Africa's Big Five

By Wies 04 November 2015

The ‘Big Five’ is a term that was coined by the early big game hunters in Africa. It refers to the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Although it is a term that originates from the hunting industry, nowadays it is also widely used by tour companies and safari guides for photographic safaris. The animals that make up the Big Five are the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros.

1. Lion (Panthera leo)

The lion is arguably the most iconic of the big cats and is without a doubt the number one predator on the continent. Lions are most often found in territorial prides consisting of either a single dominant male or a coalition (often two brothers) and a host of females with their cubs. On average, a pride contains 13 members, but it can grow to as many as 40 individuals! Young males are forced out of the pride by the dominant male or coalition when they reach 2–3 years of age and they wander as nomads until they are big and strong enough to challenge a ruling male.

Our favourite destination for spotting lion is in Kenya's Maasai Mara, staying at Kicheche Bush Camp.

2. African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The African elephant is the largest land-dwelling mammal. The African elephant can weigh up to eight tons, the equivalent of about seven Mini Coopers! Although once numbering in their hundreds of thousands, elephant populations have been put under severe pressure over the last three decades due to poaching. Their ivory tusks are seen as a valuable commodity on the South-East Asian market and as a result these majestic animals are at the forefront of a continual and widespread conservation effort.

Our favourite destination for seeing elephant is in Botswana's Chobe National Park, staying at Chobe Game Lodge.

3. Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

The Cape buffalo is the most widespread and abundant of the Big Five. Mostly found in often huge herds of up to a thousand individuals including bulls, cows and calves, the Cape buffalo generally seeks safety in numbers, even keeping the herd closely together in the event of an attack from their main predatory threat, lions. However, older bulls are often solitary or found in pairs and threes because they are no longer strong or aggressive enough to compete with the younger bulls in the herd over breeding rights. These solitary bulls are known as Daga Boys and are generally agitated and bad-tempered.

Our favourite destination for encountering Cape buffalo is in Tanzania's Ruaha National Park, staying at Mwagusi Camp.

4. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

The leopard is the most elusive and mysterious of the Big Five, so a leopard sighting is the highlight of any safari! Both male and female leopards are solitary, except for when they mate. This can happen up to every three months when a female comes into heat, but once the coupling is over the male returns to his territory and isolation. Leopards rely on closely stalking their prey, which often ends in an ambush, differing from the hunting method of lions, who rely on a burst of energy and speed. Also, because they are solitary leopards more often than not drag a kill into a tree. There they can eat it and leave it for a number of days, undisturbed by irksome hyenas and even other predators, such as lions.

Our favourite destination for spotting leopard is in Zambia's South Luangwa, staying at Tena Tena

5. Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)

The black rhino was once a widespread species spanning vast areas, from Southern Africa to East Africa. Unfortunately, similarly to the plight of the African Elephant, poaching has played a significant role in the decimation of entire populations spanning vast wildlife sanctuaries, and with the demand for rhino horn in South-East Asia as strong as ever the black rhino remains under constant threat.

Our favourite destination for seeing rhino is South Africa's Sabi Sand Game Reserve, staying aLondolozi Varty

If you are interesting in a safari that focuses on Africa's Big Five wildlife and would like more information, feel free to call us on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected]