What is the Big Five?
You hear the term “Big Five” thrown out a lot when you’re planning a safari.
“This is a Big Five park” is a huge selling point but what is the Big Five? Why are people so crazy about trying to collect the set?
Meet the Big Five
The Big Five is comprised of, you guessed it, five African animals. They aren’t the most fascinating, the most endangered, or even the largest.
Can you guess why they’re called the Big Five? We’ll tell you later!
- African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Arguably Africa’s most famous inhabitant, the colossal African Elephant is Earth’s largest land mammal, qualifying as ‘big’ in every sense of the word.
There are two varieties of African elephant: the larger bush elephant you’ll see on the plains, and the smaller forest elephant more common in Uganda and Rwanda. Both species are surprisingly good at hiding and can be quite aggressive if provoked.
Best Place to See Elephants: Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire, and the Serengeti in Tanzania. Tsavo, Amboseli, and the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
- Lion (Panthera leo)
A relatively common sight in both Tanzania and Kenya, the regal lion is a social big cat that can look remarkably like a larger-than-life housecat when they’re sunning themselves on rocks or playing together.
The males have gorgeous manes, while the females do the lion’s share (pun intended) of the hunting and child-rearing.
Best Place to See Lions: Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and the Serengeti in Tanzania. The Maasai Mara in Kenya. Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
- Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The most elusive of the Big Five, the beautiful leopard are solitary, nocturnal hunters with fantastic camouflage and naturally shy personalities. This can make them immensely difficult to spot while on safari.
Best Place to See Leopards: The Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
- Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
The most endangered of the Big Five, the black rhinoceros is critically endangered due to continued poaching, largely due to the incorrect belief in Chinese traditional medicine that their horns have medicinal properties.
Due to both their low numbers and their natural shyness, rhinos can be immensely difficult to spot while on safari.
Tanzania. Lake Nakuru National Park and Nairobi National Park in Kenya. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda.
- African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
The African Buffalo (sometimes called the Cape Buffalo) is the most confusing member of the Big Five. They’re neither endangered nor especially interesting to look at. As you’re driving across Ngorongoro or the Serengeti, you’ll see hundreds of them.
Despite their unassuming appearance, the Cape Buffalo is considered one of Africa’s most dangerous animals. In fact, the buffalo is considered the most dangerous of the animals in this list!
Best Places to See African Buffalo: Ngorongoro and the Serengeti in Tanzania. The Maasai Mara in Kenya.
Origin of the Big Five
In the bad, old days, wealthy European aristocrats would fly all the way to Africa to hunt the animals we are now so desperate to protect. What a bunch of jerks!
During this period, five animals began to emerge as the most dangerous to hunt. Whether due to camouflage or aggression, the Big Five were renowned as being the most challenging animals to hunt. Therefore, there was a great deal of prestige to be gained from killing one.
While we’ve since evolved beyond that primitive pastime, the Big Five terminology has remained. In some ways, several of the Big Five remain incredibly hard to hunt, albeit with a camera. Rhinos and leopards, in particular, can be incredibly difficult to spot on safari.
On the flip side, lions, elephants, and African buffalo are common sights while on safari in Kenya