Introducing the Big Five: Animals to Look Out for on an African Safari

If you’re a wildlife lover then there’s no doubt that Africa is the holiday destination for you. Some of the most incredible animals to walk the Earth can be found on the continent. From gentle long necked giraffes to wallowing hippos and the rare painted wolf, commonly known as the African wild dog. However, no African safari would be complete without ticking off the group of animals known as the “Big Five.”

Traditionally, these five animals were on European big game hunters “to kill” list when they came travelling to Africa. Thankfully, nowadays the majority of travelers to Africa come looking to see these iconic species alive in the flesh. Capturing amazing photographs and making lifelong memories. The African Big Five are: lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and buffalo. In this article we’ll introduce you to the five species. You will soon discover the best places to visit on your Africa holiday if you want to see them in the wild.

African Safari Big Five


African Safari

The phrase “King of the Jungle” is unusual. Interesting enough, lions don’t live in Africa’s jungles, but in its vast Savannah Plains. The lion is Africa’s top predator, living in large family groups of up to 40 animals called prides. They are incredibly social creatures, with a strong family dynamic – sisters and aunts will help care for the pride’s cubs. Female cubs tend to stay with the pride. Whilst males will typically leave once they are old enough, in order to take over a pride of their own. Lion prides are headed by an alpha male, but it is the lionesses who do most of the hunting.

Unfortunately, lions have vanished from an astonishing 94% of their range. The best places to see wild lions are; Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve, Namibia’s Etosha National Park and Botswana’s Okavango Delta. When arranging an Africa holiday to see wild lions, make sure you are visiting a reputable reserve. Unfortunately, there is a cruel canned hunting industry in parts of Africa.  This is a practice where lions are bred specifically to be shot by the highest bidder. Whilst legal, this is truly a barbaric practice considering the endangered status of Africa’s wild lions.

Rhinoceros (Rhino)


Rhinos have been long-persecuted across the African continent. Today, they are the most imperiled member of the Big Five. Why is that? Their scarcity is primarily due to their ivory horns, which are desired by the wealthy in parts of Asia. It’s difficult to believe that rhinos have been slaughtered in their thousands to feed this cruel demand. However, there is a glimmer of hope. Dedicated rhino conservation efforts and anti-poaching patrols have seen numbers begin to recover.

There are two rhino species in Africa. The white rhino numbers around 18,000 individuals. Whilst the black rhino, which was once on the brink of extinction, has recovered to a population of around 5,600. Etosha National Park in Namibia has a growing number of rhinos, whilst Hlane Royal National Park in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is home to both black and white rhinos. Kruger National Park in South Africa is also home to a large and stable population of rhinos.


Elephants Wildlife Africa Holiday

Another victim of the poaching pandemic, elephant numbers have plummeted across the African continent. Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world. They are easy to spot, living in vast herds led by a matriarchal female. Elephants can live for 80 years and above. Once mature, their responsibility is teaching younger generations the best places to find food and water. That said, their most important lessons prepare the herd how to avoid predators. Interestingly, there is growing evidence that the percentage of elephants born without the ability to grow tusks is increasing. These are more likely to survive poaching and pass on their genes. Elephants are evolving before our very eyes!

A smaller-subspecies of African elephant, known as the Forest elephant, can be found in the dense tropical jungles of central Africa. But the more common subspecies that you’ll be seeing on your African safari numbers around 400,000. The best populations can be seen in Chobe National Park in Botswana and Amboseli National Park in Kenya.


Africa holiday wildlife

Of all the Big Five, the leopard is perhaps the one that is hardest to spot. Living elusive, solitary lives, many visitors can travel to Africa numerous times without seeing one. Leopards are most active at night when they typically come out to hunt. Lucky Africa holiday travelers to the continent may be able to see one sleeping in a tree. Once rested, you might even catch one stalking a wary antelope through the long Savannah grasses.

Like many African species, leopards are threatened by habitat loss and human conflict. Especially when they take livestock as an easy meal and farmers retaliate. Conservation of leopard habitat remains the key tool in fighting to protect this iconic big cat. Although declining, the leopard population in Africa is much more stable than many of its most famous species. Approximately 700,000 leopards can be found across the African continent. The best chance to spot them coming in Tanzania’s famous Serengeti reserve and South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.


Big Five African Buffalo

Rounding out the Big Five is the bad-tempered buffalo. A colossal herbivore, even a pride of lions will think twice before taking on a buffalo. Grass eaters, there are four species of buffalo across Africa. The Cape buffalo is the most common, but all can be found in good numbers across the continent. African buffalo live in large herds. One of their favorite pastimes is rolling in mud. Many times with small tick-eating birds perched on their backs. Most African national parks are home to a population of buffalo. Chances are buffalo will be the first of the Big Five ticked off (no pun intended) during your African safari.

African Safari Big Five Recap

The Big Five form the basis of any African safari. Unfortunately, the lion, rhino and elephant are all threatened species. One of the best ways you can help is to visit Africa on safari. By bringing tourist revenue into a country, it incentivizes that government to protect the animals and their habitat. Once again the Skycap News™ team stresses the importance of supporting only reputable safari establishments. Doing so will enable future generations the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in their native habitat. Thus providing incredible Africa holiday experiences to travelers.