• Graeme Anderson

What is the ‘Big 5’ and ‘Super Seven'

Contrary to popular belief Africa’s Big 5 has nothing to do with the five largest mammals found in Africa but in fact refers to the five most dangerous animals hunted during the times of big game hunting on foot. The term has been taken over by the African tourist industry and is now commonly used when describing an African safari. So here is the Big 5:-


African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The largest of the ‘Big 5’ is without doubt the African or Savannah Elephant with bull elephants exceeding 6 tons and 3.5 metres in height, they’re very adaptable mammals and can be found from lush rain forests to semi-desert areas but prefer savannah regions with plenty of shade and water. Elephant herds are led by the dominant female, the matriarch, and comprise of predominately females (cows) with just juvenile males in toe, whilst mature males usually roam the African bush alone meeting up with other males from time to time.


One of my favourite places to see African Elephants is Botswana


Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

With very limited eye-sight the Black Rhino is generally considered to be a very dangerous animal to happen upon in the African bush. They rely on their excellent hearing and sense of smell to alert them to any potential danger. Smaller than their white cousins, weighing up to one ton, they are usually found alone in thick bush browsing on their favourite tamboti bush.


One of my favourite places to see Black Rhino is Namibia


White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

Whilst the original ‘Big 5’ only included the more dangerous Black Rhino, it now also includes the White Rhino. Larger than the black, a fully-grown male may weigh in excess of two tons, they have square mouths for grassing and are often seen in small groups of 2-8 individuals. Even though the white rhino is much larger that the black they are considered less aggressive.


One of my favourite places to see White Rhino is in Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge


Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

While you make think that the buffalo is nothing other than a large cow it should be noted that they are widely considered to be the most dangerous animal to encounter. Bulls can weigh in excess of 800kg and have massive horns. Herds of 50 to 1 000 individuals are commonplace and use their numbers and their shear brute force to defend themselves from predators. The will often turn on their enemies and with heads down and in formation will charge en-mass on any predator, even entire lion prides. Buffalo v lion is a sight worth seeing!


One of my favourite places to see Cape Buffalo is Kruger National Park


Lion (Panthera leo)

The only truly sociable cat; a pride of lion consists of a group of lionesses, often related, with their offspring and a single or a coalition of males. Dominate males will demand mating rights and in return will defend the pride from roaming males looking to take over a pride. Whilst the lionesses will usually spend their entire life as part of the same pride, males will usually only be in control for 2-3 years before a new male or coalition of males take over. An average pride size in the famous Kruger National Park may consist of fifteen - twenty individuals however, super prides in excess of twenty-five animals are not uncommon. Prides of this size need to hunt large game such as giraffe, buffalo or even young elephant.


One of my favourite places to see Lion is Kapama Game Reserve


Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopards are usually sighted alone or with young and hunt smaller prey such as warthog or impala along with other small antelope, but anything from a small bird to a young zebra can be on the menu for these highly adaptable cats. The immense strength they have in their neck and jaws allow them to drag a kill up a tree out of the reach of other predators such as lion and hyena, who are larger or more numerous and will easily steal it away from a solo leopard. These shy cats can sometimes be seen draped on a large branch in a shady tree on a hot summer’s day or hunting during cooler days or night-time.


One of my favourite places to see Leopard is Sabi Sand Game Reserve


So that’s your ‘Big 5’, add that with the following and you’ve got your African ‘Super Seven’:-


Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)

These stunning canines are the rarest Southern African carnivores and only roam free in a handful of National Parks and game reserves. Wild dogs are extremely social and live in packs with an alpha male and female being the only individuals that breed. They hunt as a pack, often chasing down their quarry over long distances, which makes them the most successful carnivore in the African bush with a success rate in excess of 80% of all hunts.


One of my favourite places to see Wild Dog is Madikwe Game Reserve


Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

We all know that the cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world and can reach speeds of up to 100kph for short periods of time, but did you know that cheetahs can’t retract their claws like other cats, their claws are always sticking out and are used like a sprinter’s running shoe to strengthen their grip when chasing prey. They also use their super sharp dewclaw to trip over their prey and hold it down while it is suffocated. Female cheetahs are solitary and are usually found alone or with cubs, whilst males are more sociable and are quite often found as part of a hunting coalition of brothers.


One of my favourite places to see Cheetah is Phinda Game Reserve

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