Who are the Big 5?

September 20, 2019

Who are the Big 5? With this expression we refer to the great animals of the African savannah, or rather the elephant, the lion, the leopard, the rhinoceros and the buffalo.

Lion at Kruger Park in South Africa

Who are the Big 5? This expression is commonly used to indicate the great animals of the African savannah, namely elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo. If you add the whale and the white shark to the group you have the Big 7. The only place in the world where you can find them all seven is Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa.

The term Big 5, normally used when speaking of safari holidays, was introduced at the times of the great hunting trips and referred to the most dangerous animals of the savannah, which were also the more sought-after to be displayed as trophies. Fortunately, today these endangered species are protected in the great African national parks and every year thousands of tourists come to Africa to see them from up close.

The term was used at first in South Africa, but is now used to refer to all the great African parks in Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Curiously enough, on the back of each South African banknote denomination (the national currency is the Rand) a different Big 5 is represented.

Are you leaving on a safari? Let's get to know them better!

The biggest of all: the elephant

Two elephants in South Africa
The elephant, one of the Big 5.

The African elephant, different from the Asian or the Indian elephant, is the largest animal existing on Earth. The male can reach 6.5 meters in length and almost 4 meters in height. It can weigh up to 5,100 kg. The female is slightly smaller, but not much. The enormous ears of the elephant provide excellent hearing and also help keeping off the heat.

The African elephant lives feeding on grasses, leaves, fruits and barks, can digest about 300 kg of food per day and lay about 250 kg of excrements. It's an animal that loves water, so you might spot it near waterholes and see it splashing some water on its body with the trunk.

The king of the savannah: the lion

Two lions in South Africa
The lion, the king of the savanna.

The lion is the king of the savannah: after the tiger, it is the largest among the five big cats of the genus Panthera. The male can weigh up to 250 kg. Today highly endangered, it is almost exclusively found in Sub-Saharan Africa, while the prides that populated North Africa and Middle East have now disappeared completely.

You are more likely to find them in the savannahs and prairies, more rarely in the forests. In every pride there is usually one alpha male - sometimes two, but only if they are brothers - a group of females related with each other that are used by the alpha male for mating, and their offspring. The cubs will remain within the pride until they reach sexual maturity, when they will be sent away by the father, the alpha male.

The male has a thick mane, probably one of the most common symbols in the history of human kind to represent strength, royalty, force and power.

The great climber: the leopard

A leopard in South Africa
The leopard, the great climber.

The leopard, sometimes also called panther, is famous for its spotted mantle, is a great climber and brings its prey on the trees to keep them away from other predators. You can spot it in Africa but also in South-East Asia. Endangerd like the others, it boasts a lithe, elegant, muscular body. The male weighs about 58 kg, the female just 37.

It's easier to spot it in the valleys of Kenya and the tropical forests of Congo, Gabon and Cameroon, in Kruger National Park in South Africa, in Serengeti and Hwange national parks, where it plays a role of super-predator. The black leopard, also known as panther, is found in Bengal and Java instead.

The most irritable: the rhino

A rhino in South Africa
The rhino, massive and aggressive.

Low sight and heavy build, irritable character and one or two horns: here comes the rhino, existing in two species in Africa and three in Asia. Their horns, despite being very solid, are not made of bone but keratin, the same material which makes up hair and nails in humans.

In Africa you can find the black or white rhino. The first is more agile and darker, the second is smaller but stouter and lighter in color. Furthermore, the black rhino is more dangerous and can attack safari jeeps.

The rhino, just like the other Big 5, is endangered. Until a few decades ago in fact, these large animals were hunted for their horns, which were used to produce precious daggers by the Arabs or medical recipes by the Chinese.

Strong and aggressive: the buffalo

Buffaloes in South Africa
South African buffaloes.

The African buffalo, or Cape buffalo, can weigh up to 1000 kg, Its most evident features are the large curved horns and it is common all across Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the savannahs of South Africa and Mozambique. It's a herbivore living in big herds, but even if it is not a predator, it's one of the most aggressive African animals. Thanks to its considerable force, it can scare off even a lion.

The African buffalo is a great lover of water and mud, this is why you will easilty find it near waterholes, where it gets rid of parasites. Many birds usually rest on its back, including cattle egrets and oxpeckers, which help the buffalo get free of parasites.

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