There are only 11 countries in the world that have the Big 5. These countries are found in Africa

The Big Five is the best attraction for many people planning to visit Africa.

These fantastic game animals are the hallmark of many safari goers.

These big games of Africa seem to take all the glory.

Whether for game-drives safari or walking safari in any part of Africa.

So the question is: What are the big five?  And what is so special about the Big 5?

The big five refers to only five African game animals. African Lion, African Elephant, African Leopard, African Cape Buffalo, and Black Rhino.

Does the list seem so biased? You might ask some questions about why Hippotamus. Nile Crocodiles, Girrafes and so many other animals are not on the list.

In this article, we will discuss the history of the Big Five (5).

Best places to see the Big 5  in Africa, the best time to see the Big Five, and interesting facts about the “Big Five”.

The Big 5: What does it mean?

The origin of this term is dated back to 19 to early 20’s century.

The term Big Five was coined by trophy hunters who hunted the game on African plains.

The group of these hunters was known as Great White Hunters. Hunting was considered a pride during that time.

The idea of sustainable conservation wasn’t a priority during that time.

Hunters were proud of the many trophies they collect.

Hunting for these larger African game demand sharp skills and professionalism.

The pressure and competition to kill as many animals as possible became the priority.

The Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, and Rhino.

Were given the name “Big Five” this is because of the difficult challenge to hunt them on foot.

Over time hunting for these animals became a sign of respect from communities.

Later on, turn to be the arena for wealthy and royal families’ best activities in African reserves.

The popularity of the “Big Five” went across the world.

And become common knowledge that the Big 5 were the most dangerous and difficult to hunt down. Compare to other animals on Earth.

The tragic event of hunting these African giants wipe out almost  80% of the world’s population.

As for now in many places in Africa, the term “Big Five” remain for sightseeing activities only.

Hunting with a gun is prohibited. Visitors to African parks are only allowed to shoot through their camera lens instead of a gun.

What are the animals that make the Big Five?

1. African elephant (Loxodonta africana)

From the Genus Loxodonta family, the African Elephant includes two extant species.

Which are the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant.

The latter is the smaller of the two. Whilst the former is classified as the largest living terrestrial animal.  and neither should be confused with the Asian elephant.

Which has several distinct physical differences.

Elephants are currently living in Eastern. Southern, Western, and Central Africa.

And they are perhaps the most gentle of the Big Five, and an absolute joy to watch for safari goers of every age.

Characteristics  of African Elephants

Male African elephants are the world’s largest terrestrial animals. Reaching heights of four meters / 13 feet and weighing up to 7 000kg / 15 000lb.

Their incisors grow into tusks, which they use to move objects. dig and as weapons, while their large ears help control their body temperature.

Related females live in family groups with their calves.

While mature males live alone or in bachelor herds. Elephants are gregarious with many family groups socializing together.

Where are the best places to see  African Elephants in Tanzania

2. Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

The Cape Buffalo is a subspecies of the African bovine. And its exact ancestry remains unknown.

It can be recognized by its horns. And is often considered to be a very dangerous animal amongst the Big Five.

Some reports reveal that the Cape Buffalo kill more humans each year than they do any other animal.

They can ambush, charge and gore using their horns.

But, human deaths have almost always been hunters so as far as we understand.

They attack when provoked or when they feel under threat.

They need a constant water source and prefer large open spaces.

Making their movements more predictable than the other animals of the Big Five.

So you will spot the buffalo at watering holes or grazing nearby.

Characteristics of African Cape Buffalos

The African or Cape buffalo is a large, horned bovine found in South and East Africa.

Both males and females have horns that form a continuous bone shield across the top of their skulls.

Buffalo is very unpredictable and quite fearless. Which explains why buffalo have never been domesticated.

They are not the ancestors of domestic cattle. And are only related to other bovines. like the Asian water buffalo.

Only lions have the group strength to hunt buffalos and these bovines are no easy meal.

They are quite capable of defending themselves. And will gore predators to protect their herd mates.

A herd of buffalo can intimidate a pride of lions and even fight back against any pride of lions.

Where are the best places to see  African Cape Buffalos?

3. African Lion (Panthera leo)

The African lion is one of the big cats from the Genus Panthera.

The African lion includes some subspecies across Africa. Currently, there are 12 known subspecies in Africa.

Lion is the second largest living cat after the tiger.

The population is decreasing and the African lion has been classified as vulnerable.

Lions provide fantastic viewing on safari. And if you’re lucky, you might catch them hunting in the early morning.

Characteristics of African Lions

About 1000 years ago, lions were among the most widespread large land mammals after humans.

Today, they are a vulnerable species with most of the world’s wild lions living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lions are unusually social compared to other cats. A pride consists of related females, their cubs, and a handful of adult males.

Pride spends their days dozing in comfort and hunting in the dark hours between dusk and dawn.

Females typically hunt together and are considered apex predators.

What are the best places to see lions in Africa?

  • Serengeti in Tanzania
  • Maasai Mara in Kenya
  • Okavango Delta  in Botswana
  • Kruger National park in South Africa
  • Queen Elizabeth national park in Uganda
  • Ngorongoro  Crater in Tanzania

Read more about the best places to see lions in Africa 

4. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopard is one of the most exciting animals to see on safari. And it’s recognized for its patterned coat.

There are many variations in coat color, ranging from pale yellow to deep gold. or sometimes even very dark to almost black.

The coat is marked with black spots because the leopard hunts at night or very early in the morning.

They are not easy to spot on safari. Leopards, unlike cheetahs, also like to drag their prey up into the trees. so they can sometimes be hidden out of sight.

Characteristics of African Leopard

Leopards are smaller and lighter than jaguars with similar rosettes on their fur. And, like jaguars, melanistic leopards are called black panthers.

Leopards are solitary creatures that make excellent use of camouflage.

Leopards are strong enough to drag their prey up into trees. away from rival predators and scavengers.

Leopards are one of the fastest big cats, able to reach speeds up to 58km / 36 mi per hour.

Leopards are masters of camouflage, shy and nocturnal, which is why they are so hard to find and observe in the wild.

What are the best places to see leopards in East Africa?

  • Serengeti national park in Tanzania
  • Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya
  • Tarangire national park in Tanzania

Read more about the Difference between Lions and Tigers 

5. Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis and Ceratotherium simum)

The current status of the rhino is classified as extinct.

This means that they are very close to extinction.

And are under serious threat from illegal hunters and poachers.

Currently, there are only two Northern White Rhinos left in the world.

They are constantly guarded at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.  Armed guards patrol the area to deter illegal hunters.

Sadly the final two Northern Whites named Najin and Fatu are both females.

And following the death of Sudan the last male Northern White Rhino. Will fall into extinction.

Whilst the Southern White rhino remains one of the most abundant subspecies.

Black Rhinos are also endangered from poaching. So Rhino sightings on safari are extremely wonderful.

Characteristic of Rhino’s

Rhinos range in color from pale grey to medium brown.

It’s not their color but the shape of their upper lip that determines which sub-species are which. ‘Black’ rhinos have hooked, pointed upper lips while ‘white’ rhinos have broad, square upper lips.

The species is classified as critically endangered. Rhinos are killed to supply the demand for their horns in Asia.

A Rhino horn is made of keratin. The same substance as our hair and nails which means they will re-grow if cut.

But, the illegal trade values the base of the horn under the skin.

What are the Best places to see Rhino in Africa?

  • Serengeti national park in Tanzania
  • Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya
  • Sabi Sand in South Africa
  • Moremi in Botswana

When is the Best Time to See the Big 5 in Africa?

The dry season is the best time to see  Big Five in Africa.

This time is best known as the peak season for safari which runs from July to October.

And December throughout February. Many parts of Africa experience cool and dry winters.

Spotting the big five during this time becomes so easy compared with the rainy season.  These factors can be as follows:

The lack of rain means the vegetation dries up and thins out.

Making it easier to see a rhino or buffalo compared to the long, dense grass and heavy foliage of summer.

This particularly applies to leopards, which spend much of their time in trees in winter.

They will have fewer leaves, making these sleek felines easier to spot.

The lack of rain also means that ponds, streams, puddles, and smaller water dry up.

This forced animals to gather around the remaining large lakes and rivers.

Most animals must drink every day so they don’t stray too far from the little water that is left.

This is particularly true of herds of buffalo and elephants. Which often migrate to life-giving rivers like Tarangire in Tanzania.

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