Have you watched the Lion King? Did you know that Simba means lion in Swahili? Almost all the characters in the Lion King have a Swahili name.

Nala means gift, Mufasa means king, and Rafiki means friend. So now you should know why I often start or end my blog posts with rafiki.

Swahili words have far more meaning than the equivalent words in English. It’s fun to learn the animal names in Swahili, especially if you are planning an African safari.

If you’ve been on safari you might already know a tembo from a kiboko. You might even know a warthog as pumba, just like the Lion King. However, Pumba is only a nickname. It means slow-witted in Swahili.

Some Swahili speakers call warthogs pumba as their nickname has stuck. If you want to really impress a safari guide or Swahili speaker then use their real name – ngiri.

A duma.

Learn 30+ Common Animal Names in Swahili

Here is list of the most common animal names you may come across on your African safari, and their direct translation into Swahili.

Enjoy and happy learning! 🙂

Animal – Mnyama

Antelope – Paa

Baboon – Nyani

Bird(s) – Ndege

Buffalo – Nyati

Bushbaby (Lesser) – Kombo

Cheetah – Duma

Chimpanzee – Sokwe

Crocodile – Mamba

Eland – Pofu

Elephant – Ndovu/Tembo

Giraffe – Twiga

Hippo – Kiboko

Hyena – Fisi

Impala – Swalapala

Jackal (Black-backed) – Bweha

Leopard – Chui

Lion – Simba

Mongoose – Ngushiro

Monkey (Vervet) – Tumbili

Monkey (Common name) – Kima

Ostrich – Mbuni

Porcupine – Nungu

Python – Chatu

Rhino – Kifaru

Snake – Nyoka

Warthog – Ngiri

Waterbuck – Kuru

Wild Dog – Mbwa mwitu

Wildebeest – Nyumbu

Zebra – Punda milia

Animal Names in Swahili Video Lesson

To recap your learning here is a video lesson from a Swahili teacher, helping you remember a punda milia from a mbuni.

Common Animal Names in Other African Languages

Swahili is just one African language. This is a continent with over 3000 different languages and almost as many different tribes. Many people think Africa is a single entity but it’s not.

Go on a safari in Zimbabwe and a giraffe is called twza. But nearby iSimangaliso National Park is in Zulu territory, where a giraffe is known by ndlulamithi.

Wonder how these animals are called in other local African languages? CLICK HERE to find out! I’ve made a pdf download with common animal names in Afrikaans, Damara, Ndebele, Shona, Siswati, Tswana, Venda and Zulu.

I don’t think anybody knows the common animal names in all other African languages. Most people only have capacity for one. I’d recommend Swahili. This is a parent Bantu language with many similarities to other African languages. It’s also the national language of four different countries, including Kenya and Tanzania.

So if you’re going on a custom safari to East Africa these common animal names in Swahili will make you look like a professional safari goer straight away!

Safari njema (enjoy your safari)! 😉