Africa is home to over 1,100 species of mammals and over 2,600 species of birds. From the tiniest shrew to the enormous African elephant, there are endless amazing animals to admire.
Going on an African safari to see these animals in person is a unique and life-changing experience. Modern travel options allow you to see many of them up close and personal, in their natural habitats.
It’s the best way of seeing your favorite animals with minimal disturbance to their environment.
Of the many species of animals in Africa, the Africa Big Five are the most famous. These are the most iconic animals in Africa and arguably the world. While they are becoming increasingly rare in the wild, visitors on safari have the unforgettable experience of seeing them in person.
Read on to learn more about the Africa Big Five and where you can spot them on your next safari.
What are the Africa “Big Five”?
If you’re just beginning to explore your Africa tourism options, the term “Africa Big Five” might be new to you. Basically, “Africa Big Five refers to the top runners of the African safari game: the African leopard, the African lion, the African elephant, the white or black rhino, and the Cape buffalo.
“Africa Big Five” is a major term used in marketing tourism in Africa. You’re likely to see it a lot as you explore your options for your next Africa safari. The best wildlife parks in Africa offer these Africa Big Five animals, unique birds, gorillas, crocodiles, gazelles, and so much more.
Although the Africa Big Five are amazing creatures to spot on your next safari, there are a few honorable mentions that aren’t on the list. Be sure to look out for the African wild dog, the cheetah, the hippo, and the giraffe as well.
1. The African Leopard
One of the most famous Africa Big Five animals is also one of the most difficult to spot. Shy and elusive, African leopards like to stay hidden during the day and are active only at night.
African leopards are extremely well-designed for camouflage, with spots called “rosettes” covering their coats.
These Africa Big Five cats are incredibly strong and capable of taking out prey much larger than themselves. They are also superb climbers, often hiding in trees to spot their prey as well as using the high branches to protect their kills from other predators.
Because they can reach running speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, African leopards are highly efficient hunters. They can also jump upwards of ten feet into the air and make excellent swimmers as well.
When searching for one of these cats on your Africa Big Five safari, be sure to check the trees.
2. The African Lion
The African lion is known as the king of the savannah. He has very few predators, typically only being threatened by cubs being trampled by much larger animals, such as the buffalo. This Africa Big Five member is the second largest cat in the world, following only the tiger in terms of sheer size.
African Lions will do most of their hunting at night, although they have been spotted hunting during the day as well. On an African Big Five safari, you will most like spot them sleeping in shady areas, as lions can sleep up to 20 hours per day.
Despite the lone hunter tendencies of other big cats, African lions are highly social creatures. They reside in groups called “prides” that typically consist of up to two males, a few female lionesses, and all their cubs. Female lions have been known to synchronize the birth of their cubs so they can co-raise them in groups.
When it comes to the hunt, lionesses usually take on most of the work. They corner their prey and work together to bring down much larger animals to feed their pride. Their yellow-brown fur is perfect for hiding in the African savannah.
The average lifespan of an African lion in the wild is around 14 years. Many of the cubs don’t survive through adulthood. Adult males, on the other hand, often die in fights to defend their territory.
3. The African Elephant
The African elephant is truly a sight to behold. They are the largest and heaviest animals that walk on land today. Because they are able to adapt to a variety of climates, they can be spotted in as much as 37 sub-Saharan countries.
African elephants travel in large herds, led by a “matriarch” elephant. A single group can contain over 100 individual elephants. To communicate, they use a variety of low-frequency rumbles and grunts that are cable of carrying over miles of land.
If you spot a herd of elephants on your Africa Big Five safari, you may see some young calves among them. These are likely to be female, as females stay with their original herds while young males set off to start their own.
A fully grown African elephant consumes an average of 375 pounds of plants a day and around 50 gallons of water. Their thick, leathery skin protects them from thorns and other hazards of their environments. Those big ears are engineered by nature to maintain consistent body temperature while evenly dispersing the heat from the African sun.
Sadly, these Africa Big Five creatures are subject to harmful poaching for their ivory as well as their meat. The largest African elephant recorded in 30 years was killed by poaching in 2015. Today, an estimated 100 elephants are being killed every day due to Africa’s poaching crisis.
4. The White or Black Rhino
Contrary to what you might think, white and black rhinos aren’t named after their colors. If you spot one on your Africa Big Five safari, the easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at their lips. Black rhinos have pointed lips, while white rhinos are more flattened.
Black rhinos have a fierce reputation. They are usually found solo and prefer to reside in scrubland areas as well as deserts. These massive animals can weigh over 3,000 pounds and are often over twelve feet in length.
Unlike black rhinos, white rhinos like to hang out in pairs. They can often be seen in large, grassy savannah areas on an Africa Big Five safari.
Unfortunately, white and black rhinos are at risk for extinction due to poachers hunting them for their horns. It has widely been estimated that rhinos have wandered the African plains for 50 million years.
Now, because of these barbaric poaching practices, there are around 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild and around 20,000 white rhinos.
5. The Cape Buffalo
This water-loving Africa Big Five animal is most commonly found in wildlife parks with lots of bodies of water. Cape Buffalos like to eat a diet consisting of bushes, tall grass, and other plants. Because they need rich greens and lots of water in order to survive, they are not found in desert areas.
Cape buffalos are fiercely tempered and highly dangerous in the wild. Males can weigh over 2,000 pounds and become extremely vicious if they are threatened. They use their enormous curved horns as deadly weapons of defense.
Because they are social creatures with their own kind, groups of Cape buffalo can be seen in the wild with as many as 1,000 members. These Africa Big Five animals are extremely defensive of their own kind as well, especially over their young, sick, and weaker members.
The Africa Big Five’s Largest Threat
Most of Africa’s Big Five have few predators in the wild if any. However, they are very much threatened by the activities of man.
Because of the illegal poaching crisis still happening today, many of these magnificent animals are in danger of leaving the planet forever. For example, rhino horns are highly sought after because of their supposed medical values (none of which have been proven).
Elephant tusks, on the other hand, are valuable on the black market as well because of their use in jewelry, utensils, trinkets, and more.
Some animals, especially lions and leopards, are murdered for sport or for their coats. One of the most famous cases of poaching for sport was the owner of Jimmy Johns, who gained much deserved negative publicity for proudly posing with endangered animals that he killed for sport.
Planning Your Africa Big Five Safari
It’s important to enjoy the magnificent Africa Big Five while they are still thriving in the wild. Seeing these beautiful animals is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for wildlife enthusiasts and animal lovers alike.
As with any other type of travel, planning a trip to Africa should be thoroughly researched and prepared for. Be sure to learn everything you can about planning a trip to Africa. Avoid rushing into it in order to have the smoothest possible journey.
Planning a trip to see the Africa Big Five on safari is truly an amazing experience for children and adults alike. Seeing these amazing animals in person is surely a trip to be remembered.
Contact us today to start planning your next Africa Big Five safari.