Experience the big 5 at close range
The Big 5 are, as mentioned above, the lion, leopard, the rhino, the elephant and the water buffalo. Some assert that they have got the name because they are the largest animals on the savanna, but who wouldn’t also describe, for example, the giraffe or the hippo as big animals? The term originated with the early game hunters, who regarded them as being the five animals most dangerous to hunt on foot, rather than having anything to do with the animals’ size. It has since become a familiar term, as these animals, besides being dangerous, are also very different in many ways, which means that you will travel through very varied areas while looking for them, and are thus extremely likely to spot many other animals in your search after the ‘five’.
The lion, known as the “king of the beasts” is, together with the elephant, probably the most popular animal you can see in Africa. It is Africa’s largest predator, with a shoulder height of up to 1.2 meters and an average weight of 150-220 kg. The lion is only surpassed by the tiger out of the world’s 36 species of cat. Sadly, there are only 25-30,000 left on the continent, and these numbers are dropping as a result of the destruction of their habitat and poaching. The best chances of seeing these impressive creations are in areas like the Mara/Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, but there are plenty of other areas that also offer excellent chances.
Much to many people’s surprise, the leopard is one of the most widespread animals in Africa. These stately animals can still be difficult to spot however, as they typically live in small groups and cover large territories. They are also extremely shy, well camouflaged by their habitat and are nocturnal, so you have to look very hard for them – but if you are lucky, you can catch a glimpse of these exceptional animals.
The name leopard comes from ancient Greeks, who believed that the animal was a cross between a lion, which is called ‘leo’ in Greek, and a panther, which in Greek is ‘pardos’. The leopard is recognizable by its muscular body and spotted coat. In comparison with the cheetah, which it is often confused with, it is more powerfully built, has a broader neck and shorter legs, and the leopard’s spots usually consist of dark rings that are lighter in the center, while the cheetah is extremely slim and has darker spots of solid color, and is the faster of the cats.
The rhino is a massive mammal which generally weighs between 1 and 2 tons. It has no enemies in nature apart from humans, no doubt due to its size. There are two different species of rhino in Africa; the black and the white. Despite the name, both types are grey and have the characteristic two horns on the nose, of which the front one is longer than the back. The rhino is not the easiest animal to spot, particularly in East Africa and many of the larger safari regions, despite their size. Due to poaching, the rhino is virtually extinct across large parts of Africa.
For the best chances of getting a first-hand glimpse of these impressive animals, then Kenya is one place where both black and white rhinos can still be found. In Tanzania, Nogorongoro is a good place to visit if you want to see the black rhino. There are also a number of private reserves in the southern part of Africa such as the Kruger National Park.
Elephants are normally easy to spot, primarily due to their size. They are the largest land animals and weigh around 6000 kg when fully grown. Elephants were hunted for many years by poachers, who sought them for their tusks, as ivory was (and unfortunately still is) worth a lot of money. Fortunately, most national parks and reserves are very good at observing and protecting the animals that live in the protected areas, so they have attained good populations over the years.
Elephants are unique animals that are especially known for being highly intelligent, social and playful, which makes them some of the most entertaining animals to observe. Don’t be fooled however, and remember that they can also be one of the most terrifying animals due to their size and unpredictable temperament. As with all animals, they should be treated with the deepest respect!
The water buffalo
The water buffalo is Africa’s largest bovine and can weigh up to 800 kg. It is known for its temperament, which is unpredictable and can be very aggressive at times. One should remember to keep a certain distance from these animals, although fortunately they rarely attack people, as the lone males will usually only attack wounded or abandoned animals. In herds, they are generally extremely shy.
The buffalo is the animal you are most likely to meet of “the big 5”. They need to drink water every day, so you are most likely to encounter them in the fertile areas, where you can be lucky to see herds of several hundred wandering after fresh grass.
You can experience The Big 5 in the following countries: South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. It is however a fairly rare occurrence to see the rhino in Botswana.