by Chris
July 29, 2019

Taking a Lion King Safari in Tanzania & Kenya

With the recent release of Disney's reimagining of The Lion King, more and more people are turning an eye towards Africa as their next vacation destination. The opportunity to experience a Lion King safari is a fantastic way to delve deeper into the continent that inspired the beloved movie.

While The Lion King doesn't take place in a specific African country, it is possible to see most of the characters in their natural habitats in Kenya and Tanzania.

In fact, you can visit Simba Rocks in the Serengeti, while Kenya's Hell's Gate National Park was the inspiration for many of the film's landscapes!

If seeing The Lion King has made you curious about Africa, we've got all the info you need to create your own Lion King safari.

Simba, Nala, Mufasa, Scar, and Sarabi - Lions (Panthera Leo)

The stars of the movie are undoubtedly the lions who call Pride Rock home.

Heroic Simba, brave Nala, noble Mufasa, unwavering Sarabi, and devious Scar are brought to life by Donald Glover, Beyonce, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, respectively. While the lions of the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara may not talk and sing, a keen observer can still find stories in the behaviors they observe when watching a pride of lions.

Lions are the most commonly spotted of Africa's Big Five, with sightings common across all major Tanzanian and Kenyan parks, as well as in Uganda and Rwanda.

What's in a Name? Simba is the Swahili word for lion. Nala means 'gift' and Sarabi means 'mirage' in Swahili. Mufasa, however, is a Manazoto word for 'king', rather than a Swahili word.

Where to See Them: Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara National Park (Tanzania), Tsaavo National Park and the Maasai Mara (Kenya), Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Park (Uganda), and Akagera National Park (Rwanda).

Lions (Panthera Leo)

Rafiki - Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx)

Rafiki is often mislabeled as a baboon, but he is actually a mandrill. Native to Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo, this unique primate is famous for its colourful facial markings and the large hordes they travel in.

While Shadows of Africa does not currently arrange tours to any West African nations, you can see the similar-looking yellow baboons and olive baboons across East Africa's national parks.

What's in a Name? The word 'Rafiki' is Swahili for 'friend'.

Where to See Them: Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Congo. Yellow and olive baboons can be seen in virtually every national park in Kenya and Tanzania.

Rafiki - Mandrill

Pumbaa - Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

The humble warthog is every bit as adorably ugly in person as Pumbaa is in The Lion King. With their tails in the air as they trot about, warthogs are a common sight on safari and a common meal for hungry predators.

While there are four subspecies of the common warthog, it is the Central African warthog that you're most likely to spot on the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara.

Like in the movie, male warthogs usually lead relatively solitary lives, while females and young gather in larger groups called 'sounders'.

What's in a Name? Pumbaa is the Swahili word for being 'foolish, silly, or careless'. That sounds about right!

Where to See Them: Warthogs can be seen across all major Tanzanian and Kenyan national parks.

Pumbaa - Common Warthog

Timon - Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)

The cute meerkat is not actually found anywhere in East Africa, as it is native to the Southern African countries of Namibia, Botswana, Angola, and South Africa.

Highly social animals famous for their distinctive way of standing on their hind legs to look for danger, meerkats are a member of the mongoose family, rather than being related to cats.

What's in a Name? The word Timon comes from the Greek word for 'respect', rather than being an African word. Timon of Athens is a character in the Shakespeare play of the same name.

Where to See Them: Meerkats are most commonly seen on safari in South Africa.

Timon - Meerkat

Zazu - Red-Billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus)

Simba's distinctly British advisor is played by Rowan Atkinson in the original film and John Oliver in the remake. With its distinctive beak, the hornbill is one of Africa's most recognizable species of bird.

Hornbills such as Zazu can be found across Sub-Saharan Africa, with five distinct sub-species including the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill, the Western Red-Billed Hornbill, the Tanzanian Red-Billed Hornbill, the Damara Red-Billed Hornbill, and the Southern Red-Billed Hornbill.

It is the Tanzanian and Northern varities you'll spot while on safari in Tanzania and Kenya, with the former found only in Central Tanzania.

What's in a Name? Zazu is a Hebrew word for 'movement', but is more often associated with girls.

Where to See Them: The best place to spot Red-Billed Hornbills would be Tanzania's Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.

Red-billed Hornbill

Shenzi, Kamara, and Azizi - Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta)

Scar's wicked minions are a chief source of comedy in The Lion King, but hyenas are far from the dumb, slavering animals they're portrayed as in the movies.

While their distinctive laughing is very real, spotted hyenas are actually some of the most socially complex carnivores in the world. Traveling and hunting in large groups known as 'clans', spotted hyenas are said to act more like intelligent primates than the canines they share so much DNA with. In fact, spotted hyenas have been known to outdo chimpanzees in problem-solving activities!

(Can you tell that I love hyenas?)

What's in a Name? Shenzi means 'uncouth' in Swahili, Kamara means 'gambling', and Azizi means 'Precious. In the original movie, Kamara and Azizi were known as Banzai (to chase) and Ed (short for Edward).

Where to See Them: Tanzania is home to Africa's largest spotted hyenas population, with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro being excellent places to spot them. Kenya's Maasai Mara is also an excellent place to spot spotted hyenas. Want to get up close and personal with a hyena? The city of Harar in Ethiopia has hyena feeding for tourists.


See Them All!

While Shadows of Africa does not (yet) arrange tours to Western Africa, we're uniquely set up to get you to every major East African and South African safari destination.

Want to see Meerkats in South Africa, feed hyenas in Ethiopia, chase lions on the Maasai Mara, and see hornbills in Tanzania? We have a variety of cross-country safaris to make it possible.

Contact a Shadows of Africa safari expert to start planning your Lion King safari today!

Are you interested in an African safari?

Contact one of our safari experts and we will tailor-make a safari for you!