The big five animals of Africa are African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, Lion, and Rhinoceros
These five types of animals were named ‘the big five’ by big game hunters from African’s colonial era, as they were considered the most difficult and dangerous African beasts to hunt on foot. These days, of course, any shooting of Africa’s big five tends to be more about choosing the right lens (photo safari anyone?)!
Read on below for a more in-depth look at each of the big 5 animals:
1. African Elephant
Their distinguishing features include the dexterous trunk, large ears that cool the body when flapped, and elongated incisors in the form of tusks. There are actually two species of African elephant – the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. Both are herbivores that live in large groups, whilst the African bush elephant is the larger of the two species, and typically the species referred to as a member of the big five animals.
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 the 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.
Group name: Herd
Size: Up to 3.3 meters tall, weighing 6,000kg.
Speed: Up to 40 km per hour.
Diet: Elephants are vegetarians, eating up to 160kg per day, made up of savannah grasses, bushes, small plants, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots. Read more about what elephants eat.
Range & Habitat: African Elephants are found across sub-Saharan Africa – from Mali in the north, through the central and west African forests, down to South Africa. They are adaptable animals, capable of surviving in many habitats, from lush wetlands to arid African deserts. Despite this, both species of African elephants are considered endangered species, and on the list of Africa’s most endangered animals.
Best places to see African elephants: Addo Elephant Park, South Africa, Chobe National Park, Botswana, Etosha National Park, Namibia, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
Best places to see all of the big five animals
Whilst we’ve highlighted national parks above to see each of the members of the big five animals, the ultimate thrill is to see all five animals on one safari. It’s not easy – not least because even if all five animals are present in an area they can still be very difficult to see! However, it is possible, as there are a number of hotspots in southern and east Africa that are rich in variety and can support an extremely dense wildlife population. Our top picks to see all of the big five together are:
5 great quotes about each of the big five animals
“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.”
“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.”
“If anyone wants to know what elephants are like, they are like people only more so.”
“He who mounts a wild elephant goes where the elephant goes.”
“Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself.”
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
“Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
“Lions make leopards tame.”
“In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight.”
Solomon Lina, “Mbube”
“At the top of the mountain we are all snow leopards.“
Hunter S. Thompson
“The leopard does not change his spots.”
King James Bible
“This world without a leopard…I mean, who would want to be here?!“
“Leopard is an animal design, and my designs come from nature.“
“A leopard feels at home with leopard.“
Cows run away from the storm while the buffalo charges toward it – and gets through it quicker. Whenever I’m confronted with a tough challenge, I do not prolong the torment, I become the buffalo.
The buffalo is a surprisingly stupid animal.
So is the savage buffalo, especially delighting in dark places, where he can wallow in the mud and slake his thirst without much trouble
John Hanning Speke
At the rate science proceeds, rockets and missiles will one day seem like buffalo – slow, endangered grazers in the black pasture of outer space.
The coat of the buffalo never pinches under the arm, never puckers at the shoulders; it is always the same, yet never old fashioned nor out of date.
A charging black rhinoceros is nothing to mess with. When it is headed straight toward you, it is the ultimate exercise in sphincter control.
It is one thing to be amazed at gorgon or a griffin, creatures which do not exist; but it is quite another and much higher thing to be amazed at a rhinoceros or a giraffe, creatures which do exist and look as if they don’t.
The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants.
The rhinoceros stood about five hundred yards away, not a twentieth-century animal at all, but an odd, grim straggler from the Stone Age.
A rhinoceros is as ugly as a human being, and it too is going to die, but at least it never thinks that it is beautiful.
Peter S. Beagle
Other wildlife ‘fives’
Have you seen the big five animals and are are looking for a new wildlife challenge – other animals to hunt for your photo safari? For safari aficionados up for ticking all the ‘I’ve seen’ boxes, have you heard about the other groups of 5 animals?