Hoofed mammals are a highly successful group with their dominant terrestrial herbivore position being attributed largely to their speed and endurance, and to the fact that they are well equipped to break down the cellulose in their plant diet. This group consists of both odd- and even-toed hoofed mammals.

Perissodactyla or odd-toed hoofed mammals include the following:

Horses and relatives

The ultimate of the odd-toed ungulates, with only a single toe, are the equids. All equids possess great stamina and speed.

The Zoo houses the Burchell’s zebra, named after the famous naturalist Burchell. This Zebra has a shadow (brown) stripe between the broad black and white stripes. All zebras have individually unique stripe patterns, similar to our fingerprints.  The Zoo also keeps the endangered Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, which has narrower stripes and a grid pattern on the rump.   

The domestic relatives of the zebras are at the zoo’s farmyard - the largest and the smallest of the domestic species, the Shire horse and the much smaller Shetland pony.


With their huge size, bare, sometimes pleated skin, relatively short limbs and horned snout, rhinoceroses are almost dinosaur-like in appearance. These animals are found in the savannas of Africa and the tropical forests of Asia. There are currently five species of rhinoceros surviving. The white rhino and black rhino are the only rhinos in Africa. The Indian rhino lives in India and the Javan and Sumatran rhinos live in South East Asia.  Several species are recently extinct.

The names, white and black rhino have nothing to do with their colour, in fact, they are much the same colour. It is an error that slipped in during translations from Dutch-Afrikaans to English. The White rhino is also called the Square-lipped or wide-mouthed Rhino, is larger and grazes grass, lives in grassland, with the calf walking in front of the mother.  The Black rhino is the Hook-lipped rhino which browses on leaves, is found in rain forest to arid scrubland and the calf walks behind the mother. The Hook-lipped Rhino is the more aggressive of the two African species.

The Zoo has only one of the five rhino species, the White rhino. These animals may weigh up to 2.3 tonnes and can reach speeds of up to 45 km/h. Each foot has three toes. 

The horns are composed entirely of keratin – a tough protein found in hair and nails. White rhinos are listed with all the other rhino species on CITES, mainly because rhino horn is literally worth its weight in gold. Rhino horn is used for Chinese medicine and to make dagger handles in Yemen.  Populations of the southern white rhino are until recently reasonably secure, but there has been a sudden upsurge of poaching for horn since 2009. There may be fewer than 30 of the critically endangered northern White Rhinos left.  

Artiodactyla or Even-toed hoofed mammals include the following: 



Despite a reputation for gluttony, wild pigs rarely overeat and are intelligent, adaptable animals. Members of the pig family are omnivorous and are characterised by a barrel-shaped body. Pigs have cloven feet - two large, flattened hoofs with two smaller lateral hoofs to help spread the body weight on soft ground.  The Zoo houses Red River hogs, a locally common red pig from Central Africa. 

Warthogs are a very common species in South Africa, although the Zoo does not currently have any on display. There are some domesticated Pot-bellied pigs at the farmyard, with their obvious saddle-back and large belly.


Hippos are found only in Africa and the Zoo is fortunate to have both species: the Common hippopotamus, which can weigh more than 1 ½ tonnes and its much smaller relative, the Pygmy hippopotamus. The two species in this family have a semi-aquatic lifestyle and can remain submerged for over five minutes at a time. Hippos are examples of two closely-related species that have adapted to different habitats.  Common hippos occupy grasslands and the Pygmy hippo occupies forest. Common hippos have an unusual lifestyle, spending the day in the water and the night grazing on land. Their unique skin structure results in a high rate of water loss when exposed to air and this makes in necessary for the animal to spend much time in water during the day. Pygmy hippos live in the forests of West Africa. They are very shy creatures, mostly nocturnal, and usually found near water. Hippos are also known as ‘river horses’. [Please note: the large hippo is not called the African hippo, as they are both African!]

The large hippos are near  the other pachyderms (thick-skinned animals) such as rhinos and elephants. The Pygmy hippos reach a maximum weight of 275 kg and are more adapted for life on land, with fewer webbed toes and lower body mass. They are solitary animals, unlike the larger hippos, usually seen in large pods. The Pygmy hippo is classified as vulnerable, due to uncontrolled hunting for bushmeat and habitat destruction.  (Did you know that hippos are more closely related to whales than to pigs?)

Camels and relatives

Camels have long legs and a distinctive gait known as pacing, in which the front and back legs on the same side move forward together to make a rocking motion. Only one species of Old World camel still survives in the wild, the Bactrian camel, which can withstand temperatures from minus 29oC up to 38oC.  The Zoo’s Bactrian camels are from domesticated stock and wild Bactrian camels are Critically Endangered.  Bactrian camels have two humps, while Arabian camels have one. Camels do not store water in their humps but body fat. Camels have two digits on each foot with broad foot pads for stability in both sand and snow.

Giraffe and Okapi 

The Giraffe and Okapi of Africa are the last representatives of a once large and diverse family. The giraffe with its distinctive long neck is the tallest living animal, males reaching up to 5.5m. With front legs longer than the back legs, the front parts are raised to facilitate easier browsing. Nevertheless, the long neck contains only seven vertebrae – the same as almost all other mammals, only more elongated. Giraffe are browsers with unique 2- or 3-lobed canine teeth which can be used for stripping leaves from branches. The Johannesburg Zoo has a staff team that regularly collect donated browse from surrounding areas to supplement our giraffes’ diets. 

Johannesburg Zoo does not have Okapi.
If you live near  the Zoo and are pruning indigenous trees that have not been treated with herbicides, please call our Zoo line so that we can collect some for our browsers. Tel. 011 646 2000 ext 249.


Cattle and Antelope

The animals that make up this diverse family are called bovids. The highest diversity of bovids occurs in Africa and all species have unbranched keratin horns and a wide range of body forms, from tiny duikers to stocky buffalo. All bovids have a ruminating stomach with four chambers. The extensive collection of bovids in the Zoo ranges from exotic species like Asiatic Water Buffalo, Blackbuck and Scimitar Horned Oryx to indigenous antelope like Sable, Bontebok, Eland, Sitatunga, Kudu, Springbuck and Common duiker.

Endangered antelope in the Zoo are the Arabian Oryx and Bongo. There is also a sizeable group of African buffalo.  The tiny Blue duikers share enclosures with the Gorilla and tortoises. The  Farmyard has several interesting indigenous domestic bovids - Nguni cattle and Bapedi and Nguni sheep, which are rather scarce today and need to be conserved.

The Impala is a graceful, gazelle-like species, with a shiny reddish coat and long slender legs. When leaping over bushes, they appear to float through the air in a graceful arc, which may carry them up to 10 meters. Only the rams have horns, which are lyre-shaped. They occur in herds varying from 20, up to 100 in the dry winter months.

The subfamily Bovinae is represented by six Southern African species, Buffalo, Kudu, Nyala, Bushbuck, Sitatunga, Eland and the Bongo from the central parts of Africa. 

The genus Tragelaphus are antelope with spiral horns and stripes on their bodies. Nyala live in dense vegetation and riverside thickets.  Males and females are generally named cows and bulls for  large antelope species, and rams and ewes for the smaller ones. The Nyala is considered the cut-off point where the male is a bull and the female is a cow, so any antelope smaller than a Nyala will be called rams and ewes.

Kudu are a savanna woodland species and do not occur in open grassland, forests or deserts. They browse in small herds, but will also graze fresh green grass, and often raid grain crops. Only kudu bulls have horns.


Deer differ from antelope in that they have antlers, not horns. Only the stags (males) grow antlers, except for reindeer, in which the does also have them. Antlers fall off after each rutting (mating) season and grow back bigger and stronger the next season. Male deer use their antlers in mating battles, and the dominant stag then mates with as many does as possible. In contrast, antelope horns do not grow back when they are broken off.  

Axis Deer are the only deer in the zoo.  They originate in Southern Asia, but now also occur in Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and Europe. They are also called Spotted deer. 


Other Herbivores in the zoo:



African elephants are the largest land mammals on earth. They are larger than their Asian cousins, with males weighing up to 7 tons.  African Elephants have big ears, often similar in shape to the African continent. The large surface area allows the blood flowing through them to cool down on its way to the brain. They flap their ears to frighten any creature that comes too close - the flapping makes the elephant look even bigger. African elephants also have larger tusks and a sloping forehead. Asian elephants have smaller ears and tusks, a more bulbous forehead and are hairier. Asian elephants are more docile than African elephants and have been used for transport and other work for hundreds of years. 


The species that we keep in the zoo is the Rock hyrax, or Dassie in Afrikaans. This diurnal animal suns itself on warm rocks. In some areas, Hyraxes are predominantly browsers and in other areas, grazers, but are all independent of a water supply. They are fast feeders as they are often the victims of large birds of prey. Black or Verreaux’s eagles feed predominantly on dassies. It is thought that the Hyrax, Aardvark and Elephant are more closely related to each other than to other mammals, as they are primitive ungulates and their tooth formulae are similar.