The Big 5 & Other Wildlife of Southern Africa

The Big 5 refers to the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot in Africa. These animals are the Lion, Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard and Rhino.

Of mammals Hippo are responsible for the most human deaths caused by mammals in Africa but the Hippo is not included on the list of the Big 5 because when it is shot it will run into water. The biggest killer though in Africa is the tiny mosquito which carries the Malaria parasite. Read more about Malaria in Southern Africa.

In general animals will avoid conflict with humans and will only attack if they feel threathened. Some of the videos in this article are of rare incidents which happened in specific circumstances. Southern Africa's wildlife should be enjoyed but respected at all times as well.

Pic - Bernard Bekker -

Hippo on Safari in Kruger National Park (Not a member of the Big 5 but very dangerous when humans are between them and their river or dam or if they feel threatened by humans in general.)

In the Wildlife Parks of Southern Africa people get excited when they see the Big 5 all during one trip or even on one day. It is a pity because the African bush offers so much more than the big 5. The most elusive of the Big 5 to spot is the Leopard. If you spot a Leopard in the Kruger National Park chances are good that you will see the other 4 members of the Big 5 namely Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo and Lion.

Let’s start with some other interesting facts of the Big 5 and also include three other predators which are a favourite by many when visiting a National Park namely Cheetah, Wild dog and Hyena.

And for good measure we will include the Great White Shark and Whales which are obviously found in the Oceans of Southern Africa.

The Leopard

Pic - Eduard Marais (Leopard in Moremi Botswana)

The Leopard is because of its adaptability one of the most successful big cat predators in Africa. It will adapt to its environment and available prey to survive. The Cape Leopard is not a different species of Leopard but is smaller in built and found in the mountain ranges of the Western Cape. They are very seldom seen and often pictures of them are from camera traps set out by researchers. For more information on the Cape Leopard visit

The Leopard relies on stealth to surprise its prey. In the Kruger National Park some of them have become quite accustomed to the tourist vehicles driving up and down and will even at times use tourist vehicles as part of their cover as they hunt unsuspecting prey! They will often drag their prey into trees to avoid confrontation by other predators such as Lion or Hyena. They are often spotted in trees where they spend most of their time sleeping. Their favourite prey varies from area to area but Impala is high on the list. Baboons in Kruger are avoided during daylight hours but at night it is a different story.

Pic - Bernard Bekker -
Cheetah seen on Safari with Private Kruger Safaris

The Cheetah is Africa’s fastest land animal but is slender in built with a longer tail as it relies speed to catch its prey. (The long tail helps to balance the animal while chasing down its prey at high speeds.) They mainly hunt during the day and prefer areas where confrontation with Lions or Hyenas can be avoided. The Cheetah is not part of the Big 5.

While the number of Leopard in Kruger is estimated at around 1,800 - 2,000 the number of Cheetah is +- 200 so it is always a special moment to find them. They prefer the more open bush where they chase down their prey with speed.

Leopards have been responsible for attacks and even fatal attacks on humans in the Kruger National Park and other rural areas of Southern Africa but it is a very rare occurrence and often old and sick individuals.

It is a sad fact that these beautiful animals are still hunted. They are most definitely very dangerous to hunt, especially on foot, and will turn around and attack their attackers if cornered. So called professional hunters will guide their hunting clients to wait in tree shelters while bait is set out for the unsuspecting Leopard. Sometimes on farms these Leopards are viewed as problem animals because of the damage they cause to Livestock. Leopard skin is also a popular adjournment worn by the Royals or Traditional leaders.

The Lion

Pic - Arno Pietersen

The Lion is the biggest cat in Africa. Where Leopards are mostly solitary except when they mate Lions live in families and sometimes even three or four male Lions will form a coalition to ensure more success at hunting. In Botswana some of these Lion families have at times even taken to hunting small elephants.

Male Lions dominate prides and will in most instances kill the cubs of other males when they take over a pride of females to ensure that the females come into heat again and that their offspring survives.

Lions hunt in groups. They mainly hunt at night, spending most of the day sleeping.

The roar of a Lion in Africa can often be heard Kilometres away. Once you have experienced this sound you will truly feel that you have arrived in Africa.

In South Africa there is a lot of controversy regarding canned Lion hunting. That is the practise of breeding with Lions and keeping them in small enclosures where they are hunted for sport.

Below video is not for sensitive viewers and displays a Lion being hunted before the Lion turns on the hunter. (Unfortunately the Lion dies in the end.)

Above video clearly explains why the Lion deserves its place in the Big 5.

The Elephant

Pic - Bernhard Bekker -
Elephant Kruger National Park on Safari

The Elephant is the planets biggest land mammal. In parts of Southern Africa, most notably Botswana and the Kruger National park their numbers have recovered so successfully that they were believed by some to be causing damage to the fenced in Eco Systems and at time they were actively culled to keep the numbers in check. There currently is a moratorium of such culling practises with experts disagreeing on the impact of growing herds on the environment and the number of Elephant large territories like Kruger can accommodate.

In the Knysa forest on the South African Garden Route there remains 4-5 lone Elephants which are seldom encountered, remnants of earlier times when they still roamed wild and free. These elephants are smaller than the northern Elephants but not a sub species.

These wild and free roaming, sometimes raiding, Elephants where the cause of the foundation of the Addo Elephant National Park. This park was part formed to protect the crops of Citrus farmers in the Eastern Cape who where frequently raided by these Elephants.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park was formed as a Game Reserve with the original aim to protect the wildlife stocks for commercial reasons and not conservations reasons. In the early part of the 19th century predators such as Lion was eradicated as they were seen as of little commercial value and responsible for the decline in wildlife stock.

Skukuza is the head office of the Kruger National Park and the biggest and busiest camp in Kruger.

The name Skukuza refers to Lt Col Stevenson Hamilton one of the earlier custodians of the Sabie Sand Reserve which would later became the Kruger National Park and means “He who sweeps clean”.

It was after the years of the great depression that tourists started visiting the Kruger National Park and that value of animals such as Lions was realised. The importance of protecting whole eco systems was realised and Game Reserves became known as National Parks. Today these areas are some of Southern Africa’s biggest assets ensuring steady revenue from foreign tourists visiting “Wild Africa”.

Parks like the Kruger National park are so popular and busy at times that one sometimes wonder if you are not visiting a big Zoo unless you are visiting one of the luxury private lodges on the western side of Kruger where private land traversing rights exists. The Western boundary fences with Kruger was dropped to create larger conservation areas where private land and lodge owners have exclusive transversing rights.

The eastern boundary fence with Mozambique was also dropped to create a larger area for animals to migrate and is called the Great Limpopo Transfrontier National Park . Recent years have seen a drastic increase in Rhino poaching and calls being made for the eastern boundary fence with Mozambique to be restored as it are felt that the biggest onslaught against Rhino is coming from Mozambique.

One must wonder if bigger ranges for Elephants to wander around with the occurence of poaching are better than large numbers of Elephants to be culled.

Elephants are also legally hunted in some part of Southern Africa causing fierce debate between animal lovers and hunters. Hunters are prepared to pay large sums of money to hunt sometimes surplus animals like Elephant, Lion or even recently a Black Rhino bull in Ethosa Namibia, which creates employment for locals and money which can be ploughed back into sustaining conservation areas.

The African Bush Elephants lives for up to 70 years and they are known to have an excellent memory which is needed for survival especially during times of drought.

See below video of Elephant charging car in Kruger.



Pic John Hishin of
White Rhino on Safari in the Western Cape

In Southern Africa the Black and White Rhino, two different species are found. 

The most common Rhino is the White Rhino. The originated from the Afrikaans word Wyd meaning Wide and refers to the wider square mouth of the White Rhino designed for eating grass. White Rhinos are more common than Black Rhino and as mentioned prefer browsing on grass where the Black Rhino browses on leaves and prefers thick thickets, often close to rivers.

The Black Rhino is a far more aggressive Rhino than the White Rhino. You can view yourself as extremely lucky to find them during your visit to Southern Africa. 

Another difference of Black and White Rhino is the way cows and calves interact. With the White Rhino preferring open grasslands the White Rhino calve moves in front of his mother so she can keep an eye on the calve for safety reasons. The Black Rhino cow, moving trough and foraging in thickets prefer to walk in front of the calve, clearing the path for the calve to follow.

Both Rhino species have weak eyesight relying on smell and sound....They will charge if threatened and most certainly deserve a place in the Big 5.


Pic - Bernhard Bekker -

The last but not least dangerous member of the Big 5 is the Buffalo or Cape Buffalo. Buffalo congregate in herds of up to .....hundreds of animals.

See video of a Buffalo stampede in Kruger:

Only the most experienced and strong pride of Lions will hunt Buffalos.

Buffalos will and do turn around to face their attackers, whether a pride of Lions or whether hunters.


Pic - Bernhard Bekker -

A big misconception of the Hyena is that they are only scavengers. They do also hunt prey themselves.

Hyenas are a common sight at camps of Southern Africa’s National Parks as they walk along the perimeter of the fences being attracted by the smell of meat of the common barbeque fires of visitors. Camps in most of South Africa’s National Parks are fenced but not camps in Botswana making for some scary close encounters, especially at night.

It is illegal to feed these wild animals and extremely dangerous. Animals like Baboons who lose their fear of humans often become a nuisance and have to be killed by rangers to avoid potential injury to tourist. (By feeding wildlife you could be signing an animal’s death warrant and will be issued a hefty fine if caught or even asked to leave a Park).

The Hyena has an extremely strong Jaws designed to crush bones.

Wild dog

Pic - Bernhard Bekker -
Wild dog on Safari in Kruger National Park

The wild dog is called by some Africa’s painted dogs. Wild dogs are endangered species primarily because they need very large territories to roam in and they are susceptible to disease. They use their stamina to run down their prey over large distances. Their prey is quickly consumed by a pack of wild dog with the adults returning to the den to regurgigate food for the pups or even for other not so lucky adults.

Wild dogs are very sociable animals and the whole pack helps to look after the young.

Great White Sharks

Simons Town South Africa and Gansbaai are two places from where one can view Great White Sharks from the safety of Shark Cages. Great White Sharks are under extreme pressure most notably from the Shark Fin Soup industry. In South Africa Gansbaai is a hotsport for watching these beautiful creatures.

Picture from Facebook Great White Shark Tours


Pic - John Hishin 

Hermanus and surrounds in the Overberg in the Western Cape is a good place to do Whale Watching from the land. Whale species such as the Humpback and Southern Right Whale visit South African shores from July to November when they give birth to their calves.


Besides mammals Southern Africa also holds a large variety of birdlife.

Pictures of birds above by Bernard Bekker www.privatekrugersafaris

Beautiful landscapes and scenery

Pic - John Hishin 

Picture above Kogelbaai, Clarence Drive (R44) enroute to Hermanus from Cape Town/Gordonsbay

Besides amazing wildlife Southern Africa allows for a variety of breathtaking landscapes as pictured above. (Clarence drive is a road one simply has to drive when visiting the Western Cape.) The coastal road starts at Gordonsbay and leads one towards Kleinmond and Botrivier enroute to Hermanus. 

Picture above - The restaurant and Picnic area of Cape Point Vineyards, Noordhoek,Cape Town.

Pic Arno Pietersen 

Southern Africa is a region with beautiful and diverse landscapes.

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