All you have to know about the Big 5

The “Big Five” is probably the most popular phrase in the African safari jargon. And more often than none, the first thing a safari newbie will tell you is “I want to see the big 5”. Almost as if it was the only thing “worthwhile” to see.

While this term is now familiar, I must admit the first time I heard the expression I was like: “???”

What about them? What makes them so “special”? Of course, little did I know back then it was used for animals…

So what are they?

“Animals”, yes they’re just animals! But very special animals indeed!

And no: they’re not defined as “big” 5 because of their size! Otherwise, creatures such as the hippopotamus would have also been included in the list.

Simply put, the “Big 5” include the most dangerous African animals to hunt on foot! They’re very difficult to maneuver around and are highly unpredictable.

They are: the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African Buffalo (also known as the Cape Buffalo; Syncerus caffer), the Rhinoceros (Black Rhino = Diceros bicornis; White Rhino = Ceratotherium simum), the Lion (Panthera leo), and the “elusive” Leopard (Panthera pardus).

Today, the expression “Big five” is extensively used in safari promotions and marketing. Terms such as “Big 5 country”, or “Home to the Big 5” have become common practice to attract tourists. So much so that people tend to ONLY want to see the Big 5 (no matter what…), while often times neglecting everything else!

It’s such a pity as there are tons of other beautiful attractions out there.

The African Elephant

In my opinion one of the most beautiful animals on Earth! It is heavy (up to 6000 kg), yet both elegant and quick at the same time (> 40 km/h at full charge; trust me this is quick enough to outrun most people – unless you’re Usain Bolt).

African elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures and have amazing memory capabilities. They are unmistakable with their imposing long nose (trunk), their precious “jewels” (tusks), and enlarged ears.

Did you notice they had ears of the shape of the African continent?!

Pretty cool, huh? 😉

The African Buffalo

The most dangerous of them all, and extremely feared by hunters! Buffaloes are usually easily approachable when in large herds, but lone bulls can be quite tricky to handle!

The African buffalo can weigh up to 600 kg, and is one of Simba’s favourite steaks! 🙂

The Rhinoceros

There are two types of rhinos in Africa: the Black Rhino with its distinctive prehensile lip (which makes it a browser), and the White Rhino (not white at all), a typical grazer.

Rhinos are also heavy creatures, weighing between 1000 kg (for the Black species) and up to 2000 kg (White Rhino). As with elephants, rhinos are unfortunately widely poached for their horn.

Horns are taken away as trophies – to make knife handles for instance – or are sometimes used in powders, as an “aphrodisiac”. Many Chinese people believe rhino horn has various medicinal purposes, though this is highly questionable.

The Lion

Africa’s “King of The Jungle”! An animal of rare beauty, undoubtedly the most famous out of them all!

It is a skillful hunter with incredible power and speed. Its eyesight is like no other, and it also has an excellent hearing and sense of smell. Male lions are very recognizable with their long and imposing mane.

Lions are highly social animals. In the lion family, male lions eat first, yet it is the females that do “most” (if not “all”) the chasing and hunting.

Once the male has satisfied its appetite, the females join the feast, whilst cubs have to content themselves with any leftover.

The Leopard

My personal favourite.

Did you know that not a single leopard spot is exactly the same?

In fact, many biologists use spot patterns on their face and neck to identify them from one another! To be honest I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference… well, perhaps I’d need a LOT of practice! 😉

While on a safari it is always my top animal on the checklist! It has all the characteristics I love: it is graceful, it is an expert climber and has extraordinary hunting capabilities.

It is also very solitary and shy, which makes it even more rewarding when “spotted”.

An absolute treat for the eyes! 😉

Big 5 Video

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