Seeing Africa’s Big 5 is worthy of any bucket list. Witnessing a pride of lions hunt buffalo or watching a family herd of elephants walk past your vehicle are memories you will cherish the rest of your life. Finding an elusive leopard or being graced by a female rhino and calf are incredible moments that will make your friends back home green with envy. However seeing all five in one safari is complicated and requires local knowledge of the game reserves and animal behavior.
Africa’s “Big 5” consist of lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo. The nickname was originally a hunting term as these animals were considered the most dangerous of all African game for hunters. People came from all over the world to become a “Big 5” hunter.
Today the “Big 5” has a different meaning. Now these iconic animals make for the quintessential photographical safari. Ecotourism is growing across Southern and East Africa. This is in large part due to visitors from all over the world now wanting a Big 5 safari.
However, it’s never guaranteed to see the Big 5 as finding these animals is a tricky task. One of the biggest reasons for this is animal behavior. For instance, elephants are known to move long distances to find water during the dry season. Sometimes this means that a herd completely moves off one game game reserve to another and may not return till the spring rains arrive.
Leopards on the other hand are solitary creatures and rely on stealth to hunt which makes them rare to see; however, behavioral traits aren’t the only reason why they are rare to see. Since predators like leopard require a healthy prey population, game reserves need to provide a health and balance ecosystem for the wildlife.
Unfortunately this is not always the case as not all game reserves are equal. Some game reserves possess a healthy ecosystem that provides plenty of plant diversity for prey species and therefore bing able to support a healthy predator population. Other reserves are former cattle ranches that are still in the rehabilitation process and therefore are unable to support a great number of animals.
This is why having someone with local knowledge of the game reserves in Africa and knowledge of animal behavior is important when planning your safari. The last thing you want on your safari is to show up at a game reserve and not see the animals you traveled halfway around the world to see. However having a well planned safari and a little luck with the animals will put you in a good position to see all five. And that’s something you’ll never forget.