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The big five of Africa

Many people have the dream of seeing the big five in Africa, I was (or am) one of them myself. I have been lucky enough to see all these animals on my trip to Uganda, but if I get the chance to go on another safari I would go immediately. Let start by introducing the big five:

Size or popularity?

I am wondering how many people, that have to wish to see the big five themselves, actually know why these animals are called the big five? Often I hear that they think it is because of their size or popularity. But this does not make sense. Looking at the size of these animals, the elephant is clearly a big animal. Bulls can reach up to 4 meters high and over 6000 kg kilo! But the leopard, a male, only reaches 60 kg on average. So if the leopard only is about 60 kg, should it not be replaced by the giraffe? The giraffe reaches up to 5.5 meters and 800 kg. Even a zebra or an Antilope species are heavier than a leopard, so this debugs that the big five is named like this due to their size.

The popularity is also not the most logical explanation. The elephant, lion and leopard are favourite of many, including me the elephant is my favourite animal! But the buffalo, in particular, does not get mentioned as the animal they want to see the most during a safari or is their favourite animal. I think that most people would like it more to see a zebra, a giraffe or a particular bird species than the buffalo, this does not mean that they are not amazing animals of course!

Big game hunters

The real reason why these animals are called the big five I much less exciting than I would like to. The real reason why they are called like this is because of big game hunters. They called the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard the big five because these animals are the most dangerous to hunt for. Nowadays this term is widely used for safari tour operators, no longer for hunting but as many of the tourists know which animals are included in the big five.

As mentioned in the beginning, I have been lucky enough to see all the members myself. Although I have to admit that I have only seen a glimpse of the leopard. But it still counts, I even got evidence. The pictures above are of my own experience of the big five in Uganda. On the picture to the most right, you can see a leopard, if you look closely!

Conservation status

Did you know that four out of the five animals are is either endangered or threatened in their existence? The elephant is listed as vulnerable, due to habitat loss and poaching for their ivory. The black rhino overall status is critically endangered, three subspecies are already declared distinct. If nothing is going to change, more will follow rather soon. The lion is also declared vulnerable, due to habitat loss and conflicts with humans. The same counts for the leopard, it is also declared vulnerable. Although they are widely distributed, almost everywhere the populations are declining. So, four out of five species from the big five are in danger of extinction! If we do not take action, quickly, we might never be able to see the full big five anymore.

Do you want to go and see them yourself, before it might be too late? This is possible in many different countries; Angola Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. But when going on a safari, there is much more to see then the elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino. There are many bird species, antelope species, monkey species and much much more! Such as the animals in the pictures below, these are all sightings I had during my safari trip to Uganda. I have even seen the mountain gorilla in Uganda!

2 thoughts on “The famous big five of the African savannah”

  1. Great insight. You have certainly learned a fair bit about the struggles faced by Africa’s precious wildlife. This is a very vast and biodiverse country and the protection of the wildlife is crucial. You may want to pop onto Netflix and watch Virunga which covers the plight of the Gorillas in the DRC wherevy only 4 months ago 17 rangers lost their lives trying to protect them. There is also the documentary The Ivory Game which covers the illegal ivory trade. The biggest demand is still coming in from China for Ivory, despite the international ban.

    1. Thank you! I have seen the Virunga documentary yes, both interesting as difficult to watch. I will look up the other one. Too many Elephants are getting killed for their Ivory.

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