When planning your African safari, you’re naturally going to expect to see a plethora of wildlife. Africa is home to many exotic wild animals that contribute to the country’s appeal. There aren’t many people who won’t jump at the opportunity to see wildlife in its natural habitat. In Africa, there is a term for a certain group of animals that you will undoubtedly hear about along your safari. Many people do not feel like their safari trip is complete without getting a glimpse of Africa’s “Big Five.”
So what is the “Big Five” then? The term refers to Africa’s most popular wildlife that are considered the most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt on foot. And since they’re the most dangerous and difficult to hunt, they are also the most expensive and are considered luxury trophy-animals. Though this context remains somewhat true to this day, the primary meaning of Africa’s Big Five has since shifted to instead referring to the most popular safari sightings. Chances are, you’ll encounter at least one of the animals among this group as a part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the wild.
Let’s take a look at Africa’s big five safari animals one at a time.
The cape buffalo is a massive horned mammal possessing four times the strength of an ox and quite a moody temperament. Cape buffaloes generally live 18-20 years and are prevalent in South Africa. Their size is no joke; cape buffaloes can grow up to 11 feet in length and weigh almost 2,000 pounds. They typically munch on grass and though they have poor eyesight, their sense of smell is among the elite and can help them detect food or predators nearby. Interestingly, cape buffaloes are not restricted by land, as they are also good swimmers. So what makes the cape buffalo so dangerous? In addition to its size and ability to charge without warning, cape buffaloes are known to kill more game hunters than any other species. And if you anger a cape buffalo, watch out – this animal can alert its entire herd when it feels threatened and come together to form a mob and intimidate the predator.
If you’re a fan of felines, then you shouldn’t leave Africa without observing the leopard. Leopards are carnivorous mammals found all over Africa, but are unfortunately endangered due to trophy hunter activity. They are quick on foot, but leopards are also comfortable in trees and in water and will drag their prey into the trees after a hunt. They are so comfortable in the air, in fact, they’ll even hunt in trees if they to remain camouflaged and keep their prey away from other predators like hyenas. Leopards at nocturnal and hunt at night for antelope, deer, and pigs while keeping themselves unseen through tall grass. Though they are feline, they definitely don’t resemble cute kitties; leopards can stretch up to six feet long and weigh up to a massive 176 pounds. Most people picture the typical yellow coat with black spots when hearing “leopard,” but some leopards actually have a black coat with black spots, making them appear as one solid color and often being mistaken for black panthers. As beautiful as they are, leopards will often attack dogs or people if given the chance. The leopard is one of the most exciting to spot (get it?) of Africa’s Big Five animals.
When talking about size, nothing can compare to the well known African elephant – the largest land mammal on Earth. These elephants can grow up to 14 feet tall and weigh up to a whopping 14,000 pounds. Found mainly in the grasslands and forests of Africa, elephants have deeply wrinkled skin with sparse hair and possess long, curved tusks. Typically, females will band together and males will leave the herd to find other males, only separating to look for a mate. Elephants have an extension and unique communication system, speaking to one another through low frequency sounds that allow them to judge the distance of their companion or flapping their giant ears to show happiness. Just like humans, elephants have compassionate feelings and grieve their dead. Due to loss of habitat and uncontrolled poaching, elephants are an endangered species and are the focus of several protection programs aiming to save their population.
The second largest land mammal on Earth after the African elephant is the rhinoceros. Africa is home to both black and white rhinos and are recognizable based on their dinosaur-like appearance with horns on their forehead. They are bold and have no issues with grazing right next to other perceived predators, as they are able to defend themselves with their size and charging abilities. Black rhinos can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, but white rhinos can weigh 4,000 pounds or more. Rhinos typically spend the day in the shade or in mud wallows to stay cool from the sun and sleeping very deeply either standing up or laying down. Unfortunately, rhinos are a severely endangered species due to poachers and is constantly sought for its horns, which are believed to contain keratin and have medicinal properties. There are several conservation programs and efforts to fend off poachers to save the rhino population in both Africa and Asia.
Africa’s Big Five wouldn’t be complete without the lion, one of the most popular animals everyone wants to see on a safari. Known as the “king of the jungle,” lions are the most sociable feline on the African continent. Though they are not quite endangered, they are getting quite close due to their worth as a trophy animal. Male lions can grow up to 10 feet long and can weigh up to 550 pounds, with females being only slightly smaller at nine feet long and weighing up to nearly 400 pounds. For food, lions typically feed on zebras or wildebeests and will steal prey from other animals if possible. However, this works in reverse as well – some other predators will attempt to steal prey from lions if given the chance. Female lions roam in groups called “prides,” and males are typically driven from their prides when old enough to find a new one and serve as the pride defender and hunter. In the wild, lions can live up to 16 years and typically have one to four cubs every couple of years. Out of all the animals part of the “Big Five,” the lion is usually the most well-known representation of African wildlife.
Do you absolutely have to see Africa’s “Big Five” while on your safari? Not necessarily, but you’d be missing out big time if you passed on the opportunity to observe these extraordinary animals. This is especially true since many of them are on the endangered species list and are being defended by poachers and anti-poaching policies to keep them safe. It takes razor-sharp eyesight to be able to point out these animals who have mastered camouflaging themselves in the grasses and trees. When you travel with East Africa Wild, we ensure that all our guides our professionally trained an have years of experience spotting these magnificent animals in the bush. These animals are available to see during most safaris, so if you want to get incredible photos and ensure that you get to see these incredible animals in their natural habitat while you can, make sure to plan for “Big Five” sightings on your trip!
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