The ‘Big Five’ animals of Africa are:

    • Cape Buffalo
    • Elephant
    • Leopard
    • Lion
    • Rhino (both black and white varieties)

These five types of animals were as named the Big Five by hunters from colonial days as they were considered the most difficult and dangerous African beasts to kill whilst hunting on foot. These days, of course, any shooting of the Big Five tends to be more about choosing the right lens! Read on below for a more in-depth look at each of the big 5 animals:

Big Five: Buffalo

African Buffalo

Weighing in at not too far short of a ton, the African buffalo has a reputation for being bad-tempered and dangerous. Whilst solitary buffaloes can be unpredictable, they are usually a docile beast when in a herd… aside from their tendency to stampede en masse when alarmed.

Herds have clearly defined home ranges, the size of which is determined by the amount of food and water available.

Big Five: Elephant

African ElephantThe African elephant is the largest land mammal in the world, weighing up to 6 tonnes. The distinguishing features include the dexterous trunk, large ears that cool the body when flapped, and elongated incisors in the form of tusks.

A bull elephant can be dangerous, as can herds or mothers with young elephants. Keep your distance from them, and if in a vehicle ensure that you have a means to drive away forwards – elephants can run faster than a car can reverse. An elephant flapping its ears, kicking up dust and/or trumpeting is probably about to charge.

Big Five: Leopard

African LeopardSlightly smaller than their lion cousins, leopards are less rare than you might think, but rely on camouflage and being active at night to stay hidden. Leopards are solitary, independent creatures, and rarely seen together except during mating, or a mother with cubs. As such they are totally self-reliant, and expert hunters – sometimes killing prey up to twice their size. During the daytime they often lounge around in trees and come to the ground after dark to hunt, taking their prey up into a tree to eat at their leisure.

Big Five: Lion

African LionLions are the largest and most sociable of Africa’s cats. At up to 225kg, the lion really is the king of the savanna (not jungle!). Living in prides of up to 40 lions, it’s the lionesses who do all the hunting, usually sharing with the males of a pride. Lions are very territorial, and the females generally spend most of their lives within their home ranges.

If you encounter a lion on foot don’t turn and run (easier said than done), as a running target that looks like prey will probably be viewed as such. Instead, try to make yourself look big, and back away gradually.

Big Five: Rhinoceros

African RhinoOnce widespread through sub-Saharan Africa, the rhino has been hunted to the brink of extinction, and is probably the hardest of the big five to spot in the wild. Whilst white rhinos have made a comeback through conservation efforts across the continent, black rhinos are still very much on the endangered list. The fundamental differences between the white and black rhino are size, temperament, food preference and mouth shape.

Rhinos tend to be wary of humans, but occasionally charge vehicles that get too close. If you’re on foot, then their bad eyesight should work in your favour – if they do charge you the apparent life-saving technique involves letting them get as close as possible, then stepping aside at the last second.

Have you seen the big five and are now looking for the next wildlife challenge?  For safari aficionados up for ticking all the ‘I’ve seen’ boxes, have you heard about the ‘little five’ African animals, the ‘ugly five’ African animals, or the ‘shy five’ African animals?

9 replies
  1. Martin Lipenga
    Martin Lipenga says:

    I like the big five very much, but alittle bit surprised. The hippo i big than lion and leopard why is it not on the list. We heard that hippos are one of the animals which kills more people than elephants and rihnos

  2. Tsholofelo Seatlholo
    Tsholofelo Seatlholo says:

    The Big five are the animals that i love so much but they left the TIGER and its deserves to be on of them… if one could make them pets i’d long had one.

  3. Eric Palm
    Eric Palm says:

    In my opinion the “Big Five” and all other wild animals wherever they are in the world should not be hunted down by big game hunters or poachers and the cowards who carry out these atrocities should themselves be hunted down and prosecuted to the fullest by the governments of those countries in which those activities occur.


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