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Africa’s Big Five

Not all that long ago a safari trip meant dressing up like Indiana Jones and risking your life while exploring one of the colonies and its natural beauty. Today the chance to spot the five animals, which were originally chosen as the most difficult to hunt, has become a less daunting experience.

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Those that made the cut:

It was big game hunters and not safari tour operators that decided on the animals that made the list. Namely for their ferocity and the general danger encountered during the hunt. This list, which refers to the African elephant, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, African lion and the African leopard. Yes, there exist bigger animals that roam the African planes or wallow in the waterholes, and the sight of a giraffe or a pack of hyena can be just as exhilarating and provide as much entertainment as spotting one of the five animals from the list that safari operators adopted from big game hunters.  

This being said, a sociable African elephant crossing the same path that your guide has chosen is one of those safari experiences that are not quickly forgotten, especially if this typically peaceful animal feels threatened in which case a rapidly approaching elephant is a view that remains imprinted on ones memory. This kind of situation is luckily still possible due to the ban on the sale of ivory; a trade that dramatically reduced the number of African elephants. This ban helped stabilise the population at around 600 000, even though poaching remains a serious problem as with many of the animals in Africa.

Another animal that has had its numbers drastically reduced is the black rhino, which is often referred to as the hook lipped rhino. Unfortunately excessive poaching, even though the international trade of black rhino horn has been prohibited since 1977, has resulted in a total African population of less than 5 000. These remaining black rhinos, which are more accurately grey in colour than black, are more solitary than their relatives the white rhino, and live on average 40 years eating small branches, leaves and shoots. These magnificent creatures weigh in at 1 000 kg, with larger specimens approaching 3 000 kg. A rather large animal that is notoriously bad tempered and luckily rather short sighted.

Out on the open grasslands of Africa, the Cape buffalo can often be spotted due to its characteristic horns and the fact that they gather in large herds for protection and mating. These large animals, with males weighing up to 900 kg, remain a sought after trophy for hunters but cannot be considered a defenceless target as they kill over 200 people each year. The Cape buffalo, when injured, is known to ambush and attack hunters.

The king of the jungle, or rather the sub-Saharan Africa, the lion is the second biggest cat after the tiger with males exceeding 250 kg. On a safari, the females of a pride can be spotted hunting together as they encircle their prey, while the male rests with the young. The male lion can be distinguished from the females of the pride by an impressive mane. These magnificent cats live to around 14 years of age, although the lifespan of the males is usually shortened due to injuries sustained during fights. Lions live out their lives in prides with females synchronising the birth of their young in order to cooperate with raising them. The female lion will usually remain in the same pride for life, whereas males are forced out upon reaching sexual maturity. The food obtained through hunting makes up roughly half of the lions diet, with the remaining half coming from scavenging on animals that have died due to natural causes or killed by other animals.

The final member on the list is the African leopard. The leopard population outnumbers that of the black rhino but they are significantly more difficult to spot while on a safari. Leopard are shy and nocturnal animals that hide in trees, which is also where they hide their fresh kills in order to prevent it from being stolen by hyenas or lions. These agile cats can climb, swim and live in a multitude of environments, with their only predator being man.

Where can the big 5 be spotted?

  • KENYA – MASAI MARA National Reserve
  • TANZANIA – Serengeti National Park
  • BOTSWANA – Chobe National Park
  • SOUTH AFRICA – Kruger National Park
  • NAMIBIA – Etosha National Park

Finally it needs to be said that this is nature and nature can be a little unpredictable and while the animals that managed to make it onto the list of the big 5 are quite a sight to behold, the beauty of Africa can be witnessed in all its animals and experiences.

All 5 spotted:

 


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