Picture of the Big 5 mammals of Africa

When heading off on a safari to Africa, travellers often have a wish list of animals they are hoping to see.
For most people, top of the list will be ‘The Big 5’ : Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Rhino and Leopard.  Of course these majestic animals are a spectacular sight but did you know  there are other less well known ‘5’ groups, which are equally thrilling to see?   These are ‘The Tiny 5’, ‘The Shy 5’, and the somewhat unfairly named ‘The Ugly 5’.  Over the next few weeks we will be introducing these interesting groups to you –  But first let us discuss ‘The Big 5’ which are => Elephants, Buffalo, Lion, Rhino and Leopard.


Lets start by understanding why they are called ‘The Big 5’?  The name has an unfortunate origin. They are called the Big 5 because they were the five most aggressive animals to hunt. This characteristic tragically is one of the causes for the collapse of their numbers in the wild, and these beautifully animals are sought after by trophy hunters. But let’s move on from that and introduce these wonderful animals to you.


Perhaps the most gentle of the Big 5, Elephants communicate across large distances at a low frequency that cannot be heard by humans. They are the world’s largest land animal and they are social animals living in female led, multigenerational herds. They are also highly intelligent animals with complex emotions, feelings, compassion and self awareness. The gestation period of an elephant is 22 months which is the longest of any mammal. Click here for more fascinating Elephant facts.


Next up is the Buffalo. Like Elephants, Buffalos live in large herds but unlike elephants there is no single ‘leader’, male or female. The Buffalo’s primary predator is the lion, but Buffalo are not easy meat for lions, as Buffalos will fight back and try to rescue any member of the herd that has been caught. They have even been observed killing a lion after it has killed a group member. They have the ability to ambush, charge and gore using their horns. They need a constant supply of water and prefer large open spaces. They are known to be grumpy and unpredictable. Buffalo are capable swimmers and are reported to kill more hunters in Africa than any other animal. Click here for interesting facts about Buffalos


The African Lion is the second largest living cat after the tiger (but there are no tigers in Africa!). Nearly all wild lions live in Africa. Interestingly, Lions are the only cats that live in groups, known as ‘packs’, which can number up to 30.  A lions roar can be heard up to 8 kilometres away. Female lions are the main hunters. spending up to 20 hours a day sleeping or resting, lions are the laziest of the big cats but also the most sociable. For more facts about Lions click here.


The Rhinoceros (or Rhino) is the most endangered of the Big 5, with illegal wildlife trade being the greatest threat to its survival, due to demand for its horn. The gestation period for Rhinos is 16-18 months – second only to the elephant above (22 months).  Rhinos have poor vision however their hearing and sense of smell are excellent. Rhinos can weigh over 3 tonnes which is mighty impressive considering they mainly eat grass and leaves. For more information on Rhinos and Rhino conservation click here.


Last but not least is the Leopard. A nocturnal, solitary and secretive member of the cat family, mostly staying hidden during the day. As a result, they are the least seen of the Big 5.  The smallest of the large cats, leopards are known as ‘ambush predators’ hiding and ambushing their prey.  Leopards are very strong, fast runners and excellent at climbing trees. They can run up to 58km/h with incredible agility to catch their prey, after which they will often climb trees  while dragging a kill sometimes heavier than their body weight, to hide a kill to prevent lions and hyenas from stealing it. They are also good swimmers and occasionally eat fish and crabs. For more on Leopards click here.


We almost always see four out of five of these on our Safaris – but the leopard is the most secretive of all – but sometimes we are lucky and do enjoy a wonderful leopard sightings, as we were this year!


In this blog we have presented some interesting facts about ‘The Big 5’. In our next blog we are going to focus on ‘The Little 5’.


Alexandra’s Africa is an independent, niche Southern African Safari  Tour Operator with offices in the New Forest in Hampshire, UK and in Outeniquastrand & Pretoria in South Africa. We offer a range of small-group Hosted Safaris, Safaris for Women, Tailored Safaris and Conservation Experiences.  For more information: 👉 ALEXANDRA’S AFRICA CONTACT