Safari Animal Nicknames

All of the animals you’ll see on safari have more than one name, but it’s very likely that you only know the English name of each (or whatever your native language is). Of course, each animal has an equivalent word in the common language of Tanzania–Swahili–but did you also know that there is a secret “language” among safari guides to refer to many of the residents in the Serengeti?

While on safari you’ll frequently see your guide paying attention to the CB radio that is installed in every vehicle that we use. He will be listening to the latest whereabouts of the big game animals in your vicinity, especially the harder to find ones such as leopards, cheetahs, and rhinos. The guides are speaking back and forth in Swahili, but the words they use to refer to the animals are frequently in safari guide slang.

How and when this practice started no one knows for sure, but it may have originated in the need for a common tongue to refer to the animals by back when many of the guides primarily spoke their tribal language and Swahili was not as widely taught.

Just for fun we’ve compiled a list of these names (English, Swahili, Slang)–try listening for them the next time you’re on safari with us.

  • ELEPHANT: Tembo / Sikio or Masikio
  • LION: Simba / Sharubu or Masharubu (Sharubu Dume is a fully grown male lion)
  • RHINO: Kifaru / Pembe
  • CAPE BUFFALO: Nyati / Mbogo
  • CHEETAH: Duma / Wa Chini
  • PYTHON: Chatu / Kamba
  • HIPPO: Kiboko / Nguruwe Maji
  • CROCODILE: Mamba / Mikasi
  • LEOPARD: Chui / Wa Juu
  • GIRAFFE: Twiga / Shingo Ndefu
  • WARTHOG: Ngiri / Kitimoto
  • HYENA: Fisi / Bwana Afya
  • GAZELLE: Impala / Swala
  • VARIOUS BIRDS: Ndege / Vinavyoruka
  • JACKAL: Bweha / NA
  • WILDEBEEST: Nyumbu / NA
  • OSTRICH: Mbuni / NA
  • WILD DOGS: Mbwa Mwitu / NA
  • VARIOUS BIG CATS: Paka Wakubwa / NA

Looking to test out your new-found Swahili animal nickname knowledge? Come visit us in Tanzania, and we’ll make sure you get the chance!



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