The Big 5 refers to five large mammals found in Africa which are the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and cape buffalo. So why not a hippo, or a giraffe – they are quite big, aren’t they? The hippo certainly is. The reason for the Big 5 name is that these five animals were the hardest to shoot by big-game hunters as they are particularly ferocious when cornered and injured. Tour operators and guides have picked up the phrase and used it as a marketing term and it very cleverly has stuck.
ost people who request to see the Big 5 are unaware of the origin of this terminology, if they did, I wonder whether it would be used as much. It is a bit of a shame as sometimes visitors are obsessed in seeing the Big 5 and forget to pay attention to all the other amazing sights and sounds that Africa has to offer. So please give some time to giraffe, zebra and impala as well as all the birds and the smaller animals.
Where to see: the Big 5 can be seen in many reserves in Africa but it is worth doing your research to make sure that you are visiting the right places. Swaziland is a great place to see rhino, in fact if you don’t see rhinos in either Hlane or Mkhaya, you probably will have had your eyes closed. Chobe in Botswana is a great place to see elephants, there are around 100,000 there, and migrating herds of buffalo can often be seen in Moremi along with leopard as well. And Savuti, also in Botswana, is very good for large prides of lion.
The Little 5
The Little 5 are not necessarily rare, the list was created by guides and conservationists who wanted people to look at the smaller and more elusive species in the African wilderness. The names for the Little 5 is a contradiction in sheer size to the Big 5 animals. They are: the ant lion which is often found in sandy areas and is the size of an ant; the leopard tortoise; the elephant shrew (which is an insect eating mammal with a long nose); the rhino beetle and buffalo weaver. The buffalo weaver is a common bird which is often seen in acacia trees and the rhino beetle can be found with some help from your guide. Rhino beetles are part of the largest species of beetles in the world reaching 6cm in length. They have two large horns on their bodies which the males use in fighting.
Where to see: With a bit of help from a knowledgeable guide you could probably see these animals in Southern Africa.
The Big 7
The Big 7 is another marketing ploy by the tourism industry by adding another two enormous animals, the great white shark and the southern right whale. Both are pretty spectacular to see and worth a trip to the coast.
Where to see: South Africa has an incredible diversity of wildlife as it is possible to see all of the Big 7 here. The great white shark can be found off South Africa’s coastline all year round whereas the southern right whale is seasonal and comes to the warmer waters to breed from June to October.
The Ugly 5
I think it’s a real shame that the Ugly 5 have been given this grouping, not something to be proud of really. However they are the underdogs on the African plains and they have just as an important role as any of the other African animals. The members of this most exclusive of clubs are: hyena, wildebeest, vulture, warthog and the marabou stork. There are often numerous documentaries about the antics, the migration and the unusual habits of these species so these animals are certainly worth a tick in the book. They add to your African experience and are wonderful to see! How can you call a comically cute hyena ugly?
Where to see: These mammals are relatively common throughout southern and eastern Africa although most people will know that one of the best places to see wildebeest is in the Serengeti during the migration. Hyena can be often seen in Botswana around the Delta and in the Linyati area where they are attracted to carcasses along with their friends the vulture and the marabou stork.
The Shy 5
The Shy 5 are a completely different set of animals highlighting those more elusive and lesser-known species which include the largest rodent in Africa. They are: the meerkat, the aardvark, the porcupine, the aardwolf and the bat-eared fox. All are nocturnal animals, except for the meerkat, which makes seeing these animals even more difficult to spot yet rewarding when you actually do see them. These sightings are certainly ones that will stick in your mind and getting a great photo of them also proves to be an enormous challenge!
Where to see: They are more easily found in sub-Saharan Africa in sandier areas such as the Kalahari. There are a couple of places which are renowned for these species and these include Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and Samara Game Reserve. Consider yourself lucky if you see all of these.
The Impossible 5
These are certainly very rare and pretty tricky to see, I’ve only seen two of these. They are: aardvark, Cape mountain leopard, pangolin, riverine rabbit and white lion (in the wild). I say ‘white lion in the wild’ because there are a number of white lions in captivity and what is the challenge of seeing lions in an enclosure, frankly this is cheating! As well as being a member of the Impossible 5, the aardvark is also a member of the Shy 5 so consider yourself lucky if you get to see this wonderful animal.
Where to see: well the term is impossible!
How many of these animals have you seen? Out of 26?