You have probably heard of the African “Big Five.” This encompasses 5 native wildlife species that most visitors hope to see when they visit the continent. The African Big Five includes leopards, African lions, African buffalo, African elephant, and rhinoceroses. Here are a few facts about these infamous animals.
Leopards are the hardest to “see” on any African safari tour. They are incredibly fast and very stealthy. They weigh anywhere from 88 – 130 pounds and their coat may be tawny, deep gold, or pale yellow. Melanistic African leopards appear to be all black at a distance. However, up close (and under light) you can still make out their spots!
They are solitary animals and tend to travel alone except for mating season and child-rearing. You are most likely to see them at dusk or dawn. As they are nocturnal hunters.
African lions live in groups called prides so where you see one there will often be more. They weigh anywhere from 265-420 pounds and the males are particularly noticeable thanks to their iconic mane and powerful, throaty roar. Lions are the only wildcat species where males and females look different from one another—this is called “sexual dimorphism.”
Spot a white lion? These are actually NOT albinos! A white coat is simply caused by a double recessive allele. It’s quite uncommon but not unheard of. Their eyes remain darkly pigmented, not red.
African buffalo have four distinct subspecies: forest buffalo, West African savanna buffalo, Central African buffalo, and southern savanna buffalo. Each has a slightly different physical appearance either in color or size. They weigh anywhere from 660 to 1,840 pounds and eat mostly grass and fresh greens. Like cows, they chew their cud or bolus to extract maximum nutrients from the leaves.
Fun fact: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a grammatically correct sentence. This is because the word buffalo can be a proper noun (place name), verb, and noun.
The African elephant is the largest on-land animal in current existence and they weigh around 6 tons or 13,440 pounds each. You’ll spot them in Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests, flooded Grasslands and Savannahs, Miombo woodlands, and/or Acacia savannahs. About a quarter or third of all African elephants are forest dwellers; the rest are in open plains.
African elephants are in danger of extinction because the ivory in their tusks is highly valued by poachers. A chance genetic mutation sometimes results in elephants being born without tusks.
Rhinoceroses are divided into two species, black rhinos and white rhinos. You’ll find white rhinos primarily in South Africa but they also exist in Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, and Cote d’Ivoire. Most black rhinos can be found in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. However, 2% of black rhinos live in Cameroon and Kenya.
Rhinoceroses have great senses of hearing and smell. However, their eyesight is very poor! This might explain why they sometimes seem to get spooked and charge for no reason.
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