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When it comes to an African safari, the Big Five is often high on the bucket list. Inclusive of the leopard, the lion, the rhino, the buffalo, and the elephant, the Big Five holds a huge weight behind it yet, how many of you know why they are all part of this iconic group? 

First to mind is usually the size and, while the rhino, buffalo and elephant are some of the largest land animals on Earth, questions arise: why would the leopard be included in the group? And why isn’t the giraffe included? Or the ostrich? Therefore the size of the animal quickly gets disregarded. The term ‘The Big Five’ was actually coined by big-game hunters as the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. Today, hunting is illegal across the majority of Africa and, as we’ve become more conservation-focused and aware of the vulnerable world we live in, the roots of the Big Five feels somewhat outdated. 

Elephant in south africa

As an African travel expert, it is however, a question I regularly get asked – “will I see the big five”? Nothing is guaranteed on safari, so while I will never say yes, there are safari destinations and reserves that give you a greater opportunity to see these five species of animal. South Africa being one of these and this is for several reasons. The first being that 80 percent of Africa’s remaining wild rhino population live in South Africa. So, while seeing the other four species of the Big Five may be ‘easier’ in other countries, rhino is one of the most challenging.

A second reason is that South Africa has many game reserves that are privately owned and managed. This means that funding is often spent on the protection of these species, with anti-poaching units and technology in place on the reserve. 

 

Leopard in south africa

The private reserves tend to surround a national park and, while they have open borders with the main park, the animals flow freely between the two areas. The land is privately owned, and the owners have built lodges on them. You can only visit these reserves if you are staying at a lodge on the property and as a result, the number of visitors out on game drive is tightly controlled. This usually means your wildlife sightings are exclusive – private almost.   

These private reserves home highly qualified guides, who know the area and wildlife exceptionally well. The guides constantly communicate with one another, so they know where the animals are and what their behaviour patterns are. We always recommend our guests stay in the private reserves to ensure they have great safari experience.

Timbavati, Klaserie, and Sabi Sands are all examples of private reserves in the Greater Kruger that home the Big Five. With exceptional wildlife year-round, these reserves are highly recommended for your safari experience – be it your first, or tenth safari. 

 

Rhino in south africa

The group of ‘Fives’ doesn’t stop there. The safari industry has collectively created other groups of species, such as the Little Five and the Ugly Five among others. These groups spark conversation between safari guide and guest – as everyone tries to guess which species are included. 

The Little Five

  1. The elephant shrew
  2. The buffalo weaver bird
  3. The rhinoceros beetle
  4. The leopard tortoise
  5. The antlion 

The Ugly Five

  1. The vulture
  2. The hyena
  3. The marabou stork
  4. The wildebeest
  5. The warthog 
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This article was first published in issue six of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.

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Our Recommended South Africa Safari Lodges

Our specialists have traveled extensively across South Africa, and have stayed in all of the luxury safari camps and lodges we offer. Please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to start planning your South Africa safari.