The Big Five
International travelers looking for an authentic “African” experience often approach the safari with one firm and definite goal in mind: “Regardless of where I go, how long I’m there, and what else I see on this trip, it isn’t a real safari until I’ve seen the big five.” But what exactly does that mean? Even just the term is a little vague - what are we talking about when we call these animals the big five?
The term has its origins back with big game hunters in the area, confident in their ability to track and kill most wild creatures with little risk to themselves. Boasting stories of impressive kills in all sorts of bushveld scenarios, these hunters held a reverence for a select group of animals for their ferocity and dangerousness. These animals were elusive, seasonally aggressive, and possessed physically dangerous qualities (large size, sharp teeth, speed, muscle strength), making them the most notably difficult to successfully hunt. Years later, these animals are still known by this term, the famous big five.
The big five includes the African Elephant, Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, and the extremely popular Lion. In 2010, the headcount for each of these groups was flourishing within the Kruger National Park:
• Cape Buffalo stood at around 37 500, an annual increase of about 5%.
• Black rhino population numbers were at an estimated 590 to 670, a 7% increase, per year.
• More regularly spotted, the white rhino population sat at a growth rate of 11% a year, with an estimated 9 460 to 12 120 white rhino.
• Elephant populations in the park were at an increase of around 4% a year since 2004. The park played home to an estimated 13 700 of these creatures.
• Lions within the park were numbered somewhere between 1 620 and 1 750 cats.
• Leopards, harder than any of the others to determine a number for owing to their private and mysterious nature, were estimates at 1 000 cats living within the park.
These animals are associated strongly with the concept of a safari, and are heavily sought after by most guests arriving in the Kruger. It is important to note, however, that like any other animal, these animals do not arrange their living conditions conveniently around being sighted, and spotting them while out on safari is sometimes an extremely lucky set of circumstances. Conditions for this kind of sighting can depend of time of year, prevalent weather conditions, the migration of other animals and food sources from one side of the park to the other. It is important to appreciate the big five for their quintessential “safari-ness” - just keep in mind that, as a whole, the park includes thousands of various species, all of which form part of a complex ecosystem, and most of which are considered “good sightings” on any given trip out into the veld.