Meet the Olympic Athletes of the Safari World

The athletes of the safari world are the undisputed champions of speed, agility and strength. Being a top class athlete means being proficient in the art of physical activity, having a competitive streak and genetics that ensure you’re pre-disposed to specific sports. We have plenty of athletes in the animal kingdom, and it’s impossible to list each species’ specific skill-set, but there are those that stand out from the crowd – and these are the animals that we tend to spot on a regular basis while on safari.

These are the animals that we consider the Olympic athletes of the safari world, the ones that have mastered the art of speed and are our natural born Usain Bolts. Of course, special mention needs to go to the animals that reach unexpected speeds while on the move. The cumbersome hippo can give chase, despite its size. The endangered wild dogs are endurance runners that keep a steady fast pace while giving chase to their unfortunate quarry.

The top 5 awards for the category of speed and sprints goes to :


The ostrich is the largest flightless bird native to Africa and is commonly spotted throughout most of South Africa. Seen in bushveld regions and nature reserves in coastal regions, the ostrich is quite an adaptable bird. The ostrich can reach average maximum speeds of up to 70 km per hour and maintain this top speed for up to 2 km.

Spotted : Throughout southern Africa

Ostrich in South Africa

Peregrine Falcon

Although not a land animal, we had to make special mention of this graceful yet ruthless raptor that is the fastest bird in the world. These birds breed in cliffs and ravines, and are most likely spotted in areas where rocky landscapes are prevalent. The peregrine falcon can reach speeds of up to 410 km ! Its diving speed is well over 240 km and it attacks its prey while in the air. Their intended victim doesn’t see what’s coming and the Peregrine is often referred to as the “bird-killer” of the birding world. Quite a reputation !

Spotted : Throughout southern Africa


It’s common knowledge that the cheetah is the world’s fastest sprinter, and would no doubt bring home the gold in any Olympics. They can reach speeds of up to 120 km per hour and need an open area relatively obstacle free before taking chase. Their long tail acts as a rudder and also provides the much needed balance when high speeds are reached. Cheetah need to take a breather shortly after conducting a kill because they have no energy left to eat. Strength and fight they don’t possess, but speed and flight they do.

Spotted : In open plains and savannah, Kruger, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Masai Mara and Namibia.

Releasing cheetahs in Liwonde National ParkLalibella Game Drive Cheetah

Thomson’s Gazelle

This is one of the most commonly spotted antelope in East Africa, more specifically in the Serengeti region of Kenya and Tanzania. These adorable looking antelope have similar markings as the springbok, but have more elongated and ridged horns that tend to curve backwards. The Thomson’s gazelle can reach enormous speeds of up to 96 km/h, which makes them hard prey to catch.

Spotted : East Africa

Credit :By Paul Mannix - Thompson's gazelles, Masai Mara, Kenya, CC BY-SA 2.0,


The King of the bushveld and ruthless ruler of territories, the lion is a powerful beast. This feline species is pure muscle and utilises the art of stealth, tactics and ambush to take down prey. Lions can reach speeds of up to 80km/h  but only in short bursts.

Spotted : Throughout Africa. Depending on the region, certain lions might have more black manes (Kalahari) and other lions might appear smaller (Kruger) due to environmental adaptation.

Male Lion - Em Gatland

Author: Carolynne Higgins

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