The term “The Big Five” forms the foundation of thousands upon thousands of safari bookings each year, but the Big Five is a concept that many first time visitors to Africa are unaware of. Or if they have heard of it, they are unaware of its origins.
The Big Five is a term that originated from hunters during the 19th Century, where five particular species of animals were recognised and regarded as the most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt, on foot! This name has now stuck and is used by people many years later. The Big Five attracts travellers from all over the world, in my opinion, for a few different reasons: the scarcity of actually finding and viewing these animals at close proximity, the outright beauty and uniqueness of each of animal and lastly and most importantly the accomplishment of capturing the “shot” of these animals up close from your camera lens rather than your rifle.
What animals make up the Big 5?
The most elusive of the five! Leopards are probably the one animal that is most often missing from people’s Big 5 checklist. Masters of camouflage, leopards inhabit almost every habitat in Africa where there is space for them; from forest to desert and up to mountain tops, these adaptable animals can change their habits to suit any environment. Preying on baboons in the mountains near Cape Town, impalas at Londolozi, and well over 50 other recorded prey species across their range. Leopards are effective hunters and as mystical as they are beautiful. These latter two qualities synergise with each other, in fact. They are incredibly dangerous in their own right. But at Londolozi we are fortunate to have a population that, through many years of a dedicated and sensitive approach to viewing them, have grown to accept the presence of the Land Rovers that seek them out during daily game drives. This allows us to see deeply into their secretive daily lives and get a great understanding of these mystical cats.
The largest of the five, Elephants. What would Africa be without these local giants? The calm, peaceful, often dozy, yet extremely intelligent nature of elephants is the reason why they are my favourite. Always up to something, whether it is a couple of youngsters playing, adults feeding, herd members mud bathing, or just one of them ambling past your vehicle in search of food. Whether you work in the bush, have been travelling to Africa for 40 years or are on your first safari, sitting quietly with Elephants creates an indelible moment.
The species that needs every single one of our help. Every time I get the chance to be in the presence of a rhino, I wonder what our planet would be without these prehistoric-looking beasts. To sit just metres away from an animal easily outweighing the vehicle we find our safety on, listening to its deep breaths as it mows the green grass that lays beneath it. Every single cent that each one of us spends on any form of travel across Africa is contributing to the protection of these animals. Similar to that of the elephants, sitting safely beside a rhino can always be entertaining. Mud bathing, feeding and nursing their young are things we are all blessed to witness.
Out of the five the Buffalo, I believe, are the ones most overlooked. On foot, the most dangerous of all due to their very unpredictable behaviour and movements. Here at Londolozi we quite regularly get the opportunity to view an extremely large herd of buffalo. Sometimes ranging up towards 800+ individuals. Smaller clans consist of dominant bulls, whose harem of females form a conglomerate by linking up with other groups thus forming larger herds. The very unique herd structure, along with synchronised birthing of the calves in the summer, make viewing the herd fascinating. Parking the vehicle at a waterhole and watching a herd of buffalo approach in its hundreds leaves you short of words unable to describe the magnificent scene.
There’s something indescribably special about Lions. Yes, they do spend the majority of the daylight hours asleep in the shade, but if they are up and moving, there is no better place to be than in a Land Rover with an enormous male lion walking past within a metre of the vehicle. Lionesses hunting or male lions roaring for me is as iconic as Africa will ever be. The bravery a male lion shows in protecting his territory against other rivals, ensuring his offspring are safe, is an attribute that very few wild animals contain within them. Which is beautifully contrasted by the power and coordinated teamwork that exists within a pride of lionesses when hunting to survive. The sheer strength and ability to take down an adult giraffe or buffalo as well as the accuracy and precision to snatch an impala lamb is quite staggering.
From the words of alumni Londolozi guide, James Tyrrell: “Africa is much, much more than the Big 5. Its about the call of the fish eagle at dawn, dung beetles rolling their balls into the bushes, a bead of perspiration on your brow as the heat waves shimmer on an open plain, or a journey of giraffes moving in a stately line across a hillcrest at sunset. The intangibles of Africa, the feeling it gives you, the connection that, at least in my opinion, is difficult to find anywhere else, and that overriding sense of witnessing something much greater than you… these are all part of the allure of this diverse and still mysterious continent”.
Yet time and time again, it is the five animals named above that draw people from all over the world to first step foot on these shores. And if through these five, peoples eyes are opened to the wondrous depths that this continent has to offer, that’s something rather special.