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The Big 5

The term the BIG 5 refers to the following animals:

1. Leopard
2. Lion
3. Black Rhino
4. Buffalo
5. Elephant

Many people think that the term describes the five most difficult animals to see when on safari. In fact the term relates back to hunting days when these animals were considered the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. This is why the leopard is on the list and the enormous hippopotamus (noted for lazing around in pools and rivers all day) is absent. The Big 5 are among the most dangerous animals in the world.

Due to the decline in Black Rhino populations and the fact that they favour thicker bush over open planes, it has become very rare for people to spot these magnificent animals in the wild. Many lodges will advertise that they have the "Big 5" on their reserve when actually they have the white Rhinoceros and not the black, so if you want to see the true Big 5 make sure the reserve you are visiting includes the Black Rhino!

Here are a few facts about the Big 5:


• Family Felidae
• Mass ± 200 kg / ± 440 lbs
• Height ± 100 cm / ± 39 inches
• Walking speed 4 km/h / 2.4 mph
• Charging speed 80 km/h / 50 mph
• Potential longevity 20 years
• Gestation period 3.5 months

The Lion is a large carnivorous feline mammal (Panthera leo) having a short tawny coat, a tufted tail, and, in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders. A lion pride consists of related females and cubs residing in a home range or territory, numbering from 2 to 30 individuals. The males are nomads that have gained custody of a pride through competition with other males. The opportunity to monopolise reproduction of a whole group of females will result in a new male to a territory killing the cubs of his predecessor.

Hunting is done communally, often using driving and ambushing techniques. They will eat up to 25% of their own body weight. Their principal diet comprises the Impala, the most prolific of the region's antelope.


• Family - Elephantidae
• Mass 6000 - 7000 kg / 13000 - 15000 lbs
• Height 300 - 340 cm / 118 - 134 inches
• Walking speed 10 km/h / 6.2 mph
• Charging speed 40 km/h / 24.8 mph
• Potential longevity 65 - 70 years
• Gestation period 22 months
• Record length of tusks 3,5 m / 137 inches

The African elephant is the largest land mammal. An adult bull elephant can weigh between 5000 and 6300 kg's, standing 3,2 - 4,0 metres at the shoulder. A cow being slightly smaller, weighing 2800 - 3500 kg and standing 2,5 - 3,4 metres at the shoulder. Bulls usually have larger tusks than cows and a more rounded forehead; the cow is more angled. . Elephant herds are matriarchal with an older cow leading the herd. The herds are usually family groups of up to 16. However, a number of family groups may join together when at watering sites forming large herds numbering several hundred.

The elephant's tusks are just modified incisor teeth, used as weapons and as an aid in procuring certain foodstuffs, like the bark of trees for example. The elephant also has a long trunk which it uses to drink and feed. An elephant's trunk can hold up to 15 litres of water. It uses its trunk to locate food by touch and smell, as an elephant cannot see down its trunk. If an elephant loses the use of its trunk it will die.


• Family Rhinocerotidae
• Mass 3500 kg / 7717 lbs
• Height 160 cm / 63 inches
• Speed 45 km/h / 28 mph
• Potential longevity 45 years
• Gestation period 18 months
• Record length of front horn 158 cm / 62 inches
• Record length of rear horn 56 cm / 22 inches

The herbivorous white rhino has a wide mouth perfectly adapted to a life of grazing. Its thick set body is covered by a tough leathery skin. The most distinctive feature of the rhino is the presence of 2 horns on the snout. These horns are composed of a protein which is similar to that of our own hair. Family groups of 2 - 5 individuals are protected by a dominant bull who defends his cows against other intruding bulls. A number of fixed latrine sites known as rhino middens demarcate a bull's territory. The smaller black rhino has a hooked lip.


• Family Felidae
• Mass ± 60 kg / 132 lbs
• Height ± 60 cm / 23 inches
• Charging speed 80 km/h / 50mph
• Potential longevity 21 years
• Gestation period 3 1/2 months

The leopard is the least seen and least understood of Africa's "Big Five". It has been described as the perfect predator. It harbours enormous strength and supreme beauty and is perhaps the most powerful of the world's great cats. Leopards have a wide habitat tolerance; they are solitary and secretive animals except during mating season or when a female is accompanied by juveniles.

They are primarily nocturnal, however when undisturbed and protected they may be seen moving during daylight hours and are often seen lying up in trees. They usually hoist their kills up into trees to keep out of the reach of other predators and scavengers.


• Family Bovidae
• Mass 750 kg / 1653 lbs
• Height ± 160 cm / 63 inches
• Charging speed 55 km/h / 34 mph
• Potential longevity 20 - 25 years
• Gestation period 11 months
• Record span of horns 147 cm / 58 inches

Buffalo are large, cattle like animals. Once widely distributed in Southern Africa, the buffalo's numbers have been greatly reduced by large-scale hunting and sickness such as Rinderpest and foot and mouth disease. Now restricted to the eastern regions of South Africa, they are abundant in the Kruger Park and are frequently seen wallowing in muddy pools or grazing in the vicinity of dams in the reserve.

The buffalo is highly gregarious and usually occurs in large herds, with the largest herd estimated to be in the region of 400. Bachelor groups and single animals are also often encountered. A dominance hierarchy occurs within buffalo herds. Although a favourite prey item of the lions, the large horns and powerful muscles of the buffalo make it a formidable adversary and it is frequently the lions who come off second best in such encounters.

The Kruger National Park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve (the "Biosphere").

Flora and fauna

The Kruger Park is divided into 6 eco-systems: Baobab sandveld, Mopane scrub, Lebombo knobthorn-marula bushveld, mixed acacia thicket, Combretum-silver clusterleaf woodland on granite and riverine forest. Altogether it has 1,982 species of plants. Expert guides will show you fascinating things that you have probably never even stopped to think about before - by the end, you might well be finding the habits of the dung beetle as fascinating as the roar of a lion.

Out of the 517 species of birds found at Kruger, 253 are residents, 117 non-breeding migrants, and 147 nomads. There are also 120 species of reptile, including about 5,000 Nile Crocodiles, 52 species of fish, and 35 species of amphibians.

And of course the main attraction for visitors is often the 'Big 5' which are all found in the Kruger National Park. The park protects over 147 species of mammals including 9,000 Giraffes, 200 African Hunting Dogs, 200 Cheetahs, 3,000 Hippopotamus, over 170,000 Impalas, 1,000 Leopards and 2,000 Lions.


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