What kind of animals lived in Ancient Egypt?
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Egyptian Animals

crocodile
Crocodiles from the New Kingdom

April 2017 - Mostly, the same kinds of animals lived in ancient Egypt as in other parts of Africa. Wild animals included crocodiles, who lived in the Nile River water (and there are still lots of crocodiles in the Nile today, too!), and lots of water birds like herons and cranes and ibises who lived along the banks of the Nile (and still do today).

hippopotamus
Hippopotamus statue from the New Kingdom

People were most afraid of the hippopotamus, which was a fierce animal that lived in the river. Hippos look cute when you see them at the zoo, but they kill many people every year even today. Hippos mainly lived south of the Sahara Desert, but they also came down the Nile River valley to live in Egypt. Less scary creatures also lived along the Nile river: frogs and lizards and fish, and many ducks and geese.

gazelle on a hair comb
A carving of a gazelle on a hair comb (1300s BC, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art)

On the land, away from the river, Egypt had a lot of wild gazelles. People hunted these gazelles with dogs and bows and arrows. They ate gazelles for food.

As that mention of dogs suggests, people who lived in ancient Egypt had tame (domesticated) animals as well. The first animals they had were probably dogs. By around 4000 BC, they got domesticated donkeys from their neighbors to the south in Sudan. Donkeys were very useful to carry things and helped Egyptians do a lot more trading with Sudan and also with West Asia.

stone carving of a lot of donkeys running with a man with a stick
Donkeys in Old Kingdom Egypt

Soon the Egyptians also got other domesticated animals from West Asia: pigs, cattle, sheep and goats. In the Second Intermediate Period, about 1600 BC, the first horses came to Egypt from Central Asia.

statue of a sitting cat
Cat from Old Kingdom Egypt

Most famously, families in ancient Egypt kept a lot of cats as pets. The Egyptians may have been the first people to keep pet cats, perhaps starting around 7500 BC, but it's also possible that cats were first kept as pets in West Asia. All these animals, coming from all sides of Egypt, show how Egypt was rich because it was located at a sort of crossroads between Africa and West Asia, where the good things from many different places came together.

Learn by doing: Egyptian tomb painting
More about the environment of ancient Egypt
More about the African environment

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian animals:

More about the Egyptian environment
More about the African environment
More about ancient Egypt
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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