Home / Africa Blog / The Big Five in Africa

The Big Five in Africa

When on safari, the animals you will be looking for from the start will be The Big 5. Seeing these 5 species is an incredible experience and one that you will not forget. Africa’s Big Five—comprising the lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, and buffalo—carries a legendary status that has long captivated the imagination of adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide.

Where does the name “The Big 5” come from?

The name “The Big Five” originated from big-game hunters in Africa. It refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa, due to their danger and elusiveness. This term includes the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros.

The term now celebrates these species’ iconic roles in Africa’s biodiversity rather than their prowess in the hunt. In this article, we delve into the mystique and allure of these magnificent creatures, exploring their habitats, behaviors, and the crucial conservation efforts required to preserve their future.

The African Lion

Let’s start with the African lion. One of the most beautiful animals, also referred to as ‘the King of the Jungle’ (mostly in storybooks and movies), this large and beautiful carnivore (meat-eater) is the most dangerous, as they can attack without provocation. Camouflaging themselves in the bush, they are not easy to spot, so when on safari, keep your eyes peeled at all times.

The African lion exudes power, grace, and majesty. To witness these awe-inspiring creatures in their natural habitat, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya are among the prime locations. The best time to see lions in action is during the dry season (from June to October), when wildlife congregates around watering holes, and the grass is shorter, facilitating optimal visibility for both predator and prey.

Facts about the African Lion

  • Lions are the only social cats, living in prides that can consist of up to 40 lions.
  • Lionesses are the primary hunters, working together in strategic groups to bring down prey.
  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) away, serving as a territorial declaration and a means of communication within the pride.
  • Despite their fearsome reputation, lions spend a significant amount of their time resting, conserving energy for hunts that typically occur during the cooler hours of dawn and dusk.

female lions in nature

The African Elephant

The African elephant is by far the most intimidating as it snorts and digs in the ground, getting ready to storm you! However, many have been tamed in certain reserves and one can interact with them (from a distance) quite happily. Elephants are herbivores (eating only foliage), so you may not be eaten, but you certainly could be chased and stomped upon! They are also well-camouflaged by the African bush.

The African elephant, classified into two species—the larger savanna (or bush) elephant and the smaller forest elephant—differs significantly from its Asian cousin. African elephants are the largest land animals on Earth, distinguished by their larger ears, which resemble the African continent, and both males and females have tusks.

The African elephant is an emblem of strength, intelligence, and familial bonds.

Etosha National Park in Namibia, Chobe National Park in Botswana, and Amboseli National Park in Kenya are renowned for their elephant populations. While these gentle giants can be seen throughout the year, the dry season (from May to October) is particularly rewarding, as elephants gather around water sources, creating magnificent scenes of large herds interacting and engaging in social behaviour.

Facts about the African Elephant

  • Elephants have the largest brains of any land animal, exhibiting high levels of intelligence, empathy, and social complexity.
  • They are known for their strong familial bonds and display emotions such as joy, grief, and compassion.
  • Elephants communicate through a combination of vocalisations, body language, and infrasound, which is a low-frequency sound that can travel long distances.
  • These gentle giants are vital to maintaining the balance of ecosystems as they disperse seeds, create water holes, and modify landscapes.

The Cape Buffalo

When one sees a herd of African buffalo casually grazing in the veld, they don’t look dangerous at all, but be warned, they have been known to kill more people than any other animal. They weigh about 700 kg and stand 4 to 6 feet tall. It only takes one look from these animals and a disgruntled snort to have you running in the opposite direction!

Known for its imposing size and unpredictable temperament, the Cape buffalo is an integral part of Africa’s ecosystem. Kruger National Park in South Africa, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are some of the top destinations to encounter these robust animals. It’s advisable to visit during the dry season (from May to October) when water sources become scarce, and buffalo herds congregate in large numbers, providing extraordinary photographic opportunities.

Facts about the Cape Buffalo

  • Cape buffalo, also known as African buffalo, are formidable and unpredictable animals, responsible for causing the most deaths among big game hunters in Africa.
  • They form large herds that can consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, offering protection against predators.
  • When threatened, Cape buffalo are known to display remarkable bravery, defending themselves and their herd members against lions, crocodiles, and other predators.
  • Interestingly, Cape buffalo have a unique behaviour known as “mobbing,” where they collectively attack and chase away potential threats, even including lions.

Buffalo Safari

The African Leopard

Probably the most difficult of the Big 5 to see African Leopards look like beautiful big cats (and they even purr!), but don’t be deceived, they can kill prey that are larger than themselves! Their eye-catching circles are called ‘rosettes’, once again providing good camouflage. However, what is dangerous about these animals is that they hide in trees to survey their territory, can charge at speeds of over 35 mph and are very agile on their feet. They tend to be more difficult to spot, being nocturnal animals and hiding away from predators.

With its stealth and captivating beauty, the elusive and enigmatic leopard is a true testament to nature’s artistry. South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, Kruger National Park in South Africa, and Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya are renowned for their leopard populations. Leopards are primarily solitary and nocturnal, so embarking on game drives or guided walks during the early morning or late afternoon presents the best chances of spotting these elusive felines as they emerge from their daytime hideouts.

Facts about the Leopard

  • Leopards are excellent climbers and can carry prey twice their weight up into trees to protect it from scavengers and other predators.
  • Known for their elusive nature, leopards are incredibly adaptable and can thrive in a wide range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and even urban areas.
  • They are exceptional hunters and possess incredible strength, capable of leaping up to 6 meters (20 feet) horizontally and 3 meters (10 feet) vertically.
  • Leopards have a unique rosette pattern on their fur, which provides them with effective camouflage within their surroundings.

The Rhinoceros

Last, but not least is the great African Black or White rhinoceros (although grey in colour) – hunted for their beautiful ivory tusks by poachers. Now considered to be an endangered species, one must try to see them before they become extinct. Also herbivores they feed on leaves, bushes and branches. But once again, don’t be fooled by their calm demeanour, they readily have been known to attack predators, including humans.

The rhinoceros, an ancient creature revered for its prehistoric charm and unfortunate battle against extinction, can be found in a few select destinations. South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, as well as Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, are notable places to witness both the white and black rhino species. While rhinos can be seen year-round, the dry season (from May to September) is ideal, offering clearer visibility and increased chances of spotting these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats.

Facts about the Rhino

  • Rhinos are ancient creatures that have roamed the Earth for over 50 million years, making them one of the oldest mammal species.
  • Their skin can be as thick as 5 centimeters (2 inches) and is not only tough but also acts as a natural sunscreen, protecting them from the sun’s harmful rays.
  • Rhinos have poor eyesight but possess an acute sense of smell and hearing, allowing them to detect potential threats or approaching predators.
  • Sadly, rhinos face the threat of poaching due to the high demand for their horns, which are mistakenly believed to have medicinal properties in some cultures.

Embarking on a safari adventure to witness Africa’s Big Five is a dream come true for wildlife enthusiasts. Whether you’re captivated by the mighty roar of the African lion, the gentle presence of the African elephant, the untamed spirit of the Cape buffalo, the elusive beauty of the leopard, or the ancient charm of the rhinoceros, Africa’s diverse landscapes and national parks offer unparalleled opportunities to experience nature at its finest.

Suggested tours:

  • Tour Length 15 days
    Group Size Min 4 Max 7
    Starts & Ends Starts: Nairobi Ends: Nairobi
    Countries Kenya, Tanzania
    Overview This 15 day East Africa Migration Safari Lodge offers the best of the famous wildebeest migration through Tanzania and Kenya and a chance to discover all the wildlife that East Africa holds.

    Price from

    R102,355

    + Local Payment USD 1185 (Jan - June) - USD 1365 (Jul - Dec)

    View Tour Check Availability

    East Africa Migration Safari – 15 Days

    Tour start → end dates Price Enquire
    22 Jun 2024 → 06 Jul 2024

    From

    R102355
    Check Availability
    07 Jul 2024 → 21 Jul 2024

    From

    R102355
    Check Availability
    10 Nov 2024 → 24 Nov 2024

    From

    R102355
    Check Availability
    01 Dec 2024 → 15 Dec 2024

    From

    R102355
    Check Availability
    22 Dec 2024 → 05 Jan 2025

    From

    R102355
    Check Availability
  • Tour Length 10 days
    Group Size Max 2 - 7
    Starts & Ends Starts: Maun Ends: Victoria Falls
    Countries Botswana, Zimbabwe
    Overview Discover Botswana's best wildlife areas on land and on water on this Chobe & Okavango Delta tour in a small group with hand-picked accommodations. Embark on an unforgettable fly-in safari to the pristine Okavango Delta, as well as expertly guided tours of the Moremi Game Reserve, the Savuti region, and Chobe National Park. The journey concludes with a visit to Victoria Falls, one of the most iconic natural wonders in the world.

    Price from

    R116,725

    View Tour Check Availability

    10 Day Chobe and Okavango Delta Small Group Safari (Max 7)

    Tour start → end dates Price Enquire
    03 Jul 2024 → 12 Jul 2024

    From

    R128340
    Check Availability
    05 Aug 2024 → 14 Aug 2024

    From

    R128340
    Check Availability
    05 Sep 2024 → 14 Sep 2024

    From

    R128340
    Check Availability
    09 Oct 2024 → 18 Oct 2024

    From

    R118700
    Check Availability
    05 Nov 2024 → 14 Nov 2024

    From

    R116725
    Check Availability
  • Tour Length 8 days
    Group Size Min 2 Max 7
    Starts & Ends Starts: Nairobi Ends: Diani Beach
    Countries Kenya
    Overview This tour offers the best of Kenya's national parks and ends in Diani, therefore allowing you to experience Kenya in a nutshell, while staying at amazing camps and a spectacular lodge along the way. It is the perfect safari opportunity that offers comfort, wildlife and wonderful beaches.  

    Price from

    R51,120

    View Tour Check Availability

    8 Day Kenya Safari and Beach Small Group Safari

    Tour start → end dates Price Enquire
    28 Jun 2024 → 05 Jul 2024

    From

    R64075
    Check Availability
    08 Jul 2024 → 15 Jul 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    29 Jul 2024 → 05 Aug 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    09 Aug 2024 → 16 Aug 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    30 Aug 2024 → 06 Sep 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    09 Sep 2024 → 16 Sep 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    30 Sep 2024 → 07 Oct 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    11 Oct 2024 → 18 Oct 2024

    From

    R71280
    Check Availability
    01 Nov 2024 → 08 Nov 2024

    From

    R63595
    Check Availability
    11 Nov 2024 → 18 Nov 2024

    From

    R63595
    Check Availability
    02 Dec 2024 → 09 Dec 2024

    From

    R63595
    Check Availability
    13 Dec 2024 → 20 Dec 2024

    From

    R63595
    Check Availability

Lion-safari

 

African-elephant

 

african-buffalo

 

leopard-in-africa

 

rhino-in-africa

Ready to see The Big 5 in person? Book a Tour now and embrace the adventure of a lifetime.

About Bronwyn Paxton

Article by: Bronwyn Paxton
on April 24, 2024
Filed under  Africa Blog 
African Overland Tours Experts
  • First-hand experience
  • Advice and guidance
  • We're passionate travelers

Enquire Now

FEATURED POSTS

How to do a Ngorongoro Crater safari on a budget

How to do a Ngorongoro Crater safari on a budget

Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unflooded and unbroken crater in the world. IT is the site of a massive once-active volcano that last erupted millions of years ago. Covering a massive...

0 Comments

Next Article