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What is the Big Five?

by Lara Behrens
21st April 2017 Safari
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When putting together safari holidays, we are constantly told that our clients wish to see the “Big Five”. However when speaking in more depth, we find out most people aren’t 100% sure which animals make up the Big Five – many are surprised when they find out giraffe, hippo, and cheetah are left out! So what exactly is the Big Five and how did this term come about?

The lion is one of the 'big five'
The lion is one of the 'big five'

The Big Five game animals are Lion, Leopard, African elephant, Cape buffalo and Rhinoceros. The term “Big Five” was actually created by big game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot, and therefore the kills that were most highly prized. So rather than their size, the members of the Big Five were chosen for the degree of danger involved when they were cornered and shot at.

As tourism took off, safari tour operators adopted the term for marketing purposes and the power of the name has attracted countless people to Africa. South Africa has even featured a different Big Five animal on each denomination of its Rand banknotes (released after 1990)! The Big Five can be found in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, but make sure you do your research so you visit the right parks to see the specific animals you are interested in.

For more experienced safari goers, it can be fun to seek out the "Little Five" which have been labelled based on their corresponding names to the Big Five – the Ant Lion, Leopard tortoise, Elephant shrew, Buffalo weaver, and Rhinoceros beetle.

The leopard tortoise, one of the 'small five'
The leopard tortoise, one of the 'small five'

Then there is the "Ugly Five" - the Hyena, the Vulture, the Warthog, the Marabou Stork and the Wildebeest. 

The warthog is one of the 'ugly five'
The warthog is one of the 'ugly five'

Lastly, there is the "Shy Five" - the Meerkat, the Porcupine, the Aardwolf, the the Aardvark and the Bar-Eared Fox. These are the hardest animals to spot as they are very elusive, in fact 4 out of these 5 are nocturnal - all except the Meerkat.

The meerkat is one of the 'shy five'
The meerkat is one of the 'shy five'

Of course, Africa overflows with a diversity of wildlife and most people would include other animals on their personal Top Five list. We asked the Bench consultants to name the animals they would most like to spot – or see again – while on safari and here is their combined list:

Warthog, Rhino, Leopard, Elephant, Wild Dog, Cheetah, Giraffe, Zebra, Gorilla, Aardvark, Impala, Hyena, Hippo, Crocodile, Meerkat, Lion, Civet, Genet, Chimpanzee, Baboon, Oryx, and “baby cubs!”

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