On the Hunt for the Big Five

In my last post I wrote that this cruise to South Africa is in memory of my late father. He was a hunter and went on many special hunts iin his life but always for “fair game” — for the food or conservation. But, that wouldn’t have prevented him for hunting for the Big Five African animals but it woiuld have been to see them in their natural habitat. Dad was a true conservationist.

In Africa, the Big Five game animals are the lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, African bush elephant, and African buffalo, although not necessarily in that order . (Capstick, Peter H. (1984). Safari, the last adventure. St. Martin’s Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-312-69657-3.)

The term was coined by big-game hunters, and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot but is now more widely used by game viewing tourists and safari tour operators. “No human being could begin to outrun any of the big five, nor would he last more than a few seconds in any contest of strength,” wrote Peter Capstick in 1983. (Capstick, Peter H. (1983). Death in the Dark Continent. St. Martin’s Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-312-18615-9.) 

Fun Trivia

The 1990 and later releases of South African rand banknotes feature a different big-five animal on each denomination.

Countries where all can be found include Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Malawi. (Wikipedia.)

Meet the Big Five


The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) and African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) are the largest land-based animals. Elephants are herbivores with thick, almost hairless skin; a long, flexible, prehensile trunk; upper incisors forming long, curved, ivory tusks; and large, fan-shaped ears. Elephants are difficult to hunt because, despite their large size, they are able to hide in thick bush and are more likely to charge than the other Big Five species. They become aggressive when their young are threatened. (Fodor’s African Safari, 1st Edition: From Budget to Big Spending Where and How to Find the Best Big Game Adventure in Southern and Eastern Africa. Fodor’s. 2004. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-4000-1234-3.)


The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) are large herbivores with two upright horns on their nasal bridge. The black rhino is classified as critically endangered and the white rhino as near threatened, and both are subject to extensive poaching. Among big-five game hunters, the black rhinoceros is more highly prized. It’s horn is prized for use in Chinese medicine. (“Current Zoology” (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 January 2022.)

African Buffalo

The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large horned bovid. It is the only animal among the Big Five that is not on the “endangered” or “threatened” list. The Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) is considered by many to be the most dangerous of any of the Big Five buffalos have reportedly been known to ambush and attack humans.

Sources: Stumpf, Bruce G. “Africa on the Matrix: The Cape Buffalo”. Archived from the original on 20 December 2002. Retrieved 23 October 2010. Wieland, Terry (2006). Dangerous-Game Rifles. Countrysport Press. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-89272-691-2. African Animals Hunting facts and tips – Buffalo Hunting”. safariBwana newsletter. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2010.



The lion (Panthera leo) is a large, carnivorous feline found in Africa and northwest India. It has a short, tawny coat; a tufted tail; and, in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders. As a large and charismatic apex predator, lions are among the most popular species to view on safari tours.

Sources: Capstick, Peter H. (1984). Safari, the last adventure. St. Martin’s Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-312-69657-3. “African Lion”. safaribwana.com. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2010. Robinson, Steve (2008). “Unpleasant Truth About Canned Shooting”.  shakariconnection.com. Shakari Connection. Retrieved 2 October 2010.


The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a large, carnivorous feline. Its fur is generally tawny with dark rosette-shaped markings. The leopard is the most seldom seen of the Big Five because of its nocturnal habits (it is most active between sunset and sunrise, although it may hunt during the day in some areas), and because it is wary of humans and will take flight in the face of danger. Leopards can be found in the savanna grasslands, brush land and forested areas in Africa. Among the Big Five, they are the most difficult animals to acquire a hunting license for. (“Meet The Big Five”. http://www.holidaytourafrica.com. Retrieved 19 January 2021.)

Conservation Status

Africa’s Big Five have become major concerns for wildlife conservationists in recent years. The African lion and African leopard are both classified as vulnerable. The African savanna elephant is listed as endangered by the IUCN as of 2021. The southern white rhinoceros and African buffalo are classified as near threatened while the black rhinoceros is classified as critically endangered.

Learn More

Look up big game in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

20 Incredible African Safari Animals & Where to See Them

Weight, diet, life span and other lifestyle details of the Big Five

So which of these animals did I see on safari?

I’ll tell you tomorrow. In the meantime in the comments, which African animal would you most want to see?

Looking at life from a different POV,
Debora Buerk
The Write Stuff

1 thought on “On the Hunt for the Big Five”

  1. Great to read about your S.African adventures; I have my Oxford Atlas of the World open to page 116, for Southern Africa,(ISBN 0-19-521986-4) and will note each of your future entries as you describe each of your ports of call.
    There are some who have described South Africa as having the most beautiful physical geography in the world…certainly a judgement call, but it may actually be true. Of course, there are some from a country in Africa that starts with “T” that may not agree, but it’s great fun to argue about it!


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