Big 5 African Safari Animals. A look at the BIG 5 - and where to find them

If you have ever done any slight research about African Animals - especially for a safari holiday, you have met the phrase of 'Big 5 ' referring to animals.

In this article, we shall look at what the big-5 actually means, as well as where you can find all the big-5 animals on an African safari.

While the phrase has become a staple in marketing wildlife safaris, its origins are in the hunting of wildlife. The term was coined by big-game hunters as a reference to the most difficult animals to hunt on foot.

The big-5 game animals are comprised of Rhinocerous, African Elephant, African Lion, African Leopard, and the Cape Buffalo.

Let us look at the animals in slightly more detail.

Africa's Big 5 Animals

1. African Elephant

The African Elephant is the biggest land animal in the whole world. From their big ears, precious tusks, dexterous trunk, and famed intelligence, elephants are fascinating and interesting to watch.

Except for young elephants, the only threats to an elephant are humans and in some rare instances lions (especially in Botswana). This doesn't make their future guaranteed because the biggest problem is shrinking habitat and the reduced food that comes along.

With their 5 kilogram brain, elephants are considered to have the best memory and when you get to see them, make sure to remember that moment because they sure won't forget you.

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2. Cape Buffalo

The African buffalo - also called Cape Buffalo is one of the more surprising African wild animals. Whereas it looks so close to the domesticated cows, it is one of the most hot-headed animals with a very unpredictable temperament.

Some estimates predict that cape buffaloes kill or trample around 200 people every year in Africa. While the numbers differ with each country, African buffaloes are not to be messed with.

The general rule of thumb is don't get too close.

Buffaloes are predominantly found in the savannahs of Southern and Eastern Africa but the smaller forest variety can be seen in DRC and some other places of central and western Africa.

Related article: Interesting facts about the African Cape buffalo

3. Lion

The lion is probably the most well know of all wild animals in the whole world. While lions are currently living in limited places - mostly Africa, their history with humans is deep in communities all over the world.

A lion is feared, loved, and respected by most people because of its abilities. This is why it is called the king of the jungle or more correctly the king of beasts. Tanzania has the highest population of lions in the Serengeti but lions can be seen in many more countries.

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4. Leopard

leopard in grass

Leopards are very solitary and are not very easy to see on safari. Their spotted body helps leopards to blend into their surroundings and hibernate all day without being noticed.

Like Rhinos, leopards face a threat of poaching. Leopards are poached for their colourful skin and other body parts as trophy possessions.

Leopards mostly move at night when they are going to hunt and usually live solitary lives. leopards carry their hunted meat up a tree to avoid disturbing hyenas.

In most places, early morning or evening safari game drives are the best options to see a leopard and the sight is always humbling.

Related article: 14 Interesting facts about leopards

5. Rhinocerous

The name "Rhinoceros" is derived from greek - to mean 'nose-horned'. Rhinos face extinction and their survival has suffered due to the illegal wildlife trade for their horns. 

In some Asian countries, the rhinoceros horn is believed to possess some healing powers and this has increased the demand for this rare animal.

Rhinocerous horn is made out of the same material as human hair and fingernails, but this hasn't kept its price low. A kilogram of rhinoceros horn is as valuable as gold on the black market.

Besides all the groom that surrounds the life and survival of rhinoceroses, seeing them in the wild is a moving experience.

Related article: Fascinating facts about rhinos

Where to see the Big-5 animals

After knowing a little bit about the big-5 game, it is now time to look at some countries where you can actually find all the animals.

Most countries in Africa have some of the big-5 animals but we'll look at the places which have all the five- elephants, lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, and cape buffaloes.

  • Angola
  • Uganda
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Zambia
  • D.R. Congo
  • Zimbabwe
  • Rwanda
  • Namibia
  • Kenya
  • Botswana
  • Malawi

Final thoughts

While the big-5 game was initially popularised by wildlife hunters, it is now more associated with wildlife viewing safari activities and has little to do with hunting.

Wildlife hunting is mostly prohibited all over Africa, except in a few isolated cases where culling is allowed by the governments to control the population of animals.

As you can see from above, it is unlikely that a wildlife hunting call will be put out since all the animals are essentially reducing in numbers due to various factors.

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