The fastest animals in Africa are also many of the fastest animals in the world. On the African savanna, it is survival of the fittest, so animals must be fast in order to hunt or avoid the hunters.
Even Africa’s giant animals can move at serious speed.
Did you know that a hippo can run at 30 km/h?
This article isn’t cheetah vs leopard: it shows all you need to know about the fastest animals in Africa.
Spoiler alert: 19 out of 20 outrun Usain Bolt over 100 meters!
What is the Fastest Animal in Africa? All You Need to Know
Africa’s vast and varied landscapes have given rise to an array of animals with exceptional speed and agility. These creatures have evolved to outrun predators, catch prey, or simply cover long distances in search of food and water.
If you find yourself thinking “is a hippo faster than a cheetah?”, or “would the predator or prey win the race?”, below are some of the fastest animals to answer all the curious questions running through your mind.
1. Cheetah – the fastest animal on land
The cheetah is undoubtedly the world’s fastest land animal, reaching speeds of 112-120 km/h (69-74 mph). However, these numbers might be a bit exaggerated.
A more correct speed would be that of a cheetah in Kenya reaching up to 103 km/h (64 mph).
That’s around 0-60 mph in as little as 3 seconds (as good as most Ferraris). Although cheetahs can only sustain top speeds for short bursts, they can retain a cruising speed of 50 km/h (31 mph) for several hundred meters (+/- 400 m).
The long legs have non-retractable claws that enable extra grip on the ground, and the cat uses its tail for proper balance and change of direction.
If you want to learn more about the African cheetah’s speed, have a look at how fast a cheetah runs.
2. Common tsessebe
The common tsessebe may not be as well-known as some other African antelopes. Still, its incredible speed, striking appearance and social behaviors make it a captivating species in its own right.
Tsessebe can generally have a top speed of 90 km/h (56 mph), although some have been documented to reach speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph) when chased. Agility allows them to outmaneuver predators in the savanna.
As a key player in Africa’s ecosystems, this antelope plays a vital role in shaping the grasslands it calls home.
Another African speedster, the springbok, is known for its distinctive jumping behavior called pronking.
Jumping 2 meters into the air serves multiple purposes, including confusing predators and showcasing their vitality to potential mates.
These small antelopes can sprint at approximately 88 km/h (55 mph) with incredible agility to evade predators.
They also hold a special place in South African culture and history.
The springbok is the national animal of South Africa and has been featured on the country’s rugby team’s emblem, known as the Springboks.
Preyed upon by lions and occasionally cheetahs, wildebeest speed better be fast if they want to avoid their predators.
How fast is a wildebeest? While they may have poor eyesight, their pace is rather impressive. They can reach a top speed of about 80 km/h (50 mph).
5. Thomson’s gazelle
These little guys are a cheetah’s favorite meal on the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. Easy prey, you might say, but Thomson’s gazelle have great stamina and legs that propel them to top speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph).
Nine times out of ten, they will outrun any predator over longer distances and can quickly produce sharp turns.
When looking at a cheetah vs a gazelle’s speed, you’ll find that cheetahs are faster. However, the Thomson’s gazelle can hold its top speed longer.
So even though the cheetah is the fastest animal in the world, it rarely outruns a Thomson’s gazelle.
“Tommies” are like a rugby winger or American football receiver, able to change direction without notice to avoid being tackled.
The caracal, often called the “desert lynx” due to its striking appearance, is another agile and skilled predator adapted to African habitats, from deserts to savannas.
It can reach speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph) in short sprints when pursuing prey.
Caracals also have the ability to leap vertically up to 3.4 meters (11 feet) in the air to catch birds in mid-flight, which makes them one of the most skilled aerial hunters among wild cats.
7. Ostrich – the fastest land animal on two legs
The common ostrich is by far the best bird runner out there and also the fastest animal on two legs.
Although it cannot fly, it sure can run at top speeds of 72 km/h (45 mph) for short intervals. But by decreasing its cruising speed to 50 km/h (31 mph), it can maintain the pace for 30 minutes to an hour.
Is an ostrich faster than a lion? While lions generally don’t run as fast (60 km/h) as ostriches, there was a record of one lion that matched the two-legged bird, reaching a top speed of 72 km/h, but this is only at short bursts.
As such, ostriches are likely to outpace lions over long distances. However, the lions’ short bursts are often all the time they need to catch an ostrich.
For more information, check out this article on how fast ostriches run.
8. African savanna hare
On a smaller scale, these grassland sprinters play a vital role in the food web of its ecosystem, embodying the spirit of survival in the wilds of Africa.
Despite its relatively small size, the African savanna hare is a master of speed. When threatened, it can sprint at an astonishing 70 km/h (43 mph) across the open grasslands.
This hare is primarily nocturnal, which helps it avoid the scorching heat of the African sun and reduces the risk of predation.
9. African wild dog
Their speed is also somewhat remarkable. Their stamina can maintain sprints of up to 66 km/h (41 mph) for extended periods.
African wild dogs usually hunt in packs, chasing down their prey over long distances. That’s how they are so successful.
While cheetahs or lions can sprint fast for short distances, wild dogs are some of the fastest animals over long distances.
Not bad for the “king of the jungle”, huh?
Although they can run fast, they can’t maintain this speed for very long. So, lions rely on ambush techniques and get close to their prey before striking.
The cowl does not make the monk, as they can easily reach speeds of 60 km/h (37 mph).
With those long limbs, they can rapidly cover good ground, plus their large size means they are only a meal for a desperate apex predator.
If you want to learn more fascinating facts about their speed and long strides, read this article on how fast giraffes can run.
Hyenas might not be the most glamorous animals in the African wilderness. Still, their intriguing behaviors make them a captivating and essential part of the continent’s ecosystems.
Hyenas are not the fastest runners either. They reach speeds of approximately 60 km/h (37 mph), but possess impressive stamina.
They often rely on persistent hunting, pursuing their prey over long distances until it succumbs to exhaustion.
Often dubbed nature’s scavengers, they are fascinating and highly adaptable carnivores that are both predators and scavengers.
Hyenas are equipped with one of the most potent bite forces in the animal kingdom.
Jackals are cunning and adaptable creatures found in various habitats across Africa.
They are agile runners who can maintain a speed of 16 km/h (10 mph) over long distances, but can reach speeds of 60 km/h (37 mph) in short bursts.
Renowned for their stealthy hunting techniques, they often work in pairs or small groups to outmaneuver and capture prey.
These nocturnal canines have a distinct sound. Working under the cover of night helps them avoid the heat of the day and compete with larger daytime predators.
Leopards are not the fastest among big cats, reaching speeds of 58 km/h (35 mph), but they are adept climbers and swimmers.
Their agility and stealth are their primary assets when hunting.
Their striking coat of golden-yellow fur adorned with distinctive black rosette spots helps them camouflage seamlessly into their surroundings, making them nearly invisible to prey.
Pound for pound, leopards are one of the strongest big cats in the world, able to drag prey up to 120 kg into trees, keeping their hard-earned meal safe from lions and scavengers.
15. Cape buffalo
The Cape buffalo’s combination of strength, protective instincts, and social dynamics make it a captivating and essential component of Africa’s diverse ecosystems.
Part of the African Big Five, Cape buffaloes are known for their bulk and strength rather than speed. While not the slowest animal in Africa, their size only allows them to reach top speeds of 57 km/h (35 mph).
They rely on their herding behavior and collective defense against predators like lions and hyenas.
Renowned for their fierce protective instincts, mothers are known to defend their calves vigorously against any threat, even confronting and killing lions.
Zebras might not be the fastest runners in the African wilderness, but they can still reach top speeds of around 56 km/h (35 mph).
That being said, they have impressive stamina, and their zigzag strategies help them evade predators like lions and hyenas over longer distances.
They are also formidable kickboxers, like Muay Thai kicker Shogun Rau, able to deliver a blow of 1361 kg of force, enough to break a lion’s jaw and live another day.
Zebras are social creatures using the collective as a strength against danger. They use a vocalization technique to coordinate movement within the herd to fend off predators.
How fast can rhinos run? Black rhinos can reach speeds of 55 km/h (34 mph), while the white rhinoceros clock 50 km/h (31 mph) over short distances.
It’s best not to disturb these animals as they will charge at these speeds when threatened. However, the typical travel speed of black and white rhinos is much more sedate.
Learn all about how fast a rhino runs.
Common warthogs, more often referred to as Pumbaa and made famous from Disney’s “The Lion King”, are sturdy runners who can reach decent speeds when escaping predators like lions and leopards.
Female warthogs are devoted mothers who defend their young against threats using their powerful snouts and sharp tusks.
NB: The desert warthog, native to the horn of Africa, can travel at 55 km/h (34 mph) over short distances.
19. African Elephant
Yes indeed, elephants are one of the fastest land animals in Africa.
What’s this mighty mammal’s running speed? 9-12 km/h is usually the norm, while full charge “get out of the way” pace quickly reaches speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph).
Rumor has it that you can stop a charging African elephant by throwing a big stone (or log) in front of the animal’s forefeet.
I have never tried it and wouldn’t recommend you take the risk. An elephant charge is something you won’t forget (and probably won’t survive).
Learn more about how fast an elephant can run.
Is the hippo the fastest land animal in Africa? No, that title goes to the cheetah. However, the hippo does make the list of one of the fastest animals on land.
Hard to believe?
Bring it on, Mr. Usain Bolt, you have a strong contender!
NB: To put things into perspective, Usain Bolt (the fastest man alive to this day) runs at 37.58 kph (23.35 mph). In other words, Bolt would barely match up against the entries on this list of Africa’s fastest animals.
Where to Encounter the Fastest African Animals
While learning about the 20 fastest land animals is interesting, witnessing any of these animals in full flight is one of the ultimate highlights of a safari. So why not book a safari trip for a spectacular adventure in the wild.
If you want to find out more intriguing facts about animal speed, have a look at this article on the world’s fastest animals.