25/05/2024

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African Big Five Safari: Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Buffalo

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African Big Five Safari: Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Buffalo

The African continent is famous for its wildlife and the game drives. The chance to watch the African Big Five in their natural habitat is always a sight to behold.

The Big Five comprises of the lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino and the leopard. They are considered the big five due to their dominance and assertiveness in the wilderness in comparison to other animals.

Tourist from all over the world travel to Africa to watch and experience nature at its best. Some of the most breath taking moments include the wildebeest migration and a hot air balloon excursion over the park.

In addition to that an interaction with the local community on their culture and traditions has always been found to be a bonus. Here are the African Big Five and the best safari destinations to see them.

See also: How Long to go on a Safari

Lion

The lion is a member of the cat family and regarded as the king of the jungle. It is in charge of a pride but in some instances it can live in the jungle alone. An adult lion can hunt and bring down any animal in the jungle. It is a strong, brave and ferocious hunter in the jungle.

In order to assert their dominance and authority, lions mark their territory by urinating and scratching on the ground. This is done in order to caution other lions and animals of a certain lion’s territory. There are usually fierce and bloody fights when lions cross into another pride’ territory which can result to fatal injuries or even death.

An adult male lion has a fully grown mane which is seen as a sign of masculinity and authority.

When visiting a game park, tourists are cautioned against petting the wild animals, feeding them or leaving the vehicle because they will be endangering their lives.

In the south and east of Africa there are still protected areas where lion populations live in larger numbers. A safari offers the opportunity to experience these animals up close. It doesn’t matter if you are planning a self-organized trip or opting for a package tour.

In West Africa, there are only about 200 lions left in three designated sanctuaries

  • Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal;
  • the W-Arly-Pendjari Lion Conservation Unit (Benin/Burkina Faso/Niger), home to the majority of the West African population;
  • Lake Kainji National Park in Nigeria;

East and South Africa are home to most of Africa’s lion populations. If you’re looking for a unique destination to experience these mighty beasts, check out the following African countries:

  • Tanzania offers a variety of national parks such as Serengeti, Katavi and Ruaha, as well as protected areas such as Selous and Tarangire – all perfect for safaris in your own 4×4 or as part of an organized tour.
  • Neighboring South Africa also offers plenty of opportunities to see wild lions – from the world famous Kruger National Park to Madikwe Game Reserve and Kalahari Transfrontier NP.
  • Botswana is known for its stunning wildlife; you are guaranteed to find Chobe NP, Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and Central Kalahari GR.
  • Namibia also has some gems in store: visit Etosha National Park or Kaudom NP!
  • In Kenya, you can go on exciting photo safaris through the Masai Mara GR; Tsavo East & West are also great destinations!
  • In Uganda, Murchison Falls NP, Queen Elizabeth NP and Kidepo Falls magically attract many adventurers.
  • And a trip to Zambia is also worthwhile! North and South Luangwa NP as well as Liuwa Plain, Kafue NL & Lower Zambezi will give you unique memories.
  • Another recommendation are the national parks in Zimbabwe like Mana Falls, Hwange or Gonarezhou.
  • Akagera NP is a real insider tip for game viewing in the middle of tiny Rwanda!
  • Mozambique also has something to offer with Gorongosa NP.
Animals in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana
Spotting Lion’s in Africa

Elephant

The elephant is the largest mammal on land with tasks, huge ears and big foot to assert their authority. They are very protective of their calves and the herd. Elephants do occupy huge tracts of land and require a lot of food and water.

It is a magnificent sight and adventure sighting a pride in the game parks. However, due to the increasing demand for tusks in the black market. There has been a sharp decline in population of elephants, this has seen them being categorized as endangered species. And still, there are still a pleasing number of elephants in Africa, estimated to be between 400,000 and 415,000.

These impressive animals can be found everywhere south of the Sahara and live in smaller and larger populations in a total of 36 African countries. Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Gabon, Kenya and Zambia are home to particularly large numbers of these majestic creatures!

To see the elephant in the wilderness, a visit to the many game parks in Africa will be worthwhile.

Here are the best spots to find elephants in Africa

  • You may be surprised to learn that Botswana is the country with the most elephants in the world. There are about 130,000 of these majestic animals – nearly a third of all African elephants and more than four times the number of elephants in all of Asia. Especially in the northwest of the country, large herds of up to 200 elephants can be seen – an unforgettable sight! The famous Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park are the best places to see them.
  • Tanzania is home to an estimated 43,000 elephants spread across the country’s various national parks – including the world-famous Serengeti. If you want to see the majestic giants, however, you should venture to the northeastern Tarangire National Park. Here, the concentration of elephants is particularly high, and the best sightings are along the Tarangire River and in the shade of the impressive baobab trees. However, the largest population of elephants can be found in central Tanzania, in the neighboring Ruaha National Park and the adjacent Rungwa Wildlife Reserve.
  • Kenya has many national parks and reserves that are home to elephants. These majestic animals are hard to miss on a safari.
    Especially in the Tsavo East National Park, which is very popular with tourists, large herds can be found. Here you will notice that the elephants have a reddish tinge due to the red soil. In the south of the country, on the border with Tanzania, is Amboseli National Park – a place known for its stunning elephant photographs against the backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro.
  • As an elephant lover, you will get your money’s worth in Zimbabwe. The country is home to the second largest population of free-roaming elephants in Africa and is less crowded by tourists, giving you an exclusive travel experience. Hwange National Park in the west of the country on the border with Botswana is particularly famous for its wildlife. Here you can roam undisturbed through the wilderness and experience majestic elephants up close.
  • South Africa is undoubtedly one of the top safari destinations in Africa. An absolute highlight is Kruger National Park, which is not only the largest park in the country, but also home to hundreds of elephants. For an even better chance of seeing these majestic animals, make a detour to Addo Elephant National Park in southern South Africa, near the picturesque Garden Route and the port city of Port Elizabeth. Driving through the park, you may encounter elephants and it may be necessary to avoid them – they also like to stay in the middle of the road!
  • Gabon is the perfect destination for animal lovers who want to see elephants, gorillas and the jungle up close. Although only two million people live here, there are 64,000 elephants to marvel at – including rare forest elephants, which are slightly smaller than their African relatives. For a more diverse experience, visit Gabon’s 14 national parks. Lopé-Okanda, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and Loango National Park on the Atlantic Ocean are particularly popular with tourists.
At the water hole - Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa. Part of the African big five
At the water hole – Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Leopard

The leopard is a member of the cat family. It is considered to be a very shy cat and hard to spot in the game park. They reside on top of trees and spend most of their day time sleeping and hunt at night. The leopard has very good vision when it is dark, this makes it very hard to spot.

In addition, they are solitary animals and interact with each other when mating and raising their cubs. The individualistic nature of the leopard makes them vulnerable from other rivals such as lions and hyenas. This has greatly impacted their population thus making them few in the savannah.

Here are some of the best places to look for leopards in Africa

  • If you’re dying to see a leopard in Africa, there’s a clear number one on the list: South Africa and Sabi Sand. This is home to the densest population of the majestic predator, and the area consists of a collection of private reserves on the western border of Kruger National Park.
    One of these areas is Londolozi in the Sabi Sand Private Reserve – a true paradise for leopard seekers! More than 50 of these impressive animals live in 100 square kilometers. The Madikwe Reserve near Botswana also offers a great chance to see one or more leopards during your safari through South Africa. Easily accessible from Johannesburg, this is an opportunity not to be missed!
  • In the eastern part of Zambia, in the Luangwa Valley, lies South Luangwa National Park – the southernmost of the country’s three large national parks. An apt name for the area is “Valley of the Leopard”, as it is home to an impressively large population of these majestic big cats. The variety of prey in this area provides a veritable feast for the hungry leopards. Especially during night drives on a safari through Zambia, these fascinating animals can often be seen hunting. Permission for night drives makes it easier for wildlife watchers to spot the magnificent spotted hunters and learn about their hunting habits – an unforgettable experience!
  • The Masai Mara in Kenya is known for its many big cats, attracted by the sheer numbers of wildebeest and zebra that have arrived at the northernmost point of their great migration. Undoubtedly, the reserve is one of the best places in Africa to view all wildlife – including a large population of leopards. Most sightings of these majestic predators occur along the Mara or Talek River. However, night drives are not permitted in the area.
  • If you want to get up close to leopards on a Namibian safari, be sure to visit the Okonjima Nature Reserve in northern Namibia. The reserve is picturesquely situated at the foot of the Omboroko Mountains and is home to the renowned AfriCat Foundation, which cares for injured predators. You also have a good chance of spotting the majestic leopards of the Kalahari Desert. The open terrain makes it easier than in the densely vegetated savannahs or forests of other parks.
  • Many visitors come to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to experience the awe-inspiring spectacle of the great migration. However, it is important to remember that where wildebeest and zebra roam, predators may not be far behind. The Seronera Valley is a particularly good place to go if you want to see leopards. In addition, Keekorok, Sand River and various game reserves also offer excellent opportunities to view the majestic animal with the spotted coat – during a safari through Tanzania’s incomparable landscape!
  • There are many excellent places to go on safari in Botswana to see leopards. The best of these are on the edge of the Okavango Delta, notably the Linyati Reserve and Savuti (between the Okavango and Chobe National Parks). For many connoisseurs of safari culture, however, the Moremi Game Reserve is unsurpassed as a destination. Overall, it is the lagoons and floodplain forests that are most popular with wildlife enthusiasts – exactly the areas favored by these majestic big cats. The Moremi Reserve protects a significant part of the beautiful ecosystem of Botswana’s famous river delta with all its magnificent wildlife!
Leopard in the bush.
Leopard in the bush.

Rhino

The rhino is known for its awesome giant horns which grow from their snorts. They are huge animals with a heavy thick skin and hooves. They live in huge tracts of land, their bold and courageous nature makes very aggressive.

There are two types of rhinos; the white rhino and the black rhino. A black rhino has shorter head from the head to the mouth with a protruding smaller head size. A white rhino on the other hand, has a longer less protruding head and a longer skull.

The high demand for their horns has seen an ever increasing poaching activity which has greatly affected their population and survival in the jungle. Despite that, the rhinoceros is one of the iconic wild animals in the African savannah.

About 75% of Africa’s rhinos live in South Africa alone. But does this automatically mean that the best place to see them is in the country at the Cape? The answer is “no”. Seeing these majestic animals on an African safari does not depend solely on their numbers in a particular country. Their behavior and conservation status in a particular region also play a crucial role. So where should you look for the best rhino viewing areas?

Here are the best places for rhinos in Africa

  • You’ll find Matobo National Park south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe‘s second largest city. This park is like another planet: the imposing rock formations are a fascinating contrast to the rolling grassland; the Matobo Hills offer breathtaking views and the historic rock paintings of the San people make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the protection of the white and black rhino is paramount here – the chances of seeing them during a safari are very high.
  • In the eastern part of Botswana, near the Gaborone-Francistown highway, lies the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in the Kalahari Sandfields. The entire community works together to restore and protect historic wildlife populations. Whenever possible, rhino calves are translocated to other areas to be reintroduced into the wild. Another goal is to generate important income for the reserve through tourism and sustainable use of natural resources. The small reserve provides an excellent habitat for both white and black rhinos.
  • Namibia has the second largest rhino population in the world and is home to both white and black rhinos. Etosha National Park in particular is home to numerous black rhinos. The park’s main camp, Okaukuejo, is known for its waterhole where the animals congregate. Especially at dusk and in total darkness this place becomes a popular meeting point for the local black rhinos – so far without any incidents!
  • South Africa is the ultimate destination for rhino enthusiasts. Nearly 86.5% of the world’s southern white rhinos are found here.
    In the 1960s, an impressive mission to save these majestic animals began in KwaZulu-Natal’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The park’s landscape ranges from rolling to mountainous, often with wide open spaces and breathtaking views.
    The chances of seeing majestic rhinos are particularly high in the iMfolozi section of the park.
  • Nairobi National Park in Kenya offers an exceptional opportunity to see rhinos up close. A visit to the Solio Game Reserve (or: Solio Ranch) in the immediate vicinity of the Aberdare National Park in the Laikipia region is also worthwhile – here you are almost certain to encounter these majestic animals. But we especially recommend the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. And why is that? Because it is currently the only place in the world where you can see Black Rhino, Southern White Rhino AND Northern White Rhino!
Rhino with calf in the savannah.
Rhino with calf in the savannah.

Buffalo

They are regarded as the most dangerous animals in the wild. Very aggressive and mean to anything regarded as a threat. The African Buffalo is so aggressive it has never been tamed. Since they live in herds, it becomes hard for lions to hunt and in some cases they have severely injured and killed lions.

The African buffalo is a good swimmer, has a very intricate social structure and huge horns which they use to defend themselves against predators. They are known to rest in the open except in extreme sunshine. Thus they are they are the most common animals to be seen in a game drive.

The average weight of the buffalo is 480-550 kgs. The weight and huge body frame has been used in defense from both human and wild animal attacks. They tend to consume a lot of grass thus they are more common during the rainy season.

It is gratifying to see that despite the declining population, the buffalo have not been endangered for several years.

Best places to find buffalo in Africa

If you take a drive through a national park, you are almost certain to see many of these majestic animals.

Especially in certain regions, such as the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda or the Masai Mara in Kenya, herds of up to 800 buffalo can be seen.

African Big Five Safari: Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Buffalo
Buffalos scare away a lion.

In conclusion, the African big five is an interesting and intriguing category to see. They have a unique way of survival and they have been found to a key tourist attraction.

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