Beyond the big five

posted 24th March 2015 by Shortie Designs in Work in progress

Discovering Africa's creatures

Great and small

When you picture your dream African safari holiday  – what wildlife come to mind? Can you imagine lion on the hunt in the afternoon light? Can you see elephant herds moving gracefully and silently across the savannah? Or is it rhino in the distance, knowing their closeness to extinction? And how about the leopard sleeping on a branch in acacia tree with her tail curling down? It is almost unthinkable to picture a game drive without the possibility of seeing these magnificent creatures.

These larger animals are exciting to watch and absolutely, we all adore seeing them on BBC Earth and National Geographic programs (some of the footage takes months to film by the way, not just a few days on safari). What is important to realise is that animals are wild and sightings impossible to guarantee. So are we missing a beat by just focusing on the big ticket wildlife? And why on earth are the big ticket animals categorised as the Big five?


The big five term was coined by hunters many years ago because they were perceived as the most dangerous. They include:

  1. lion
  2. elephant
  3. Cape buffalo
  4. leopard and
  5. rhino.

To this day, the Big Five draw big numbers to Africa for photographic safaris (we only shoot with cameras).

We like to encourage our guests to look beyond the big five.

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Africa’s Little Five

The Little Five is a fascinating group of animals named by conservationists to get people looking for the smaller species.  They include the:

  1. ant lion
  2. elephant shrew
  3. buffalo weaver
  4. leopard tortoise and
  5. rhino beetle.


Few things compare to the excitement of a walking safari with professional guides, getting truly immersed in the landscape and close to the ground where most of the Small Five reside.

We encourage you to really enjoy a walking safari. Stop and listen to your guide, bend down and watch where he is pointing because it may just be a sand pit where the ant lions reside. A blade of grass tickling the hole catalyses the ant lion attack! These clever little creatures had gone unnoticed for years until I visited Tanzania in 2010.   I have a new found appreciation and respect for the ant lion and on walking safaris, enjoy watching every step hoping to identify the tiny sand pit for myself, knowing what lies beneath.

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leopard tortoise 

Africa’s Ugly Five

With the Big Five and Little Five ticked off your animal list, how about the Ugly Five? This unfortunate cluster of animals was named for a bit of fun and includes the :

  1. hyena
  2. maribou stork
  3. vultures
  4. warthog and
  5. wildebeest.

Each one of the ugly five members are fun and fascinating to watch for a while. When you come across a maribou stork, you will literally do a double take. A guide in Kenya (Robert) once described them to me as ugly old bald men in suits!

After the success of the Lion King movie (original and latest version), a safari isn’t the same without spotting at least one or two Pumba (warthog).

The king of ugly in my humble opinion, yet equally interesting and fantastic to watch is the hyena. With a pack mentality, denning day times and a chilling whooping call at night you will not ever be mistaken that you’ve seen the hyena.


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My advice…

With all these lists to remember, you could spend your entire holiday trying . to tick everything off. So my best advice is to forget the lists. Put the books away, leave the pencil and little note book in your tent and take the bird book for extra reference only (most guides have these in the vehicles anyway).

Enjoy every minute of seeing wildlife in their natural habitat because you just never know if you will have the opportunity again. Hear Africa – listen to the lions calling and hyena whooping at night. Smell Africa – breath in the fresh air. The best smell on safari for me is rain. Combine all of your senses to truly get the ultimate out of your safari holiday beyond the list ticking!

If you stop obsessing about the lists and truly embrace the safari, it won’t matter how many of the Big Five, Little Five or Ugly Five you have seen. You will leave with a longing to return to Africa one day because in this holiday alone, you will have found many answers to life… that’s the power of this natural paradise.


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