The “Big Five” of Africa

Seeing the ‘Big Five’ of Africa has been a dream for most tourists wishing to explore this continent. They say the ‘Big Five’ was coined as a result of these animals being difficult to hunt on foot and are among the most dangerous animals. Today the expression of the Big Five takes on a gentler form, referring to ‘seeing’ the Big Five on a wildlife safari rather than hunting then.

The Big Five consists of the African Elephant, Black Rhinoceros, African or Cape Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard. Countries, where all the Big Five can be found, include Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Malawi.

Getting to know the ‘Big Five’

African Elephant

The African elephant is a  large herbivore with thick, almost hairless skin, a long, flexible, prehensile trunk, upper incisors forming long curved tusks of ivory, and large, fan-shaped ears. There are two distinct species of African elephant, the African forest elephant, and the African bush elephant. Elephants are difficult to hunt because, despite their large size, they are able to hide in tall grass and are more likely to charge than the other species.

African Elephant facts:
  • Weight: 4-6 tonnes.
  • Diet: They graze and also uproot trees and shrubs. And how much do they eat? 300 kgs a day.
  • Life Span: 60-70 years.

And did you know…

  1. African Elephants communicate across distances at a low frequency that cannot be heard by humans.
  2. The elephant’s gestation period of 22 months giving birth to calves weighing 120kg! Elephant cows give birth standing up with members of the herd forming a protective circle around her as her calf is born.
  3. Elephants love to swim.

Black Rhinoceros

Black rhinoceros is a large herbivore having two upright horns on the nasal bridge. Its thick protective skin, formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure, is very hard to puncture. It is now critically endangered, and hunting is extremely limited due to this.

Black Rhinoceros facts:
  • Weight: 1-2 tonnes (the weight of an average car).
  • Diet: Leaves, buds, and shoots of plants .
  • Life Span: 35-40 years.

And did you know…

  1. Black rhinos have poor vision and will sometimes attack trees and rocks by accident. However, their hearing and sense of smell are excellent, thus often making up for their poor eyesight.
  2. This animal is the most endangered species of the ‘Big Five’ in Africa.
  3. Black rhinos feed at night and rest during the day.
  4. They have a gestation period of 16 months.

African or Cape Buffalo

African or Cape Buffalo are large horned bovid and are the only animals within the Big Five that are not endangered or threatened. The Cape buffalo is considered by many to be the most dangerous of the Big Five with wounded animals reported to ambush and attack pursuers.

African or Cape Buffalo facts:

  • Weight: 900 kg.
  • Diet: Grass, grass and still more grass! (And some leaves at times.)
  • Life Span: 16 Years.

And did you know…

  1. The primary predator to the buffalo is the Lion.
  2. The African buffalo is not closely related to the water buffalo even though they superficially resemble each other.
  3. Unlike the water buffalo, the dangerous African buffalo has never been domesticated.
  4. Buffalos can be very dangerous when provoked.
  5. It is said that buffalos have excellent memories and will ambush hunters they have encountered before.
  6. Buffalos drink 40 litres of water a day, so never wander too far away from a watering hole. Lions often lie in wait for them near the water and it will usually take several lions to bring a buffalo down.
  7. Female buffalos have strong bonds and if one individual is attacked the entire herd will defend it, often killing lions and other predators in the process.


Lions are large carnivorous felines of Africa and northwest India, having a short, tawny coat.ufted tail, and in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders. Sadly lions are desirable to hunters because of the very real danger involved in hunting them.

Lion facts:

  • Weight: About 170 kg.
  • Diet: Carnivorous and opportunistic, they will eat the remains of another animal’s kill. They can eat animals ranging from a small hare to a huge African buffalo.
  • Life Span: Around 16 years in the wild.

And did you know…

  1. The roar of a male lion can be heard up to a distance of 8 km!
  2. Lionesses do most of the hunting and bring the prey home. And guess what, the lionesses wait for the lions to finish eating the food they bring and then consume only the leftovers!
  3. Though not nocturnal, lions can see at night.
  4. Lions are mostly seen just before sunrise or just after sunset.
  5. Opportunistic feeders, lions will hunt at any time.
  6. Lions are the only cats that live in groups (prides).
  7. The Lions sleep up to 20 hours a day.
  8. The darker a lion’s mane, the older he is.


This large, carnivorous feline, has either tawny fur with dark rosette-like markings or black fur. The leopard is considered the most difficult of the ‘Big Five’ to spot because of their nocturnal and secretive nature. They are wary of humans, so will take flight in the face of danger. The leopard is most active between sunset and sunrise, although it may hunt during the day in some areas. Leopards can be found in the savanna grasslands, brushland and forested areas. They prey on a wide range of species, from insects, rodents, and reptiles, to birds and mammals, including antelopes as large as elands, and even giraffes. They are strong swimmers, so sometimes they eat fish and even crabs.

Leopard facts:

  • Weight: 23-31 kg.
  • Diet: Vary varied to include insects, rodents, fish, reptiles right up to large mammals.
  • Life Span: 12-17 years.

And did you know…

  1. Staying hidden during the day, leopards are the least seen of the ‘Big Five’.
  2. Leopards are the strongest climbers of the African big cats, with excellent night vision.
  3. As anti-social, solitary cats, leopards mostly interact with each other when mating and raising young cubs.
  4. Leopards are excellent tree climbers and often safeguard their kill in a tree. Being able to hang upside down from trees is also quite a party trick!

What awaits the Big Five of Africa?

The ‘Big Five’ are animals that have become major concerns for wildlife conservationists in recent years. The African lion, African leopard, and African bush elephant are all classified as vulnerable. The southern white rhinoceros is classified as near threatened while the black rhinoceros is classified as critically endangered, so hunting them is greatly restricted for the latter. The African buffalo is the most popular big five game animal to hunt, as its conservation status is least concern, but it is experiencing a population decline in uncontrolled areas due to poaching and urbanization.

Best parks in Tanzania to see the Big Five

African Elephant

  • Arusha National Park
  • Tarangire National Park – very huge herds
  • Lake Manyara National Park.
  • Ngorongoro Crater – Plenty in the rainy season.
  • Serengeti National Park – Plenty

Black Rhinoceros

African or Cape Buffalo

  • All Northern National Parks Of Tanzania


  • Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and Serengeti National Park.


  • Arusha National Park but can be difficult to sight one.
  • Tarangire National Park
  • Lake Manyara National Park but also difficult to spot.
  • Ngorongoro – They can be found at the rim of the crater.
  • Serengeti National Park

‘Big Five’ Safaris in Tanzania

We have plenty of safaris to many of Tanzania’s best ‘Big Five’ game reserves and national parks, so contact us if you are searching for an incredible African ‘Big Five’ wildlife experience. Our experts are ready to tailor-make a Big Five’ African safari for you!