Whether it’s Simba or Mufasa, Pumbaa or Timon, the lovable characters of The Lion King all hold a special place in our hearts. So, with the release of Disney’s live-action remake now upon us, we thought we would reintroduce you to some of the most classic characters, along with advice on the best places in Africa to see them in the wild.
Lions are the African savannah’s top predator and they are often referred to as the ‘king of the jungle’, an accolade which is very much acknowledged in the movie title. Whether it’s Simba, Mufasa, Nala, Sarafina or Scar, the lions certainly are the stars of the show. Their remarkable manes, earth trembling roars and expert hunting techniques firmly cement them as one of the world’s most iconic big cats. Despite their ferocious character, they are also the laziest of all the big cats and spend an average of 18 hours per day sleeping.
Our favourite place to spot them: Kenya’s Masai Mara has one of the highest densities of lions in the world, and thanks to its vast open plains, sightings here are particularly impressive.
Perhaps the most humorous character of the bunch, Pumbaa’s entertaining personality has forever transformed the warthog’s reputation in the safari world. What they lack in power and strength they make up for in their endearing lack of grace, making them an unlikely favourite with both first-time safari goers and seasoned aficionados alike. Instantly recognisable by their frizzy manes and curved tusks, warthogs thrive in exposed spaces and have evolved calloused pads to protect them while they graze on their bent forelegs.
Our favourite place to spot them: South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest protected areas and is the perfect habitat for these peculiar pigs.
And wherever there’s Pumbaa, there must be Timon! This meerkat character is one of the few in The Lion King whose name isn’t Swahili, but instead derives from the Greek word meaning ‘to honour or respect’. Members of the mongoose family and committed omnivores, meerkats are known for using their tail to balance when standing upright on the lookout for predators. These skilful animals live in large mobs of up to 50 individuals and inhabit a complex network of underground tunnels.
Our favourite place to spot them: The Kalahari Desert covers areas of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and has the perfect topography to accommodate these creatures’ earthly needs.
The red-billed hornbill is one of the smaller birds in the hornbill family. With its striking beak and speckled plumage, this beautiful bird is most commonly found in Africa’s woodland and grassy areas. Hornbills have incredibly close relationships with mongeese and assist one another in both the search for food and the avoidance of predators. This capacity to form a loyal bond is replicated in the film, where Zazu acts as the king’s advisor and is a faithful friend to both Mufasa and Simba.
Our favourite place to spot them: The red-billed hornbill can be found in much of sub-Saharan Africa, but Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park is home to an endemic subspecies which is particularly exciting to spot.
Scar’s three hyena henchmen reflect the ferocious rivalry between lions and hyenas on African plains. Likely to be heard before they’re seen, the high-pitched cackles of hyenas can be detected up to five kilometres away. Although they are famed scavengers, these blood-thirsty carnivores are often underestimated. They are super skilled group hunters, and actually kill most of their own food. Due to their super strong jaws, these guys like to make the most of their meals and even eat the bones of their prey.
Our favourite place to spot them: Hyenas are widespread in much of Africa, but our favourite place to watch them at work is Zambia’s Liuwa Plain, where they are the apex predator with a clan 50-strong.