Most people who want to visit Africa are seeking places where they can see the “Big Five: African elephants, rhinoceros, lions, Cape buffalo, and leopards. The ‘Big Five’ is a hunting term used to describe the most dangerous animals to hunt although this has now become the catch phrase for what first-time visitors want to see when they visit the African bush. Here are the famous five magnificent creatures, and stay tuned for part II where we’ve added a few more to round out our Top Ten animals to see while on safari in Africa.
Heavily poached for their tusks, these pachyderms have a complex social structure and incredible intelligence which makes them a joy to watch. We love sitting out in the late afternoon sun with a cocktail, the engine off and elephants going about their day all around us. In 2006 a team of scientists discovered that elephants are able to recognize themselves in a mirror – the only other animals to do so are dolphins, great apes and of course, humans.
Another victim of the ivory trade, rhinos resemble tanks or primordial beasts when you come across them in the wild. What we know as the “white” rhino is really the square-lipped species and the common name is popularly believed to be a garbled version of the Dutch word wijd.On the other hand, the “black” rhino is more descriptively known as hook-lipped – both descriptions explain their feeding habits as the white rhino is a grazer and the black rhino feeds on leaf plants, shoots etc.
3. Cape Buffalo
This gentle-seeming herbivore boasts a touchy disposition and extremely sharp horns and hooves – a combination which makes it the most dangerous of the Big Five. They are fiercely protective of their young and have been known to chase lions off and even fatally wound the big cats. Herds can be up to 1,000 animals strong during the hottest, driest times of the year when water is scarce. They can be eerie sight in the mornings with the mist coming off of their backs as they all turn to watch you watching them.
The only non-social big cat, leopards are powerful nocturnal shadows who lead a generally solitary existence. Famously reclusive, they are often spotted lounging on a tree branch watching the world go by or taking a snooze in the late afternoon sun. Despite their furtive ways, leopards have adapted to the sprawl of human habitation better than the other big cats. They now have the widest range of any other big cat, with 9 subspecies found across Africa and Asia.
Lions remain The King of Beasts however, travelers are often surprised how like our own house-cats they can be! They sleep up to 20 hours a day, play wrestle and flop down in the most awkward of spots, albeit on much larger scale than Fluffy. There is nothing like sitting in an open 4×4 just a few feet away from a massive male lion when he displays enormous teeth and a ground-shaking roar.