Common animal names in African languages – Ndebele, Zulu & more

Safari animal names in African languages

If you’re on the hunt to improve your safari vocabulary, then you’re in luck!

In this guide, discover common safari animal names in African languages. So, no matter where you visit in Africa, you’ll know the local lingo.

Whether Ndebele, Swahili, Shona, Venda, or Zulu, African languages are full of colorful and evocative words that truly capture the essence of the continent’s beautiful wildlife.

Each name holds a story, a myth, or a legend that adds to the cultural heritage of the countries and local people who use it.

Read on and gain a fresh perspective on the deep connection that African people have with the natural world.

As a bonus, there is also a downloadable PDF listing many more African animals.

List of Animal Names in Local African Languages

Ever wanted to find out what the striped zebra is in Ndebele or even the spotted leopard in Zulu?

With the following table, you’ll be able to identify the most common animals of the African bush in local languages.

Translations include Afrikaans, Nama/Damara, Ndebele, Shona, Siswati, Swahili, Tswana, Venda, and Zulu.

While the table is far from complete, it gives a good overview of common African animal names.

Download your FREE table below:

(Right-click and “Save Link As…” to save it to your computer)

NB: Some of the names come from Clive Walker’s book “Signs of the Wild”.

This compact field guide to the identification of Southern African mammals based on their spoor, droppings, and skulls is widely accepted as the standard work on the subject.

This edition offers up-to-date information on identification through signs.

Highly recommended!

Learn Shona, Zulu, and Ndebele Animal Names, Etc.

Elephant and herd of impala drinking, with a beautiful sunset in the background

For those wanting to dive a little deeper, let’s take a look at some of Africa’s most beautiful animals.

Whether it’s the majestic lion, elusive leopard, or mischievous vervet monkey, you’ll leave with a wealth of knowledge surrounding their African names.

Giraffe

Afrikaans: Kameelperd

Ndebele: Htundla

Shona: Twiza

Siswati: Indlulamitsi

Swahili: Twiga

Tswana: Thutlwa

Venda: Thuda

Zulu: Ndhlulamithi

Fun fact: The Ndebele language is split into two—Northern Ndebele (spoken primarily in Zimbabwe) and Southern Ndebele (spoken in parts of South Africa). The two have minor differences.

So, while the giraffe in Ndebele in South Africa is “Htundla”, it is also known as “Intundla” in Zimbabwe. 

Elephant

Afrikaans: Olifant

Ndebele, Siswati, Xhosa, Zulu: Ndhlovu

Shona: Nzou, Zhou

Swahili: Ndovu

Tswana: Tlou

Venda: Ndou

Fun fact: ‘Elephant’ in Ndebele, Siswati, Xhosa, and Zulu is “Ndhlovu”. This is also a popular Zulu clan name (often spelled “Ndlovu”). Learn more African elephant facts.

Lion

Afrikaans: Leeu

Ndebele: Isilwane

Shona: Shumba

Siswati: Ngwenyama

Swahili: Simba

Tswana: Tau

Venda: Ndau

Zulu: Ngonyama

Fun fact: Lion in Zulu—ngonyama—means “the master of all flesh”. The animal is also referred to as “ibubesi”, which comes from the verb “bhubeza” meaning ‘to make the final decision’.

This suggests that the lion is, without a doubt, the king of the jungle (or savanna). 

Buffalo

Afrikaans: Buffel

Ndebele: Inyathi

Shona, Swahili: Nyati

Siswati: Inyatsi

Tswana, Venda: Nari

Zulu, Xhosa: Nyathi

Fun fact: A buffalo is one of Africa’s most dangerous animals, according to hunters and African locals. A herd of Cape buffalo is capable of fending off a pride of lions, earning them a spot in the Big Five.

Their strength is also the origin of many hunting myths and legends.

Leopard

Afrikaans: Luiperd

Ndebele, Siswati, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu: Ngwe, Ingwe

Shona: Mbada

Swahili: Chui

Tswana: Nkwe, Inkwe

Fun fact: Now you know what a leopard is in African languages—but did you know that the Zulu people refer to the leopard (or “ingwe”) as a totem animal?

To them, the large cat symbolizes courage, power, and nobility. As such, leopard skin is often worn by Zulu royalty.

Hippopotamus

Hippo portrait, amongst water hyacinths

Afrikaans: Seekoei

Ndebele: Imvubu

Shona: Mvuu

Siswati, Zulu: Mvubu

Swahili: Kiboko

Tswana: Kubu

Venda: Mvuvu

Fun fact: African people know the hippopotamus to be a symbol of unruliness. The Tswana people refer to a hippo as “kubu”, which means rebellion or rebelliousness.

Additionally, hippo in Setswana is “kubuga”, meaning “sudden awakening”.

Black rhinoceros

Afrikaans: Swartrenoster

Shona: Chipenbere

Swahili: Faru

Tswana: Tshukudu

Venda: Thema

Xhosa: Umkhombe

Zulu: uBhejane/Ubejane

Fun fact: Locals view rhinos as a symbol of gentleness and peace. However, one should not get confused—these large animals are still dangerous out in the wild.

White rhinoceros

Afrikaans: Witrenoster

Shona: Chipembere

Swahili: Faru

Tswana: Tshukudu

Venda: Tshugulu

Zulu: uMkhombe

Fun fact: The white rhino’s name comes from a mistranslation of the Dutch word “wijd”, meaning wide, in English. This name referred to the rhino’s wide mouth.

Cheetah

Afrikaans: Jagluiperd

Ndebele, Zulu: Ihlosi, Hlosi

Shona: Dindingwe

Siswati: Lihlosi

Swahili: Duma

Tswana: Lengau

Venda: Dagaladzhie

Xhosa: Ingwenkala

Fun fact: The cheetah’s name is not from Africa. It comes from the Sanskrit wordcitra’, which means “spotted one”. To learn more about this animal, check out these incredible cheetah facts.

Blue wildebeest

Afrikaans: Blouwildebees

Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu: Nkhonhoni

Shona, Siswati: Ngongoni

Swahili: Nyumbu

Tswana: Kgokong

Venda: Khongoini

Fun fact: African locals view the wildebeest highly. Zulu people use the word “Nkhonhoni” to describe a champion or leader.

Burchell’s zebra

Afrikaans: Bontsebra

Ndebele: Idube

Shona: Mbizi

Siswati: Lidvubu

Swahili: Punda milia

Tswana: Pitse ya naga

Xhosa, Zulu: Dube

Fun fact: The “quagga” is a subspecies of zebra that inhabited the plains of South Africa. The Khoikhoi people gave the animal its name because of the sound it makes, described as “kwa-ha-ha”.

Spotted hyena

Afrikaans: Gevlekte hiëna

Shona: Bere

Siswati: Mpisi

Swahili: Fisi

Tswana: Piri/Phiri

Venda: Phele

Zulu: Mpisi

Fun fact: Despite its bad reputation, its Zulu name suggests otherwise. Often used by South Africans, “mpisi” means “the purifier”, “the cleaner”, and “the one who makes things orderly”.

Eland

Afrikaans: Eland

Ndebele: Impofu

Shona: Mhofu

Siswati: Impophi

Swahili: Pofu

Tswana, Venda: Phofu

Xhosa, Zulu: Mpofu

Fun fact: Eland in Zulu is “mpofu”, which means “the light-skinned one”, “the golden-skinned one”, and “the humble one”. The eland is also one of the most frequently painted animals among tribes in southern Africa.

Know Shona Animal Names and More on Your Next Safari

Majestic male lion resting on rusty-red soil, Tsavo

So there you have it—a list of safari animal names in Zulu, Shona, Ndebele, Venda, and plenty of other African languages. By taking the time to learn some of the names above, you’re sure to amaze your fellow safari-goers on your next trip.

Whether you’re asked what’s a lion in Ndebele, springbok in Tswana, or any other wild animal name in Zulu, you’ll have the answer along with some extra facts to boot.

So what are you waiting for? Check out these safari deals and start planning your African adventure.

PS: Do not forget to download the PDF; it’s sure to come in handy. Or, review this guide on Swahili animal names.

Until next time, have a “mirabulous” day.

Michael (aka Africa Freak)

About The Author

14 thoughts on “Common animal names in African languages – Ndebele, Zulu & more”

  1. I have been given the privilege of naming 2 baby cubs in the Kgalagadi. Do you have any knowledge of appropriate names for the area & the word must start with M. Quite a task as I don’t see many M words in Khoisan or Twana language.

    1. That’s a tough question, Linda! 🙂

      What kind of cubs are you referring to (lions?)?

      Here’s 100 Khoisan words to get you started:

      http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/history/ehret/Khoisan100word.pdf

      Some of them which you may find useful include magadza (“long” in Sandawe), mtana (“good” in Hadza), manjano (“yellow” in Sandawe), or even malundi (“cloud” in Hadza).

      There’s also words like mana (“meat” in Hadza), maxa (“man” in Sandawe), ma (“to give” in Khoekhoe), mu (“to see” in Khoekhoe), and manaa (“to know” in Sandawe).

      I hope this helps! 😉

  2. I’d be very grateful if you could tell me the Zulu words for the following creatures, please?

    Grey Duiker
    Woodland Dormouse
    Rock Hyrax
    Side-Striped Jackal
    Slender Mongoose
    Water Mongoose
    Red Hartebeest
    Nyala

    1. Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Not sure about “woodland dormouse” (perhaps someone else can help out?), but here’s the rest of your list in Zulu:

      Common duiker = Mpunzi
      Rock hyrax (dassie) = Mbili
      Side-striped jackal = Mpungutshe
      Slender mongoose = Chakide
      Water mongoose = Mvuzi
      Red hartebeest = Nduluzele
      Nyala = Inyala

      Hope this helps, take care! 😉

      Michael

    1. Hey guys! 🙂

      Thanks a million for the kind words, it’s always nice to hear that your work is appreciated! 🙂

      I must admit some of the animal names are “impossible” to pronounce… and I had to read them a couple of times before I could spell them correctly. 😉

      Btw, if anyone can fill in some of the blanks, please be my guest! 🙂

      Oh, and yeah, just thought I’d add a couple more translations just for the fun of it. Here it goes:

      Some of my Antelope favs! 🙂

      Bushbuck

      Afrikaans: Bosbok.
      Sotho: Tshoso.
      Ndebele, Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa: Imbabala.
      Shona: Dsoma.
      Shangaan: Mbvala.
      Venda: Mbavhala, Tshishosho.
      Lozi: Mbabala.
      Tswana: Serolobotlhoko.
      Yei: Ungulungu.
      Nama/Damara: !Garapiris.

      Nyala

      Afrikaans: Njala.
      Shona: Nyara.
      Siswati: Litagayezi.
      Ndebele, Zulu, Shangaan, Venda: Inyala.

      Kudu

      Afrikaans: Koedoe.
      Zulu: Mgankla.
      Xhosa: Qudu.
      Shangaan: Hlongo.
      Siswati: Shongololo.
      Sotho, Venda, Tswana: Tholo.
      Shona: Nhoro.
      Ndebele: Ibhalabhala.
      Lozi: Tolo.
      Yei: Unzwa.
      Nama/Damara: Xaib.

      Springbok

      Afrikaans: Springbok.
      Herero: Menyeh.
      Tswana: Tshephe, Maponye.
      Sotho: Tshephe.
      Nama/Damara: || Gûb.

      Source: Signs of the Wild, by Clive Walker.

      Cheerios! 🙂 😉

  3. Great post! I frequently get travelers interested in learning some Swahili or at least interested in the language before taking their trip to Africa. This PDF is a great way to familiarize yourself and your family with the animals of Africa and the culture of Africa before leaving for your trip!

    It’s also exciting and highly rewarding to learn a new language–even if it is just a few words!

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