Big Five

Whenever you think of African landscapes you inevitably end up thinking about the Big Five of Africa. And the Big Five command attention whenever you think about them, even if you are sitting miles away, separated by continents.

That’s why it is better to look them up, even before you arrive in Africa on a safari trip, because they deserve this attention!

That way, you can also choose the order in which you want to watch these magnificent beasts live in action.

It was the game hunters that coined the title, ‘Big Five’ for the best creatures of African wildlife. The tour operators just borrowed the phrase and made it famous worldwide.

The Big Five of Africa are:

  1. The African Elephant
    2. The African Lion
    3. The African Leopard
    4. The African Rhino
    5. The Cape Buffalo

Now to take a closer look at them:

  1. African Elephant: scientific name – Loxodonta africana. Elephants are known to adapt to any sort of landscape, savannahs, woodlands, plains or forests, and are getting extinct. A strict ban on ivory has been the only way to control poaching.

They are usually very quiet and do not like to be messed with. But if you do mess with them, their protective strains can go far to the herds’ benefit, but not yours.

In Africa, elephants are found in:

  • Kenya at Masai Mara & Amboseli National Parks
  • South Africa – Greater Kruger Area
  • Namibia – Etosha National Park
  • Zimbabwe – Hwange National Park
  • Botswana – Makgadigadi pans, and Chobe National Park
  • Tanzania – Serengeti National Park, The Selous and Tarangire National Park
  • Zambia – South Luangwa National Park
  • South Africa – Addo Elephant Park

More facts on the African Elephants include:

  • An elephant’s trunk alone is known to have more than 40,000 muscles and its skin is an inch thick.
  • An elephant calf frequently sucks its trunk to comfort itself, much like a human child.
  • Elephants use their tusks in the same way as human hands. They prefer 1 tusk over the other, just as human beings can be either right or left handed.
  • When out on a swim, elephants use their trunk like a snorkel.
  • Elephants lift their trunks into the air and shake it from side to side all the better to sniff.
  • In summer, elephants flap their ears to keep cool.
  • Elephants are known to spend almost 16-18 hours per day just eating.
  • Their tusks keep growing throughout their lives.
  • Elephants listen with their feet — they pick on sub-sonic rumblings via the vibrations in the ground.
  1. African Lion: scientific name – Panthera leo. These magnificent felines can give any human being a lesson in social living. But once again, thanks to poaching, their numbers are fast dwindling. Such that they have made it to the IUCN threatened species list.

African Lions are found in:

  • South Africa – Greater Kruger Area
  • Kenya – Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks.
  • Zambia – South Luangwa National Park
  • Tanzania – The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park and Lake Manyara
  • Botswana – Okavango Delta

Fun Facts about the lion:

  • They rest for about 20 hours a day!
  • Lion cubs are born with their spots.
  • The shade of the mane shows the size and strength of the lion in question.
  • They are feline but they don’t purr!
  • Man-eating lions are no myth.
  • Lions are capable of climbing trees.
  • Lions hate swimming
  • They can differentiate the roars of the large groups from the smaller ones.
  • Male lions mark their territory much like dogs, by spraying a combination of urine and unique scents.
  1. African Leopard: scientific name Panthera pardus. African leopards are the fastest and therefore all the more difficult to spot on an African Safari. Shy and nocturnal, leopards can inhabit a vast variety of landscapes.

African Leopards are to be found in:

  • South Africa – Greater Kruger Area
  • Zimbabwe -Hwange National Park
  • Kenya – Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks and Masai Mara
  • Botswana – Okavango Delta and  Masahatu Game Reserve
  • Tanzania – the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park
  • Zambia – South Luangwa National Park

Fun facts include:

  • Leopards can easily kill a prey 2-3 times larger than them.
  • Unlike lions, leopards DO purr, and they make excellent swimmers.
  • Leopards have “rosettes”.
  • Leopards stalk and pounce upon their prey, instead of chasing them over long distance.
  • Leopards without spots and black coat are called panthers.
  • Leopard cubs begin hunting with their mother at about 4-5 months of age.
  • Leopard spots tend to be circular in East African leopards but square in southern Africa.
  • Leopards can jump very high, almost 10 feet straight up
  1. African Rhino: Scientific name – black rhino Diceros bicornis & white rhino Ceratotherium simum. Their numbers have been reduced considerably due to poaching. While the black rhinos are near extinct, the white rhinos have fared better, but they are concentrated in Southern Africa mainly.

Protected African Rhinos are to be found in:

  • Namibia – Etosha National Park
  • Zimbabwe – Hwange National Park
  • South Africa – Greater Kruger Area
  • Kenya – Tsavo National Parks, Lake Nakuru, and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Facts to know about the Rhino:

  • More than 80% of African rhino population is concentrated in South Africa.
  • The white rhino’s name comes from the Dutch “weit,” which means wide. It is a reference to the rhino’s wide, square muzzle.
  • Rhinos have 3 toes on each foot and can go up to 35 mph in terms of speed.
  • A collection of rhinos is called a ‘crash’.
  • Rhino’s horns are made of ‘keratin’.
  1. Cape Buffalo: scientific name – Syncerus caffer. Are found mostly in protected wildlife zones and 4 sub species have been recognized thus far. They move around in herds and need a lot of water. That is why they are found closest to water holes.

Cape Buffaloes are found in:

  • South Africa – Greater Kruger Area
  • Namibia – Etosha National Park
  • Zimbabwe – Hwange National Park
  • Botswana – Chobe National Park
  • Kenya – Amboseli National Park
  • Tanzania – The Selous and Serengeti National Park
  • Zambia – South Luangwa National Park

Fun facts to know about Cape Buffaloes:

  • Buffaloes protect their calves by pushing the little ones towards the middle of the herd when faced with danger.
  • Buffaloes mob predators, especially when a calf calls for help.
  • Buffaloes mate and even give birth only during the rainy season.
  • Cape Buffaloes have defied domestication.
  • Like the rhino, the Cape buffalo too can run up to 35 mph when needed.

Now you can make an informed decision on which of the Big Five you want to view first. Happy game watching!