The Big Five By Alana B: all photos taken By ALana and Family


The animals of Africa have fascinated people from all over the world for generations. From the mighty elephant to the industrious or hard working dung beetle, there is something to interest everyone.

Many years ago, the five most dangerous animals to hunt were named The Big Five by hunters who came into Africa to hunt. These animals are the African Lion, the African Leopard, the Cape Buffalo, the African Bush Elephant, and the Hook Lipped (Black) Rhinoceros.

Nowadays, we do not need to hunt these magnificent animals in order to admire them. You can see these animals in the protected game reserves of Africa, and from the comfort of your own home, you can read more about them without further delay!

Elephants drink at a water hole.

Why Are They Called The Big Five And What Makes Them The Big Five?

The lion, leopard, black rhino, elephant, and buffalo were labeled the most dangerous to hunt and nicknamed the Big Five by hunters that came into Africa many years ago wanting to hunt animals. This title has also made them the most popular to hunt, which is one reason why some of these animals are becoming threatened or endangered.

Why are they so dangerous? The african lion is a fierce hunter and very strong. It will attack for sure if it feels threatened and could easily kill a weaponless human. It is the largest african predator. The african leopard is also a fierce predator that is very strong and can be aggressive if threatened. The african bush elephant is the largest land mammal in the world and very aggressive if it feels threatened. The black rhino is one of the most aggressive herbivores in Africa. The buffalo has been known to kill lions, and is deadly if injured, threatened, or cornered. Without a weapon, no human would stand a chance against any of these animals.

This lioness has a device attached to her neck that lets the park rangers know where she is to keep her safe.

African Lion

What is that dark shape creeping through the grass? Pounce! It’s a lion! With it’s powerful form and sharp teeth, this animal has an intimidating presence. The big cat is an excellent hunter, which uses camouflage to stalk its prey. They creep through the grass until they are close to their prey and then give chase.

This lion has just made a zebra kill.

Lions are not usually as fast as their prey, which is why they try to sneak as close to their prey as possible before bolting out of their hiding spot after their prey. Lions will also kill any predators other than lions that they find to reduce the competition for food. Lions learn their hunting techniques when they are cubs. They are taught all they need to know by their parents, mostly their mothers, as females are usually the ones who do all the hunting in the pride. Females will try to time their births so they can share the responsibility of watching and teaching the cubs with the other mothers.

Two lionesses and their nursing cubs laze around in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

Females in a pride are always related, and they usually work together to hunt to ensure their prey doesn’t escape. Lions are the only predators that has a chance of killing an elephant when they work together. Males, however, are the ones who protect the pride when there is trouble from other non-pride lions. With their large manes, they make a fearsome sight. As it says on the National Geographic website, “These intimidating animals mark the area with urine, roar menacingly to warn intruders, and chase off animals that encroach on their turf.”

The remnants of a lions kill.

This means that they keep intruders off their land and warn animals by marking their territory not to come across.

A leopard in a tree. It is waiting for the two lionesses circling the tree to leave.

African Leopard

What was that flicker of movement in the tree? Was that spotted fur? Yes! It’s a leopard! Leopards are very solitary animals or prefer to be alone, and like rocky habitats.

These spotted felines are great climbers, and spend a lot of time in trees. Sometimes they even drag their prey up there to eat! As National Geographic says, “The leopard is so strong and comfortable in trees that it often hauls its kills into the branches. By dragging the bodies of large animals aloft it hopes to keep them safe from scavengers such as hyenas. Leopards can also hunt from trees, where their spotted coats allow them to blend with the leaves until they spring with a deadly pounce.

The leopards spots, called rosettes, help camouflage them, making them almost impossible to spot in the trees they like to relax in. This is also one of the reasons leopards are so hard to see in the wild. Leopards are nocturnal, or mainly active at night, and do most hunting under the cover of darkness. Leopard mothers hide their cubs from other predators in safe locations to prevent them being found and possibly killed by other predators and scavengers. Leopards, if feeling threatened by other predators, will also hide in trees until they leave.

This leopard was relaxing in the tree when the lionesses found him. Luckily for him, lions aren't very good climbers.
Elephants playing at a water hole.

African Bush Elephant

The mighty african elephant, biggest land mammal in the world, is also one of the smartest. The elephant has an amazing memory and is very intelligent. This is why elephants in places where there was elephant poaching are more aggressive towards humans than elephants in places where there has been no poaching.

An elephant takes a dip on a hot day.

African bush elephants are bigger than asian elephants or african forest elephants. They have big ears shaped like the continent of Africa that they use to fan themselves. The elephant’s long trunk has a prehensile or used for grasping end used for picking up food, spraying and drinking water, and holding or carrying things. Elephants also have tusks made of ivory. Because of all the poaching of elephants for these tusks, they are now classified as vulnerable, though not endangered like the black rhinoceros.

A herd of elephants.

If an elephant feels threatened they will charge you. Sometimes elephants, especially younger ones, will mock charge you. Signs of a mock charge are usually trumpeting, open ears, kicking, and other intimidation tactics. Signs of a real charge are usually ears pulled back, and head and trunk lowered. However, this may differ with different individual elephants. Like humans, each individual elephant is different and has its own personality. As Kruger Park Website says, “It is imperative to keep in mind that Elephant are extremely intelligent, and each individual has a distinct character.”

A herd of buffalo.

Cape Buffalo

The cape buffalo is a large bovine with large horns on both sexes. It lives in large herds that can number up to a thousand, although sometimes older bulls will break away to form a bachelor group. If cape buffalo feel threatened or are attacked or wounded, they are extremely dangerous. Buffalo have been known to kill lions with their strength and horns. As the Kruger Website says, “ When a herd member is attacked, others will rush to its defence. Collectively a number of buffalo are more than capable to stave off an attack by an entire pride of lions.” Buffalo will not hesitate to charge if they feel threatened.

This old buffalo bull was taken by suprise by a male lion. Otherwise, the lion would never have been able to take him down.
A herd of buffalo cross a road in a game reserve.
White rhinos are grazers, as shown in this photo.

Hook Lipped (Black) Rhinoceros

The black rhino is not actually black. In fact, both the white and black rhinos are grey. The difference is in the lips. The white rhino has a square lipped mouth used for grazing on grass, while the black rhino has a hook lipped mouth used for grabbing food off trees and bushes with its prehensile end. As it says on National Geographic, “Black rhinos are browsers that get most of their sustenance from eating trees and bushes. They use their lips to pluck leaves and fruit from the branches. White rhinos graze on grasses, walking with their enormous heads and squared lips lowered to the ground.” Black rhinos are also much more aggressive than white rhinos, and more likely to charge. They tend to be very grumpy animals, especially when they have calfs. Sadly, black rhinos are poached and hunted for their two long horns on their snout so much that they are now endangered. You can help the black rhinos by not buying any products made with rhino horn.

A grazing white rhinoceros.
A herd of elephants.

Now that you know more about these amazing animals, go to see them in their natural habitat! See for yourself how they look and behave in the wild! You can help these animals by not buying products using the horns, tusks, or skins of these animals so we can protect them from extinction.


Stuart’s Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa

Lion documentary movie David Attenborough

Created By
Alana B

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