Experiences, Wildlife

Africa’s Animals – The Small Five of Africa

Written by Daniel Koopowitz

Ker & Downey Africa > Journal > The Small Five of Africa

Africa’s animals are arguably some of the most spectacular on the planet. Oftentimes, travelers venture from far and wide to witness and photograph the continent’s larger animals and iconic Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – named as such because they were the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.

However, there are other (often overlooked) captivating animals to look out for when on an African safari in addition to these enormous beasts. Five of which have been dubbed the Small Five or Little Five by virtue of their names and physical traits relating to the Big Five. This group of Africa’s animals are special in their own right, and tracking them will no doubt be a fun and exciting addition to your safari experience.

Read on to find out more about Africa’s animals that make up the Small Five.

Are you ready?


A close-up of an antlion – one of Africa’s animals and part of the Small Five of Africa.

About 2,000 species of antlion exist under the Myrmeleontidae family

Despite being a fraction of the size of a lion, antlions are nevertheless known for having a vicious demeanor. The smallest member of the Small Five, they are proficient predators, creating crater-shaped traps in the sand to capture their prey. They ambush their victims, who are mostly ants, after waiting at the bottom of the crater and then proceed to suck their prey dry.

Antlions may go without food for weeks at a time and have a generally long lifespan. They have hairy bodies and serrated jaws while in their larval stage. Thereafter, the insect can occasionally resemble a dragonfly and possess wings in their final stages of development. Also known as ‘doodlebugs,’ antlions spend the majority of their time underground, making them difficult to spot.

Buffalo Weaver

A red-billed buffalo weaver pictured in the water - one of Africa’s animals and part of the Small Five of Africa.

A red-billed buffalo weaver taking a bath on a hot afternoon

The buffalo weaver is perhaps the easiest member of the Small Five to spot due to their loud and distinctive birdsong. Three species occur that can be found in countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. The red-billed buffalo weaver, white-headed buffalo weaver and the white-billed buffalo weaver differ from one another in terms of appearance, with diverse and striking body and head colors among their many distinguishing features.

Infamous for eating the insects that the famed Cape buffalo kicks up as they traverse the African landscape, buffalo weavers are sociable animals that live in boisterous communities. They construct elaborate nests of forked branches, dried grass, and tiny sticks, and raise their young in open colonies, where male buffalo weavers frequently dominate one to eight nests with as many as three distinct females.

Rhino Beetle

There are more than 300 species of rhinoceros beetles that occur all over the world, 60 of which may be found in Southern Africa. These impressive beetles get their name from the hook-shaped horn on their head and are well known for their body armor and tremendous power. Although the largest Southern African rhinoceros beetle will only grow to a length of around five centimeters, some species can reach lengths of up to 15 centimeters.

Two rhino beetles pictured on a branch - one of Africa’s animals and part of the Small Five of Africa.

Male rhino beetles are much larger in size than females

The size of the beetle’s horn is a reliable measure of its overall physical condition, and males will use these natural weapons during battles over mating rights and for digging and climbing. Rhinoceros beetle’s, despite their size and intimidating appearance, are unquestionably harmless to humans. Spotting one of these little creatures is equally as impressive as spotting one of the Big Five due to their occasionally elusive nature. Africa’s animals cease to amaze.

Leopard Tortoise

A leopard tortoise walking along a road - one of Africa’s animals and part of the Small Five of Africa.

Leopard tortoises are known to use roads as walkways

The largest of the Small Five, these tortoises have unusual gold and black markings on their shells that mimic leopard rosettes. Like the leopard itself, these spots help them to seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment. Distributed right throughout sub-Saharan Africa, these animals frequently graze on dry grass and look for cover near bodies of water in savannah woodland habitats.

Generally solitary creatures, leopard tortoises will seek refuge in jackal and hyena dens that have been abandoned. These reptiles can live up to 100 years old, making them extraordinarily tough, and more than capable of climbing and swimming to get to where they need to go. The fourth largest tortoise species in the world, and Africa’s largest, a mature individual can reach a length of one meter and weigh more than 23 kilograms.

Elephant Shrew

A frontal image of a short-eared elephant shrew - one of Africa’s animals and part of the Small Five of Africa.

A short-eared elephant shrew seeking refuge in a sandy cove

Elephant shrews are dainty little creatures no larger than a mouse and get their name from their protruding snouts. They can be found in a variety of habitats all over Southern Africa, including rocky outcrops, thick woodlands, and savannah grasslands. The flexibility of their little appendage allows them to sniff for insects in the tiniest of crevices.

However numerous they may be, these mammals are among the quickest small animals on earth, and are notoriously difficult to identify. Elephant shrews are not particularly gregarious creatures and are actually monogamous – pairing up for life for reproduction. Known for having a varied diet, shrews feed on insects, nuts, fruits and seeds. If you are lucky enough to spend time with them, you’ll notice they are timid and skittish, constantly remaining vigilant as they are often preyed upon by large raptors and snakes.

Africa’s animals, both big and small, are fascinating to discover. If one of the incredible creatures that make up Africa’s Small Five is on your bucket list, get in touch with a LuxVenture® designer today to start planning a safari experience of a lifetime!


Africa’s Animals

Africa’s Animals

Africa’s Animals

Africa’s Animals


Africa’s Animals

Africa’s Animals

Africa’s Animals

Africa’s Animals