The formidable Big Five of Africa are a bucket list must for any traveler. These are the safari heavyweights, and are so highly-sought after that they even grace the banknotes of the South African currency.
The term, Big Five, originated centuries back and was coined by big game hunters who saw these five large African mammals as being the most dangerous to hunt, and therefore the most prized. Their reputations as crafty animals, with strong survival instincts made them lethal adversaries to hunters, difficult to track, and very dangerous when confronted. They are the rhinoceros, African elephant, lion, buffalo, and leopard.
Today, the name takes on a gentler form, and these majestic animals are protected, revered, and considered to be icons in Africa. Sightings of the Big Five are unforgettable experiences for travelers to Africa who travel far and wide, armed with cameras and not guns, to capture the magnificence of their presence in the wild.
While there are no guarantees that you will see all of the Big Five animals during a safari in Africa, there are some notable destinations and private reserves that contain larger populations and offer some dramatic sighting opportunities. Some of these destinations include the world-renowned Kruger National Park in South Africa, Chobe National Park in Botswana, Kenya’s Masai Mara, and the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Talk to one of our expert LuxVenture® designers today about some of our recommended destinations that deliver the best Big Five experiences on the continent, and come face-to-face with the real icons of Africa.
The majestic African elephant is the largest terrestrial animal on the planet, and also one of the most intelligent and socially intricate. This emotionally advanced giant is characterized by its strong, prehensile trunk; thick hairless skin; curved ivory tusks; and large fan-shaped ears. Despite existing off an entirely vegetarian diet, the African elephant can grow up to 15 feet (4 m) in height, and weigh up to 15,000 pounds (6,800 kilograms), consuming up to 440 pounds or 200 kilograms of forage each day and drinking up to 190 litres of water.
These socially intelligent animals display empathy toward one another, become visibly depressed when a member of the herd dies, and can become aggressive (and potentially charge) when their youngsters are compromised. Sadly, illegal hunting, the ivory trade, and loss of habitat are jeopardising this magnificent creature’s chances of survival, but strong conservation efforts in and around Africa are underway to reduce the illegal trade of ivory, put an end to poaching, and find new protected areas and safe havens for one of Africa’s most iconic animals.
The leopard is the most stealthy, secretive, and shy member of the Big Five. Known most famously for their striking coats which are light in color with distinctive spots (or rosettes), the leopard is the third largest member of the wild cat family characterized by a muscular build, short stocky limbs, and a broad head. These experienced carnivorous hunters are solitary animals, and are only seen together during mating season.
Leopards are agile creatures and exceptional tree climbers who can drag their prey – weighing up to three times their body weight – up into trees of over 20 feet (or 6 meters). They are often seen napping in trees, and sometimes even hunt from them. Most active between sunset and sunrise, these nocturnal felines have excellent night vision and are mostly found in the savanna grasslands, brush land and forested areas in Africa.
While buffalos may seem like unassuming, placid and sedentary creatures, these giant herbivores are in fact the most dangerous members of the Big Five. Cape buffalos, or African buffalos, are moody and have unpredictable temperaments which result in them charging, goring, trampling and killing unrepentantly and for no apparent reason. They are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal, and have earned the nickname “Black Death”.
These formidable-looking animals are characterized by their imposing curved horns, which have fused bases, forming one long and strong continuous helmet across the top of the head, referred to as a “boss”. Found mostly in southern and central Africa, they spend most of the year in herds of anywhere between 50 and 500, finding even more power in numbers against predators like lions, leopards, hyenas, and African wild dogs.
The apex predator of the wild, lions are an iconic symbol of Africa. Powerful and majestic, these tawny-coated carnivores are the most social of the big cats, and are mostly found living in large groups called prides. The male lion has a larger frame than the female, and wears a magnificent mane around his neck and shoulders.
Though often described as the king of beasts, it is in fact the female lioness who does the hunting, strategically working in packs to target their prey. Prides are also run by generations of females who, again, work together to defend their territory, while males leave home when they are young to conquer new prides and fight other males to establish hierarchy. It is always a spectacular sight witnessing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat, even when they’re sleeping – a favorite pastime that sometimes lasts up to 20 hours per day.
The powerful, robust rhinoceros, characterized by two large upright horns in the middle of its face, is said to be the second largest land animal after the elephant. These short-sighted temperamental tanks can be extremely dangerous and can charge anything they deem to be a danger to them at full force, using their sharp horns as lethal weapons. There are two species of rhinoceros in Africa: the white rhinoceros, and the black rhinoceros.
The black rhino is distinguished by a prehensile or hook-lipped mouth, adapted for feeding from trees, while the white rhino has a wider, more square-lipped mouth shape for grazing. Both are extremely endangered animals, having suffered the most drastic decline of all due to their highly-sought after horns which are used in Asia medicinally, and as aphrodisiacs. Poaching remains their biggest threat, but massive conservation efforts are underway to protect this national icon.
Get in touch with one of our expert LuxVenture® designers today to start planning your Big Five safari to Africa, and one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life!