From the Big Five to the Ugly Five, Africa’s wildlife always steals the show, but should we be dumping the checklist and thinking more consciously about the safari destinations we choose to visit?

Each year we mark Endangered Species Day (held on the third Friday of May), the event a chance to raise awareness about the sad plight of some of the intriguing animals we so are eager to spot on a game drive.

Of course it’s also a time to celebrate the weird and wonderful, from the wild dog (unsightly, but sociable creatures) to the mountain gorilla (the latest “gelfie” of the gorillas and their park rangers going viral); and what better way to do that than by booking a safari.

Every visit has a direct impact on conservation projects, but more importantly, it’s a chance to hear about and appreciate the work that’s being done on the ground. So, where to meet Africa’s most endangered and critically endangered wildlife?

Rhino

Rhino, Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe

The figures for black rhino are startling, the population dropping by a massive 98% between 1960 and 1995.

Conservation initiatives are going some way to combat poaching and since then numbers have increased, however the black rhino is still considered critically endangered, their precious horns seen as having medicinal powers.

South East Asia is driving the illegal poaching of rhinos in Africa and putting the species in jeopardy of extinction.

Where to spot them?

Go walking with black rhino in Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park, the opportunity to get up close and personal with these magnificent beasts is a thrilling safari experience.

You can also overland your way across Etosha National Park, Acacia’s preferred campsite providing you with a 24/7 game viewing experience.

Mountain Gorilla

Gorilla trekking, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda (c) IG @thecuckooproject

There’s good news for Africa’s mountain gorillas as they are no longer considered critically endangered. After last year’s census, the total number of mountain gorillas living in the Virunga Mountains and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is now believed to be above 1,000 individuals.

Of course, this all comes down to the great work being done by rangers on the ground, every traveller contributing to the current success story.

Where to spot them?

Uganda came top of the list as 2019’s trendsetting safari hot spot. Interest has undoubtedly gathered pace since the snap of two gorillas photographed posing for a relaxed selfie with their rangers, went viral.

In 2018 there was an exciting baby boom at Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and later that same year, Uganda Tourism announced the successful habituation of three new gorilla families and the addition of more permits.

19 gorilla families are now available for trekking and the total number of trekking permits stand at 152 per day.

Wild Dog

Pack of wild dogs, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

While we might not instantly fall head over heels with the wild dog (or painted dog), they are very sociable creatures and will often charm their way onto your checklist. Just ask anyone who watched David Attenborough’s Dynasties series.

Sadly, human overpopulation, poaching, diseases like rabies and threats from other predators such as lions and hyenas are all contributing to their demise.

Where to spot them?

Denning (usually in the dry season months) is the best time to see these animals, as they tend to cover large distances searching for prey.

Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is unmissable as it’s also home to the Painted Dog Conservation project – the park housing one of the largest populations in Africa.

Pangolin

Pangolin, Kruger National Park, South Africa (c) African Pangolin Working Group

The single most poached and trafficked species on the planet, the pangolin’s scales are still being used in traditional medicine in Asia. Sadly, their armour-plating is a poor defence against humans and sightings of these gentle creatures are becoming rarer and rarer.

Small and reclusive they are not easy to spot so it’s bound to be a memorable safari moment if you find one, these cute critters walking on their back feet and using their tails as a balancing pole.

Where to spot them?

South Africa’s Kruger and Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Preferably on a night-drive as these animals are nocturnal. Don’t get your hopes up as sightings are extremely rare.

Cheetah

Cheetahs on the plains of the Serengeti, Tanzania (c) Acacia Africa

The cheetah might be viewed as vulnerable, but today they are on their own race to extinction and there are calls to put the world’s fastest land mammal on the endangered list. As per the IUCN, only 6,674 mature individuals of the species remain and the population is steadily decreasing.

In fact, the cheetah ceases to exist today in 91% of its historic range. Poaching, encroachment on their habitat and a reduction in the prey populations of the cheetah threaten their survival.

Where to spot them?

The Serengeti is a hotspot for cheetah sightings – these famed big cats loving nothing more than an energetic sprint across the plains.