One of the main reasons people come to Africa is to see the ‘Big 5’ while on safari, but there are other so-called “alphas” to consider.

The term ‘Big 5’, which consists of elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, originates from the old hunting days, when these beasts were considered to be the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.

Although the Big 5 are truly a wonder of nature, they are not the be-all and end-all of a safari experience.

There are many reserves that are lucky enough to contain the Big 5, including Madikwe, however another list should come to mind: the top 5 apex predators or alphas of the African savanna.

These carnivores all sit within the upper echelon of the predator hierarchy. Madikwe Game Reserve is one of a few places where you not only get to see the Big 5, but also these animals, namely the spotted hyena, cheetah and even the African wild dog.

Since all these hunters all compete for the same resources, they are locked in a war that none of them can afford to lose.

The secret to their success can be credited to their size, social structures and hunting abilities. Therefore the various winning methods that they use are specific to the niche where they operate.

Let’s take a closer look at our Madikwe animal hierarchy…


Tied for First: Lions and Spotted Hyenas



In the case of Madikwe Game Reserve, lions and spotted hyenas are right at the top of this of list, battling for the number one spot with their formidable weight and group coordination.

Second Place: African Wild Dog

alphas wild dog


In second place comes the highly social but smaller African wild dog, which is currently the most endangered carnivore in southern Africa, even though it is the most successful hunter.


Third Place: Leopard

alphas leopard


The leopard takes fourth as a medium-sized solitary hunters. The leopard has the upper hand for its larger size, and also its ability to hoist prey into trees and out of the claws of other predators.


Fourth Place: Cheetah



The cheetah occupies the last position. They are either solitary hunters or hunt in small groups. Because of their small frame they often lose their prey to the predators listed above.


Honorary Mention: Brown Hyena

alphas hyena


One other carnivore that should be mentioned is the rare brown hyena, an animal that Madikwe Game Reserve is well known for. Due to its size, it is capable of chasing other predators away and stealing their kills, however it is primarily a scavenger and doesn’t fit in with the rest of these hunters.

Words and Photos by: Field Guide Hugh Morris

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