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Plants and Animals

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Plants and Animals


Zanzibar is abundant with herbs, including large clove trees, henna and lemongrass. A large part of the island is covered with clove plantations and the rest is covered with tall palm trees.

The amount of forest is only a fraction of what used to be found there.


There are no large wild mammals on Zanzibar as there are on the Tanzanian mainland. The forested areas on Zanzibar are inhabited by monkeys and small antelopes. Civets and mongooses are found all over the island.

The number of bird species is very varied, with around 100 different species having been spotted. The marine life in the coral reefs is rich.


Most of the original forests on Zanzibar are no longer there. As a result, the natural habitats on Zanzibar have been decimated; the best place to see wildlife is the Jozani Forest Reserve.

In this reserve, one of the most special animals is the Kirk's red (colobus) colobus monkey. It is one of the rarest monkey species in the whole of Africa and only occurs on Zanzibar. This species of monkey has only four fingers and no thumb; it is also the only primate with four stomachs to digest its food of hard leaves and unripe fruit. At present, there are only about 2,500 left on Zanzibar.

Another meerkat species is the blue meerkat or Sykes monkey.

Other mammals that occur on Zanzibar are the bush pig and the Zanzibar tree-clip-dace, Aders duiker (a small antelope species that occurs only on Zanzibar), and the Zanzibar suni, which is even smaller than the duiker.

An endemic subspecies of leopard, smaller and with finer markings than those on the mainland, is most likely no longer to be found on Zanzibar.

Small predators include the African and Javanese civet cat and several mongoose species; the Zanzibar slender mongoose, the rare bushy-tailed mongoose and the zebra mongoose, which was introduced to the island only later.

The large and small galago are nocturnal animals and both occur on Zanzibar. The large galago is as big as a rabbit, the small species is half as big.

There are also rats, mice, shrews and fourteen species of bat. The Zanzibar four-toed elephant shrew is special.

Reptiles and amphibians

The Aldabra giant tortoise is found, among others, on Prison Island, a few kilometres off the coast opposite Zanzibar Town. These animals were introduced from the Seychelles island of Aldabra in the 18th century.

The Jozani Reserve is also home to black and golden frogs, chameleons, snakes and geckos.

In the sea live the green turtle, the largest of the sea turtles, the loggerhead turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the dwarf turtle (last seen in 1975) and the leatherback turtle. All these turtles are endangered species.


Zanzibar is not known to birdwatchers as a true bird paradise, but there are about 220 species, both endemic and wintering. There are, however, several unique species. Since 1994, 35 new species have been discovered on the islands of the Zanzibar archipelago.

There are also remarkable differences between the birds on the main island of Unguja and the somewhat more northerly Pemba. Unguja has woodpeckers, clawed vultures, cuckoo vultures and buzzards, all birds that do not occur on Pemba. Pemba, on the other hand, has its own species of green pigeon, a dwarf owl, a spectacled bird and a honey bird that are found nowhere else in the world.

Different habitats and their birds:

Parks and gardens: rail cuckoos, honeybirds, swifts, nightingales.

Farmlands: paradise flycatcher, golden weaver, green hoopoe, crested guinea fowl, emerald spotted wood pigeon, various species of warbler, striped swallow and palmate vulture swallows.

Ponds and meadows: herons, egrets, cattle egrets, hawks, harriers, African jaunty or lily pads, black crake, Allen's moorhen, pygmy geese, white-fronted mergansers, white-backed ducks, yellow wagtails and purple herons, little grebes, red-breasted egrets and moorhens.

Forests: mourning bulrush, crowned hornbill, white-haired bird, African goshawk or black kite, Gabonese nightjar.

Jungle: Fischer's turaco, tawny owl, crested Guinea fowl, swifts, hornbills, woodpeckers and weaverbirds.

Mangroves: herons, kingfishers, blue-cheeked bee-eater.

Beaches and sand dunes: plovers, whimbrels, sandpipers, great sandpiper, crab plover, African osprey, tern, grey gull.

Seabirds: frigate birds, dougall's tern, rock ptarmigan.

Fish and other marine animals

Coral reefs: more than 700 species of coral fish, including: butterfly fish, parrot fish, surgeonfish, reef grouper, emperor fish, puffer fish, clown fish, trigger fish, large grouper (250 cm; 440 kg), grunt fish, yellow snapper, cobia, fusilier, wrasse.

Open sea: sardines, Indian mackerel, yellow tuna, kingfish, sailfish, black marlin (270 cm; 180 g).

An annual highlight are the whale sharks that visit Mnemba Atoll around 5 km off the coast around March during their migration.

Marine mammals: bottlenose dolphin (400 cm; 650 kg) and the white Chinese dolphin, humpback whales are occasionally spotted in the Zanzibar Channel.

The rare Chumbe coconut crab is the largest living land crab in the world. It climbs palm trees and can crack a coconut with its claws.


Else, D. / Zanzibar

Finke, J. / Tanzania
Rough Guides

Fitzpatrick, M. / Tanzania
Lonely Planet

Heale, J. / Tanzania
Marshall Cavendish

Skinner, A. / Tanzania & Zanzibar

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info