The Big Five… that classic safari term which every traveller knows. The majestic lion, the stoic elephant, the cumbersome rhino, the grumpy buffalo and the elusive leopard. But does anyone know why those particular five animals are what constitutes 'The Big Five'?
Why These Five Animals?
Is it because they are simply the iconic African animals that everybody wants to see? Well then, where are giraffes, hippos, zebras or cheetahs? Is it because these particular animals are the largest, most stunning, or most interesting? Wrong. The Big Five are the Big Five because, traditionally, they are the hardest and most dangerous animals to hunt.
Harking back to the days of the Great White Hunter and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, these animals have for years been classed as the most treacherous of animals to hunt. Whatever your stand is on hunting, the fact that these animals produce the most fearsome challenge still stands.
Despite reportedly killing more people in Africa per year than any other animal, hippos provide a rather easy target as they wallow in shallow pools with their heads above water and therefore they do not gain a spot in the starting line-up. Similarly, a clarification must be made in the sense that when we say that rhinos are part of the Big Five, it is in fact only black rhinos that features in this fearsome five. White rhinoceros' are relatively docile animals compared to their cantankerous cousins.
So where is best to see the most dangerous of the dangerous? Where are the best places to spot the Big Five?
The Kalahari Desert, Botswana. No arguments. The male lions there have developed trademark black manes and grow to huge, preposterous sizes despite the arid and unforgiving environment they inhabit.
Some people say go see the great Tuskers of Amboseli in Kenya, of which there are very few left. Others say go and see the great herds of Chobe and the Okavango Delta. However, in my experience, the greatest elephant sightings are in the Tuli Block of southern Botswana. Mashatu Game Reserve in the Tuli is aptly named 'The Land of Giants' because of the giant Baobab trees, giant landscapes and giant elephants. It is not uncommon to see herds of hundreds in the dry river beds or climbing majestic dolerite ridges.
Although you would never believe that these huge beasts could survive in one of the most arid and desolate areas on Earth, Damaraland, Namibia is the best place to see them. Stay at Desert Rhino Lodge and spend your days tracking these irascible animals on foot through the mountains and deserts.
Luckily, you can see buffalos in most major parks in Africa, however to see them in their greatest number you must travel to the Serengeti or Masai Mara. Here one can witness herds of many hundreds traversing the great African plains being plagued by lurking prides of Lions.
Aka The Don. The Big Kahuna. The Ghost Cat. No one can ever guarantee leopard sightings, in a lot of areas these shy felines avoid the prying gaze of tourist's SLR cameras and wait until dark to reveal themselves. I would bet my bottom dollar that every single person who has been on a safari in Africa has driven past a leopard without being remotely aware of its presence. However! To maximise your chances, there is no reserve quite like the Sabi Sands in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. The guides and trackers there know those cats as well as anyone can know deadly predators, plus the lodges aren't too shabby either.
So there we have it, a complete run-down of Africa's Big Five. If you are in search of your own safari adventure, please do get in touch.