Spot some of nature’s most impressive beasts on a Big 5 safari

When choosing a safari holiday, the term the ‘Big Five’ will often crop up and refers to some of Africa’s most popular wildlife, the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros.

The phrase itself was coined by African hunters and refers to the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Of course, Big Five safaris are in no way associated with the unethical act of trophy/canned hunting (banned completely in Kenya and increasingly so in other areas of Africa) but the term is still used by most guides and tourists as an easy term to encapsulate the must see animals.

The Big Five can be found together in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana, though obviously not in all parks so do make sure you research thoroughly to avoid any disappointment. African wildlife species are each incredible in their own way.

Our advice would be: don’t speed past an elegant giraffe or beautiful cheetah to seek out an elephant just because it’s on your Big Five check list.

Lion

The king of beasts, the sight of a wild male lion is breathtaking – majestic and beautiful, with his splendid mane and statuesque frame, and a roar that is simply spine-tingling.

  • Lions live in prides, with a dominant male heading up a group of related females
  • A male lion can weight up to 250kg, with the female coming in at up to 180kg
  • Lionesses do the majority of the hunting, with prey including wildebeest, impala and zebra
  • Lions spend up to 20 hours each day resting, and are most active between dusk and dawn

The Maasai Mara is the most famous big cat territory and offers excellent lion viewing.

African Elephant

Enormous and intelligent, this powerful grey giant will dwarf your safari vehicle. The sight of a herd of elephants is something to behold, whilst witnessing elephants swimming is a special experience.

  • The elephant is the largest living land animal and a herbivore
  • In the wild, elephants live for approx. 50-70 years
  • The African elephant is bigger than its Asian cousin and with noticeably larger ears
  • An elephant's trunk is sensitive yet strong, and is used for smelling, eating and drinking as well as a snorkel when swimming

Over 1000 elephants can be found in Amboseli, whilst Selous is home to over half of Tanzania’s elephant population.

Cape Buffalo

Robust and strong, the Cape (or African) buffalo is one of the most difficult prey for predators. With a running speed of up to 35 miles per hour, watch in awe as it pounds the terrain, leaving a trail of cloudy smoke in its wake.

  • Females only give birth during the wet season
  • Herd sizes can range up to 1000
  • Buffalo protect their young by pushing them into the centre of the herd
  • Buffalo can often be found near floodplains and swamplands as they require water daily

Kruger and Chobe are amongst the best national parks for buffalo viewing.

Leopard

Notoriously difficult to spot, it’s a wonderful feat of detective work when your eyes adjust and make out the sleek figure of an elusive solo leopard, camouflaged high up in a tree.

  • Melanistic leopards are commonly called black panthers
  • The leopard belongs to the same family as the tiger, lion and jaguar
  • Leopards can jump to a height of three metres and climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass

For a good chance of spotting a leopard, visit the Maasai MaraSerengetiKrugerOkavango Delta or Etosha.

Rhinoceros

Magnificent and warrior-like, it doesn’t take much imagination to envisage the danger of a rhino charge. But the overwhelming feeling is likely to be a more poignant one – with only 4000 left in the wild, you’ll be lucky to see the endangered black rhino.

  • A group of rhinos is known as a ‘crash’
  • A rhino can run at a speed of 30-40 miles per hour
  • Rhinos have extremely poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell and hearing
  • The difference between a black and white rhino is not their colour, but their mouths: white rhinos have a broad flat mouth for grazing and black rhinos have a more pointed mouth for eating foliage

Rhinos are most commonly found in South Africa, as well as Tsavo and Lake Nakuru, whilst the Ol Pejeta conservancy is home to black rhino and rare types of white rhino.

The Little 5

Rightly proud of its Big Five, which feature on its bank notes, South Africa is also home to the Little Five: the Rhinoceros beetle, Buffalo weaver, Elephant shrew, Leopard tortoise, and the Ant lion. Purely based on their corresponding names to the Big Five, it perhaps highlights the fact that there is far more to Africa than the Big Five. African wildlife species are each incredible in their own way. Our advice would be: don’t speed past an elegant giraffe or beautiful cheetah to seek out an elephant just because it’s on your Big Five check list.

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