You may hear of the Big Five before going on a wildlife Safari, from an old book, or from a nature documentary. Today, they are five of the animals which people most want to see while on Safari. One hundred years ago, amid pith helmets, mosquito boots, and ‘darkest Africa’, the Big Five were the most sought after animals to hunt. They were the fiercest, the most dangerous animals ; the animals that would hunt the hunter.
Most people who go on a safari want to see the Big 5 – but which animals make this up?
They are the Lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, Leopard, and Rhinoceros.
Explorers of East and Southern Africa went home with stories of lions and leopards in the tall African grass, of rhinos that would charge at the mere smell of a person, of the cape buffalo hidden in the bushes, and of the terrors of an enraged elephant.
“Big 5” is a phrase that was coined by white hunters back in the day, referring to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and the degree of danger involved. The term is still used today by the tourists and the wildlife guides throughout the world. Nowadays most people simply want to get close enough to the Big 5 to be able to photograph them
Members of the Big 5 are as follows:
Lion: Lions really are the kings of the savannah and are at the top of the food chain. As such they need no introduction. Lions are widespread throughout southern and eastern Africa and you’ll have a good chance of seeing them in most safari locations and is by far the most sought out animal on an African Safari. The great thing about lions is that if you find one, you’ll probably see several as they are rarely alone. Your best chance of some action is during the very early morning or late evening when they hunt. During the day, lions can be found lounging in the shade or sleeping under a tree
Black Rhino: Now critically endangered, the black rhino is not actually black, but more off-white. Despite its huge bulk and dangerous reputation, rhinos are herbivores who would much rather graze on some grass than attack a person. There are few rhinos left in the wild due to a large increase in poachers hunting them for their horns.
Cape Buffalo: The African buffalo is a long-horned bovine, widespread throughout safari destinations. Buffalo may not seem like the most exciting animal to come across, but they are regarded as the most dangerous of the Big 5, having caused the most hunter casualties. These extremely powerful animals can charge and knock out or gore their prey with their massive horns. The horns are fused on top of the head in a bone shield called a “boss” which has been known to stop rifle bullets! You’ll mainly observe the buffalo grazing, but keep your distance so you don’t experience “the boss” firsthand!!
Leopard: These felines are nocturnal and secretive, making them probably the most difficult member of the Big 5 to actually spot. This predator tries to get within 5 yards of its prey before pouncing, and that same stealth keeps it hidden from your untrained eye. You might spot one lounging in a tree at sunset, having just eaten its dinner, or relaxing in the shade. They are solitary hunters, unlike the lion, so spotting just one is quite an event.
African Elephant: Your first reaction will be awe and amazement at the beautiful, enormous and seemingly gentle animals. Elephants, as most people know, are large, thick skinned herbivores with long trunks and tusks. You can see them from miles away and each moment that you come across them, you must stop in your tracks to take in their majesty just one last time. Elephants are constantly moving, digging, spraying, growling, drinking and eating. Despite being widespread, elephants face a growing threat from poachers, who hunt them for their ivory.
If you want to see the Big 5 all in one place, a few of the best places to do so are the following: Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
So there you have it. The African Big 5- the top of everyone’s African Safari checklist!