Africa’s safari big five: Who are they?

Three words you will undoubtedly come across when planning your safari adventure through Africa: The big five. Three words that belong to Africa as much as Kilimanjaro and big skies. But who or what are the big five?

Tour operators have borrowed the term from the game hunting industry and adapted it for their own marketing efforts. Originally the term Big Five meant the five animals that gave their hunters most difficulty because of their unpredictable behaviour. The marketing of the Big Five paid off as it generated an ambition for hunters to cross those animals off their bucket list.

Hunting is falling out of favour, and rightly so. We love our animals and hunting for sport is not part of the Viva Africa Tours way. But the name has stuck so let’s explore it.

So, who are The Big Five?

1. The African Elephant

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The mighty African elephant is the largest of the Big Five and also the largest land animal in the world. Elephants are chilled and calm, as long as you leave them alone. If threatened, an elephant is a terrifying sight; flapping its ears, trumpeting and sprinting its 12,000 lbs of weight towards you. Can you outrun an elephant? Not many people have. It’s best not to annoy them.

Fascinating facts about the African elephant:

  • An adult elephant eats up to 375 lbs of plant material a day. No animal in Africa does more damage to vegetation – but it’s big so it has to eat lots.
  • Baby elephants are breastfed up to the age of four or five years. This is also the time when their tusks start to grow.
  • At aged ten to twelve, a young elephant will leave its family.
  • Elephants are very communicative and sociable. They use a wide range of sounds to communicate with each other, sounds which can be heard up to six miles away
  • Elephants live in herds of up to 100.

2. The Cape Buffalo

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The name Cape Buffalo covers four species of the African Buffalo. It’s one of Africa’s most dangerous animals as it has killed more hunters than any other animal. Even a lion would not dare to attack a Cape Buffalo without the help of his buddies. We love Cape Buffalo – sometimes it’s a nice change when the vegetarian wins!

Fascinating facts about the Cape Buffalo:

  • Cape Buffalos live in large herds – up to 1,000 animals.
  • Cape Buffalos can’t go without a daily drink – water, we mean! So you will find them near water holes, lakes and rivers.
  • Cape Buffalos protect their calves by placing them in the middle of the herd so that they are protected by all the adults.
  • The Ox-Pecker is a bird who is the Cape Buffalo’s personal cleaner. The Ox-Pecker will sit on the Cape Buffalo’s back, gobbling up all the parasites and making the buffalo much more comfortable, while the Ox-Pecker gets a free meal. It’s a symbiotic relationship where everybody wins – except the parasites.
  • Cape Buffalos are killed for their meat. They are not in danger as it’s estimated that there are one million Cape Buffalo in Africa.

3. The African Leopard

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The leopard is common in many of the African national parks, but it’s a master of disguise. It’s very hard to spot. You might be lucky and see one hiding in a tree, tail flicking, observing his surroundings calmly.

Fascinating facts about the African leopard:

  • Its fur gives it perfect camouflage.
  • Leopards are roaming loners: they’re solitary and won’t stay in one place for more than a few days.
  • Leopards will pull their kill into trees so that lions and hyenas can’t get their claws on it.
  • Leopards are all-round sportscats: they are excellent swimmers and great at the high jump – they can jump up to ten feet or three metres high.

4. The African Lion

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For thousands of years we’ve been fascinated by this beautiful, elegant and robust member of the cat family. Lions are impressive and excellent hunters, although you will more likely find them resting in the shade.

Fascinating facts about the African lion:

  • Lions live in groups called prides.
  • A lion can sleep for up to 20 hours a day
  • Female lions support each other in rearing the cubs
  • Female lions hunt more often than male lions
  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles (8 km) away

5. The African Rhino

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There are two types of rhino in Africa: the black and the white rhino. The black rhino is highly endangered and threatened by poachers. Their population is currently estimated to be only 4,000 animals throughout Africa. There are larger numbers of the white rhino – about 17,000 animals – although most of these are in South Africa.

Fascinating facts about the African rhino:

  • An adult white rhino is big, weighing in at an impressive 6000 lbs.
  • Rhinos are short-sighted and short-tempered, so try not to annoy one.
  • A rhino’s gestation period is between 15 to 16 months.
  • A rhino horn weighs up to 6 to 8 lbs.
  • Although bulky looking, the rhinoceros is nippy. It can sprint up to 35 mph.

You want to be close to the Big Five in the wilderness? Viva Africa Tours will take you on an unforgettable safari through Tanzania’s most impressive national parks. We dare you to take a look at our wildlife safaris. Call us if you’d like our help to plan your next vacation.

Viva Africa Tours

With Viva Africa Tours you can choose to tour in small groups or independent private travel. We’re based in Moshi on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, we’re a perfect centre for a tour of Kilimanjaro; but that’s only one adventure of many.

Jacis Lodges
Climbing Mount Nyiragongo
Africa Geographic