a glimpse of the “King of the Jungle”. Tanzania boasts the largest lion population in all of Africa, with Serengeti National Park housing them in their thousands. This makes this area of northern Tanzania one of the best for seeing these incredible animals, as they prowl across the savanna, hunt antelopes and laze in the shade. When the grass is long and dry, they become very well camouflaged so pay extra attention!
If you’re not stopping off in the Serengeti, it’s not a problem. There are loads more places to see wild lions – from Etosha National Park in Namibia to the Okavango Delta in Botswana.