Our Guide to
Big Five Safaris
Big Five Safaris
‘Big Five’ was a term big game hunters came up with years ago for the five most difficult and dangerous African species to track and hunt on foot.
In Africa, the big five species are the rhinoceros, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and lion.
Photographic safaris are a brilliant way to get up close with Africa’s big game which is far more rewarding than any TV documentary or movie you watch on Africa.
With just a handful of regions boasting all of the species, now is the time to get set out on an Africa Holiday for the best Big Five safaris.
Rhino numbers are dropping faster than flies and they are not visible easily so we will always chat with you about what it is you want to see in the wild. Lion numbers are dwindling and elephants are still targeted by poaching.
This page is all about showing you the big five and sharing the best places to see each species in their natural habitat.
Learn more about big five safaris or simply start planning now.
Big Five safaris are not available just anywhere in Africa. Work with the experts to identify the best location to suit your needs and interests. Some of the areas for Big Five safaris include South Africa’s Kruger National Park, private reserves like Sabi Sand, the Eastern Cape, Madikwe, Phinda and Timbavati. In Kenya its Masai Mara and Laikipia, a Serengeti safari in Tanzania. In Botswana thanks to massive conservation efforts by Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond there are now rhino on Chief’s Island meaning a Big Five safari may just be possible. Lesser known regions for Big Five safaris include Akagera National Park in Rwanda thanks to the recent reintroduction of lion and rhino and Malawi’s Majete National Park.
Lions in Africa
Africa’s most iconic species may very well be the lion and yet their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate from habitat loss, conflict with humans and many other factors. Seeing lions on safari is now an endangered experience. Lions have lost over 75% of their habitat and extinct now in 26 countries according to a Duke University study.
To see lion there are some fantastic Africa safari holiday options.
Tanzania has Africa’s largest population of lion so it’s a solid starting point especially in Ruaha National Park in the south and Serengeti in the north. Some of our other favourites are the Masai Mara in Kenya, Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe (where you can get up close on foot or from the safety of your 4×4), South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Mala Mala in one of South Africa’s private reserves, Sabi Sabi.
Lion behaviours have adapted over time to accommodate changes in the environmental conditions where they live. You will see lions now climbing trees and swimming across waterways in the delta and the Mara River between Kenya and Tanzania.
Leopards on safari
Of all the Big Five animals, leopard is the most beautiful in our opinion. For years seeing leopard in the bush has eluded many people and continues to this day because they are so elusive. This has resulted in leopard being the number one animal to spot while on safari. Solitary and stealthy predators, leopards are the masters of camouflage. So for the best odds of seeing leopard in the wild, we would absolutely recommend one of a handful of wilderness areas.
Sabi Sand is a private reserve that borders with the Kruger National Park and here you will find an impressive concentration of leopard. Still elusive, your chances are high to spot a leopard in the wild and guides know the region well and the preferred habitat.
South Luangwa Valley in Zambia is next on the list and home to another impressive concentration of leopard. The valleys and plains of South Luangwa National Park, the high concentration of prey and access to water make for the perfect leopard environment.
Kenya is home to The Samburu region and Masai Mara and these two wilderness areas boast solid leopard numbers. Leopards particularly enjoy lazing on river beds, sleeping in trees and hanging out amongst the kopjes (rock formations) awaiting for their prey to move into the area.
Tanzania’s Serengeti shares the ecosystem with Masai Mara and thus it also has a great reputation for leopard sightings.
Elephants in Africa
The world’s largest land animal is the African elephant and these creatures are wonderful to see in the wild and while on an African safari. Of all the Big Five, it’s our favourite when it comes to facts and figures. So please allow us to indulge.
Did you know the biggest elephant can get to 7.5 metres long and over 3.3 metres high at the shoulder weighing in at a hefty 6 tonnes? Of course the tusks are sought after and are basically large modified incisors that grow the entire lifetime of the elephant. Tusks are used in fighting, marking territory, digging and assisting to feed. Elephants eat branches of bushes and trees and their leaves, grasses fruit and bark.
The enormous ears allow elephants to radiate excess heat and it’s also one of the signs to look for in a disgruntled elephant. Most times a mock charge is emulated before a real charge if the elephant is displeased.
Elephants are social creatures and yet the males and females segregate. Female herds are usually at least 10 and up to 70 and on the rare occasion up to and over 100. A single calf is born after an epic 22 month gestation period. Young elephants can nurse for up to 6 years whilst the average is 18 months. Males are not social with the females unless it’s breeding season and so they leave the family herd at puberty to form alliances with other males.
In Africa there are two sub species of elephant, the Savannah and Forest.
The Savannah elephants are larger with tusks curving outwards and larger family numbers. Meanwhile the forest elephant is smaller, darker and tusks are straighter and point downwards.
Whilst they once roamed the majority of the African continent, they are now confined to a smaller range. 50% of this has been lost since the late 1970s and poaching has been rife so the population has dropped significantly.
There is no time like the present to go on a African Safari holiday and see elephants in their natural habitat.
Our all time favourite elephant safari locations include Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe where you can get close on foot and in 4×4 and Amboseli National Park in Kenya with Mount Kilimanjaro your backdrop. To see them playing in and even crossing the water, head to Botswana’s Chobe National Park, Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park or Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.
Seeing rhino on safari
Rhino used to roam this continent without fear and in 150 years the population has dropped from over a million to just over 20,000. Invasion of habitat, relentless hunting and poaching held responsible for their decline. These days, the two African rhino species – black rhino and white rhino can be seen in just six countries including South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana (on one small island in the Delta at this stage), Kenya and Tanzania (in small numbers).
What’s significant and not commonly known is that rhinos are hugely important to the ecosystem. These creatures are important grazers, consuming massive amounts of vegetation which helps shape the landscape of Africa. It benefits other animals and keeps a healthy balance within the ecosystems themselves.
Whilst not actually white or black, there is a subtle difference. The Afrikaans word ‘wad’ means square upper lip which the white rhino has, so it’s thought there was a misinterpretation many years ago that remains today. Black rhinos have hooked lips. White rhino are also bigger than the black rhino with the squared upper lip and barely any hair.
Extensive work is being done by numerous agencies, organisations and governments to protect this valuable species and their habitat and we are proud to be involved in a number of the rhino conservation initiatives.
We don’t want to talk about where you should go to see rhino (poachers don’t need any extra help) , rather have a phone conversation about that. Just know it’s a handful of places and worth every penny to visit.
Seeing buffalo on safari
The African buffalo or Cape buffalo is one of the Big Five and a large bovine found in Southern and Eastern Africa and smaller subspecies can be found in the forests of Central and West Africa.
It is often assumed that buffalo would share the temperament of domestic cattle. This is far from the truth and buffalo are perhaps the most dangerous because they are underestimated. Buffalo charge when anxious and can gore and even kill a human if you get in the way.
The African buffalo only has a handful of predators, namely lions and large crocodiles because they are so good at defending themselves with horns that are fused and form a continuous bone shield across the top of the head.
Buffalo live in impressive herds sometimes numbering up to 500 and it is the easiest of the Big Five to spot.
Our favourite buffalo sightings are in Tanzania’s Serengeti because the herds are big and wonderful to see on open plains. Chobe National Park in Botswana and indeed all over Botswana buffalo can be found and in the dry months of May to October they come in big numbers to drink from the rivers and waterways.
Kruger National Park and the private reserves surrounding it are brilliant too for sighting buffalo and indeed the Big Five.
Learn more about big five safaris or simply start planning now.
Big Five safari feedback
From those who have ventured
Africa is like no other place in the world! And the African people are like no other!