There is a lot of talk about the Big Five when talking about going on an African Safari. You may have heard the names, but do you really know the Big Five? The Big Five was a term coined decades ago by big-game hunters to give a nick name to the five hardest animals to hunt on foot, mainly due to the danger involved. Conservation efforts have greatly reduced the hunting of the Big Five and while this practice needs to stop altogether, the term Big Five has been reclaimed by conservation groups, tour companies, and travelers as a nick name for five of the most magical creatures that the world has to offer.
The African Lion
One of the most iconic animals in the world, the African lion is one of the most sought after animals for safari goers to look for. It is easy to distinguish male lions from female lions. Male lions boast magnificent manes, one reason it may be the most recognizable animal symbol in the world. The largest population of lions can be found roaming the national parks and plains of Western Africa. Seeing a lion in the wild can easily be the highlight of a safari!
The Black/White Rhino
There are five species of rhinoceros in the world and two of them, the white and black rhinoceros, are native to Africa. Interestingly enough, the white and black rhinoceros are not at all distinguishable by color. There is no consensus as to why the white rhino became the “white” rhino and the black rhino was only given its name to show a difference from the white rhino. The main difference between the two is the shape of their mouths. Black rhinos have a pointed lip that they use to eat fruit from branches and the white rhino has a flat wide lip making it easier to graze on grasses. Both species can be found in Western Africa. The black rhino is critically endangered and the white rhino is listed as near threatened.
The African Leopard
The most distinguishing characteristic of the African leopard is its gorgeous coat of fur which ranges from pale yellow to deep gold with black spots all over. Leopards are very skilled at adapting to different habitats and can be found in much of sub-Saharan Africa from mountain ranges to savannahs and grasslands. The only climate they will not be found is in extreme desert environments. Leopards become the most active between sunset and sunrise, making late night and early morning safaris the best time to spot them!
The Cape Buffalo
One of the most dangerous animals in the Big Five category, the Cape buffalo is highly unpredictable. Adult buffalos have a large set of horns on its head and have what is called a fused base creating a bone shield across the top of its head forming a “boss.” The Cape buffalo is one of the most successful grazers in Africa living in swamps and floodplains. Thy have very few predators and are regularly able to defend themselves against lion attacks. It is not rare to see packs of Cape buffalo stopping at a watering hole in the Serengeti!
The African Elephant
The largest of all the Big Five animals is the African Elephant. In fact, the African bush elephant is the largest land mammal in the world and it is also one of the most intelligent. The elephant is recognized quite easily by its large body, huge floppy ears, long trunk, and a beautiful pair of ivory tusks. The African elephant is vulnerable and soon may be placed on the endangered list if poaching does not stop. While on safari though, it’s a real joy to see elephants picking leaves off of trees or strolling down the road.
The Big Five can be seen in a handful of African countries, but Tanzania is widely regarded as they best. With annual events such as the great migration, going on safari in Tanzania gives families an opportunity to seen not just the Big Five but other incredible animals as well. Seeing amazing animals in their natural habitat can easily be the highlight of any family vacation!