Africa’s Big Five are the Wild’s most dangerous, unpredictable, intimidating and fiercest animals in the wild. It’s these qualities that have earned them the top five slots of the wild because back in the day before we all wanted to just go see them and take pictures of them, read about and just enjoy them. They were a huntsman’s most desired and treasured trophy on a game hunt. When a huntsman went out to hunt and met one of Africa’s big five and killed it (which was also a rare occurrence, most huntsmen were normally killed by the big five), the huntsman would gain respect and honor from his fellow huntsmen and community because of he was now considered a brave and fierce warrior.
The times have changed and now we fight for the conversation of wildlife so that these animals don’t go extinct in the near future. Thankfully these animals include Africa’s big five.
So let’s take a closer look at Africa’s big five.
You can find them in about 37 countries in Africa with East and Southern Africa having all of them at ago in their various national game reserves and parks.
Africa’s Big Five include;
- The African Lion (Panthera Leo)
- Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)
- Leopard (Panthera Pardus)
- Cape Buffalo (Syncerus Caffer)
- Rhino (white and Black).
African Lion (Panthera Leo)
The African lion is the fiercest of all Africa’s big five and of all the animals in the wild, thus the King of the Jungle title. Matter of fact the lion is not known to mingle with other animals but only prey on them for food, though it stays in the same niche with hyenas and actually the hyena and the lion competes and steal prey from each other.
The lion is a deep-chested cat and the second-largest cat just after the tiger. It stays in the savannah on the flat-topped ground with trees but not in the forests because it’s not adapted to survive in the forest plus lions are carnivorous.
The Lion (male) weighs about 120kg or more above the lioness’(female) weight and the male lion has a mane around its neck which is the most prominent and distinctive feature on a lion.
The lion is a social animal and stays in groups of about 10 to 15 that consist of one lead lion and probably 2 or 3 lesser males with related lionesses and their cubs. The lion is also territorial and can stay in one territory for many years or a lifetime if they are not endangered and the prey is available.
The common prey for the lion includes:- Zebras, young Elephants, buffalos, giraffes etc; and are normally hunted by a group of lionesses from a pride who ambush the prey, kill it then take the meal for the whole pride to share. The lioness is not as strong as the lion however a group of lionesses are able to kill prey bigger than them.
Given the lioness does most of the hunting; the lions protect the pride from rival animals, danger and intruders.
The lion-like all other cats is active during the night but can also be active during the day and rests for almost 20 hours each day sleeping, relating with each other and reproducing. When on heat a female lion can mate with more than one male though there are times in the year when the lion doesn’t mate.
At age four a male lion is able to go and create its own pride as the Lioness is able to reproduce, the average gestation period is about 110 days and a female gives births to between 1 – 4 cubs at once. The mother nurses the cubs outside the pride until they are 6 to 8 weeks; that’s when she will integrate them into the pride.
The lionesses in a pride are normally on heat at the same time thus reproduce at similar times, so when cubs are in the pride they can nurse from any lioness in the pride which helps them to grow and develop equally and for the cubs that are abandoned, they don’t suffer from starvation.
The males don’t mind the cubs and they are usually not found of them and instances where a new male takes control of the pride, he kills all the cubs so that the lionesses in the pride can easily go on heat to allow mating.
When threatening the lion will charge with rage and can be dangerous, however, it is advised that in moments like this; don’t panic, don’t run, look bigger than the lion and plan to retreat slowly without turning your back to the lion; even when it charges again just keep retreating.
You can enjoy a wide diversity of this Africa lion when you visit any of these game parks:-
- Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
- Ruaha National Park in Tanzania
- Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
- Murchison falls national park in Uganda.
- Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda
- Kidepo National Park In Uganda
- Akagera National Park in Rwanda and many other parks.
African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)
The African Elephant is the largest in size of Africa’s big five but also the largest land animal weighing about 6000-7500 Kgs or more. The Elephant exists mostly in the savanna parts of the sub- Sahara and lives in the savanna grasslands though can adapt to any environment easily including deserts and wetlands; there also a few elephants known to live in forests called forest Elephants.
The most eminent features on the Elephant are:-
- Longnose or trunk – used for breathing, smelling, grasping, touching and making sound.
- The ivory tusks – made of ivory to protect the nose and also act as teeth for gathering food, defense, digging and lifting objects.
- Large wide ears – used to disperse heat to the body and regulate the body temperature.
- Wide thick legs – used for movements
The Elephant lives in matriarch led groups called herbs of about 100 individuals that have mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts and the male Elephants live alone out of the herd as solitary bulls.
The elephants communicate using low-frequency distinct rumbles that can travel over a distance of 6 miles.
Elephants are herbivores so they eat grass, tree leaves, twigs, and any other vegetation; they use their trunks to bring up food and water to their mouths. In a day an elephant can eat up 600 pounds of food and about 50 gallons taking between 12-18 hours on feeding alone. Not surprised it comes with the size.
Since elephants are matriarchal, their mating period with the bulls is normally short, when a female meets a male they rub each other on their bodies, stroke each other with their trunks and then the male will mount the female and that’s it. The female goes on to become pregnant, carrying the calves in the womb for the longest time which is between 640-660 days. This makes the elephant the mammal with the longest gestation period. Baby Elephants breastfeed until they are four or five years and at age 10 or 12, the males leave the herd to go create their own, the females stay in the herd through their lifetime.
Elephants can have about 5-6 claves in their lifetime and though they don’t mate for life, females normally choose to mate with the same bull through life and some bulls are protective of their females.
In times of danger, the mother elephant with surround the calves to protect them from danger or the calf will hold on to the mother’s tail to keep up as they run from danger.
On a normal day the Elephant is chill and calm but when not disturbed or threatened can get pretty terrifying as it flaps its ears, trumpets loudly and aggressively run towards the culprit. Though it’s a huge animal the elephant runs at a speed of 25kph and cannot be outrun by a human so it’s advised not to disturb or threaten an elephant, just leave them in their peace.
Give yourself the opportunity to see the largest animal in Africa’s big five and the wild when you visit any of these parks:-
- Amboseli National Park in Kenya
- The Chyulu Hills in Kenya
- Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
- Murchison falls National Park in Uganda
- Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
- Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda
- Tarangire National Park in Tanzania
Leopard (Panthera Pardus)
The Leopard is the strongest climber among Africa’s big five and of all big cats; having the ability to climb and jump even when carrying the heaviest prey. The Leopard has also been called a lot of names from the trick star, master of disguise, concealer, etc. within various communities because of its camouflage abilities making it the most difficult to catch among Africa’s big five.
The leopard’s spotted skin with series of black spots helps it camouflage easier by blending in the trees where they spend most of their time and it uses the trees to scan, monitor and plan trap its prey; it also uses the trees to hide its kill or prey from other carnivores like the hyenas and the lions. It’s a solitary animal normally not interacting with other animals unless it’s hunting them.
The leopard stays in more place in its lifetime compared to the other Africa’s big five animals, because it’s able to adapt in a wide range of territories that include deserts, semi-deserts, rainforests, mountainous areas, and savanna grasslands plus the Leopard doesn’t stay in one place for more than 6 days unless something rare has happened and forced it to stay. In areas where the Leopard stays it marks the territory by urinating and leaving claw marks in the place.
Since it’s a cat it’s definitely nocturnal, so it’s always active at night hunting for prey mainly. It’s a very strong cat that is able to kill prey several times bigger than it. When it identifies prey, it can either stalk it or ambush it and after killing it take it up to the tree with it; the Leopard’s hunting abilities are enhanced by its ability to run at a speed of 56kph, jump over 3 meters high in the air and swim easily with no difficulty.
Among Africa’s big five, the leopard and the lion have the same mating habits and can mate every 15mintues up to 5 days. When on a heat a female leopard will attract the male leopard with its urine. The leopardess will be pregnant for 3 and a half months and give birth to 1-3 cubs in one go. Cubs are normally born blind and vulnerable and will entirely depend on their mothers for food until they are 3 months old. At about 12 – 18 months the cubs have now matured enough to fend for themselves and at 2 years they can live the den and are able to reproduce. The white spots on the tip of the leopard’s tail and back of the leopard’s ears make cubs visible to their mothers even in the long grass.
Just like lions a dominant Leopard in a den can kill a leopardess’ cubs to allow the leopardess to go on heat again so that they can mate.
In case of danger the female leopards move or hide their cubs to safer places until they are old enough to fend and fight for themselves.
The leopards are not to attack humans but incase where angered they can be dangerous to the human, the only advice is in incidences like this try and stays calm, look bigger than the leopard and then retreat slowly without turning your back to the leopard.
You can find the leopards in any of the listed national parks below and many more across East Africa.
- Nairobi National Park in Kenya
- Meru National Park in Kenya
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania
- Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
- Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda
- Semuliki National Park in Uganda
The African Rhino is second to the elephant in size among Africa’s big five and also the second largest land mammal in the world. It’s categorized into two types, the black and white Rhino; which however has nothing to do with its skin color but rather with its lip shape; the black Rhino has a hooked lip while the white Rhino has a square lip.
The name white came from the Afrikaans word “weit” which was used to refer to the white Rhino’s muzzle and black was given to the Black Rhino as the opposite of white.
These huge mammals live in densely vegetated grasslands because they are herbivorous and are loners that like to wonder in unhindered and undisturbed areas of their habitats. The Rhinos together in a group are called Crash.
Black Rhinos browse for food with their hooked lips well as the white Rhinos graze for food walking with their head and squared lip lowered to the ground. Black rhino feed mostly at night and during the dawn and dusk hours, during the day they take cover by lying in the shade.
Rhino reproduction is quite slow, females give birth to one calf at a time though some can have twins however it takes at least 2 -5 until a female can get pregnant and give birth again. Their gestation period is between 15 to18 months and after birth a calf lives under the mother’s care for about 3 years before it goes on to be on its own. The females will then reach sexual maturity at 6 or 7 years of age and the males at 9 or 10 years of age.
These huge animals that weigh between 1800 to 2500 kg have a great sense of smell and hearing but with poor eyesight; as they walk they put all their weight on their toes and defend themselves with their strong horns and amour like skins.
They have no natural predators apart from humans who kill them for their horns however they easily charge at any sense of danger whether it’s a human, another animal or any harmless objects. Though they rarely kill, a female when she senses a threat to its calf will pickle her defense mechanism snorting loudly before aggressively goring with its horns at you at a speed of 56kph; this can be fatal so Its advised in such situations for you to flee the from the Rhino. Young rhinos can however easily fall prey to big cats, crocodiles, hyenas and wild dogs.
Among Africa’s big five the Rhino is the most endangered species and organizations like the WWF run different programs to this endangered animal. You can also be a part of the conversation campaigns by donating to WWF, adopting a Rhino and saying to the buying and selling of rhino horns.
Rhinos are found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. In east Africa you can find the Rhinos in Uganda and Kenya at:
- Ziwa rhino sanctuary in Uganda
- Meru National Park in Kenya
- Nairobi National Park in Kenya
- Tsavo National Park in Kenya