‘The Big Five of Africa’ is one of the most relentlessly searched for and often mentioned phrases.
The term “big five” began as a way of referring to the five animals most difficult to hunt on foot. The lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo were the five large African mammal species that were known to hunters as dangerous and successfully hunting them was considered an accomplishment.
However, today the expression takes a much gentler approach – referring to seeing the majestic wildlife species on safari in Africa. These friendly giants are frequently sought-after for sightings, encounters and photo opportunities.
Given the formidable five’s status and significance, here are some interesting facts about the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo that we thought you might find interesting:
The lion is Africa’s top predator and the second largest big cat in the world. Roaming the savannah grasslands and open plains of Africa, these social felines are the only cats that live in groups (prides) and need a lot of contact with each other. The lions will greet each other by rubbing their heads against one another, exchanging scents that convey information about their intentions, moods and recent activities.
Females share a particularly strong bond as they remain in the same pride for life and raise their cubs together. They do all the hunting, and the males get the first helping – even when there are cubs in the pride. The hunting is done mostly at night as lions can see in the dark. They are not completely nocturnal so their most active time is just before sunrise or just after sunset. However, they are opportunistic feeders and will hunt at any time.
A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles (8km) away, enabling them to communicate with each other over large distances. They spend most of their time sleeping and can sleep up to 20 hours a day!
The leopard is nocturnal, solitary and secretive, staying hidden during the day. They are the least seen of the Big Five. These antisocial cats avoid interacting with each other beyond mating and raising young cubs.
Leopards are excellent at climbing trees and will often safeguard their kill in a tree to prevent lions and hyenas from stealing it. They are also strong swimmers and occasionally eat fish and crabs. Leopards can drag prey weighing up to three times their own body weight up into trees over 20 feet (6 meters) tall.
Leopards don’t roar, they bark and snarl. When they are happy they even purr. But this is not only what makes them unique – they are the most adaptable felines! Inhabiting some of the most diverse environments of all the big cats, such as both deserts and forests – their ability to survive across a range of habitats has enabled leopard populations to survive in far flung parts of the world.
The rhino is the most endangered species of the Big Five. The illegal trade of rhino poaching is being driven by an Asian demand for horns, made worse by increasingly sophisticated poachers. Very few rhinos now survive outside national parks and reserves.
A rhino’s horn is not attached to its skull. If it breaks off it will grow back again.
The white and black rhino have no teeth and hence rely on their lips for eating.
Rhinos have poor vision and will sometimes attack trees and rocks by accident. However, their hearing and sense of smell are excellent, thus often making up for their poor eyesight.
Many trees in West African forests – at least one third – rely on evolved seeds to pass through an elephant’s digestive tract for dissemination and germination.
African elephants communicate across large distances at a low frequency that cannot be heard by humans.
Under Africa’s scorching sun, elephants get sunburnt too! They throw sand on their backs and heads to prevent sunburn and keep insects off their skin. And even though their skins are incredibly tough, they can feel those tiny insect walking on their skin!
When baby elephants are born, they are almost blind and some individuals suck their trunks for comfort, similar to the way young humans suck their thumbs.
Elephants love to swim and are able to swim for long distances. They use their trunks as makeshift snorkels. The trunk is also used for grabbing, bathing, smelling, drinking and can pick up something as small as a grain of rice.
A buffalo’s primary predator is the lion. It will try to rescue another member who has been caught or hurt and has often been observed killing a lion after it has killed a member of the group. Unlike the water buffalo – whom has an uncanny resemblance to the African buffalo – the latter is dangerous and has never been domesticated.
Dangerous, and rightly so! Buffalo are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal. They still kill over 200 people every year earning them the reputation and nickname of ‘Black Death’ and ‘Widow Maker’.
Our safari-goers from across the world are eager to spot the famous rhino, leopard, lion, buffalo and elephant combination. Contact us now to learn more about our safaris to Africa’s finest Big Five viewing reserves!