The Big Five, the Small Five & the High Five

By Recent Traveller, Mike Little.

When you go to the bush you will most likely have your attention drawn immediately to the Big Five. For the uninitiated, they are the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. What many people do not know is that there also exists a ‘Little Five’; they are far less famous and actually, far harder to spot. Again, for the uninformed, they are the ant lion, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, rhino beetle, and buffalo weaver. In fact, one could make up lists all day of what to try and see, and the six of us who were assigned to our safari vehicle at Ngala Safari Lodge all had our own preconceived ideas about what we would see, and more importantly, what we hoped to see.

Lists can be a great way of getting people who know little about the bush to learn a few things pre-departure, and it is a great way to include children on the adventure and keep them enthusiastic and upbeat. It is completely natural to have a bucket list when going to Paris, London, or Rome. A grocery list when visiting the shops. A hit list of songs you want played at your wedding. They are necessary items for “survival” in a modern world that has us communicating non-stop over multiple methods of social media… but they do have a downside. You can potentially find yourself never truly seeing what is not on the “super- important” list. The list can become such a focus that you forget what you are actually out there to do: namely, enjoy being in Mother Nature and soaking up all that it has to show you.

In my recent, brief outing to the bush I often found myself staring into the distance at an enormous cloud billowing up into the atmosphere and wondering ‘Why aren’t we stopping to look at that?’ The same could be said for a 15-foot high termite mound, or a fig tree born before Shakespeare. I think there is a simple reason we have found ourselves in this dilemma: we create imaginary scenarios of what would bring us joy and we try our best to fulfil them. Unfortunately when we do this we bypass the true magic of adventuring in the bush: namely, that around every corner, you may stumble across almost anything, including the Big Five.

Thankfully, at Ngala Safari Lodge, we had a great guide whose plan – as he thankfully reminded us each day – was to ‘bumble along, and see what we come across’. We could not have said it any better; our safari could not have been any better!


The Big Five was a formality (I think we saw them all within 24 hours) but the real treat was seeing the unpredictable – things we had no intention of seeing – and therefore no preconceived notions and expectations upon them. We may not have seen the Little Five (2/5 if I remember correctly) but we saw many other “fives” which more than made up for it. One, a Scops Owl at night, sitting aimlessly beside the road. Two, the Red-crested Korhaan doing its mating, mock-suicide dive-bomb. Three, dung beetles at war. Four, the foam-nest frog. Five, the dwarf mongoose escaping into his hole. Six, the jackal. Seven… I could go on and on.

The bush is alive with possibility and randomness. If only you will let it be. So, the next time you set out from the drudgery of the city to ‘do a safari and see the Big Five’ consider being open to anything happening. In fact, it is perhaps the greatest contrast from city life you can experience. And that, along with a customary G&T at sunset, warrants the last ingredient for success in the bush: an all-important ‘High Five’ with a friend.

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