The Big Five is the one thing most people want to see on a safari in Africa. The term dates back to the time of the early hunters who considered these five animals to be the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot, hence the term “The Big Five”. The five animals are the lion, leopard, buffalo, black rhino and the elephant. Being able to spot the Big Five has become more of a sport for most tourists coming to Africa, unfortunately sometimes forgetting to enjoy the other animals out there in the bush.

huge male lion roaring under a tree

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Although I must admit, that every time I see one of these five animals, I get very excited as well and in my mind, I can tick off the “big five” box. If you have never been on a safari before, it would be good to get some practical information first about safari in Africa.

Big Five safari in Africa – which animals are part of it?


Of all the cats, the lion is the easiest to see during an African safari. Early morning, lions can often be found laying on the road relaxing from a night hunting. Also they do not move too far during the day, so when a pride of lions has been spotted they will probably stay at that place for the rest of the day. It is always a spectacular sighting to see a pride of lions, and even more when there are cubs. They are spectacular, amazing and proud giving you an adrenaline boost every time you see them.

young male lion walking towards the camera in a game park with the rest of the pride sleeping under some trees
Young male lion in Etosha National Park, Namibia

I do not see lions every time I am in a game park, but on average I see them every other time. So there is still a fairly good chance of spotting them during a safari of a few days.


Of all the animals of the Big Five, the leopard is the hardest to spot during a safari. They are nocturnal animals, and tend to sleep during the day mostly high up in a tree. However, sighting of this beautiful cat during the day is not uncommon, although mostly it is a quick glimpse before they hide again in the bushes or in a tree. The spots on the fur makes a very good camouflage. Even if you see a leopard climbing up a tree, you may have a hard time spotting it between the leaves.

I have had a few chances to get a good look at this beautiful cat. Once in Chobe NP, Botswana, we saw a young leopard hunting during the early hours of the morning. The leopard caught a guinea fowl and surprisingly was not really bothered by the cars surrounding him, giving us a very good and unforgettable sighting.

leopard walking away busy hunting
Leopard hunting in Chobe NP, Botswana
leopard with dead bird in its mouth
Leopard with fresh kill in Chobe NP, Botswana

Cape Buffalo

At first glance, the cape buffalo does not seem to be one of the more dangerous animals to hunt, especially since mostly they are seen in big herds of a few hundred animals. In general it is the older male animals that when excluded from of the main herd, are the dangerous ones. They mostly join together with a few other older male animals.

herd of buffalo in the bush
Buffalo in Kruger

They are an easy prey for a hungry pride of lions and therefore can be very aggressive. When a buffalo decides to attack, they do not give warning charges, but just go for their “victim”. In Africa, they are also nicknamed “killer cows”.

African Elephant

Together with the cape buffalo, the African elephants are the easier animals to spot of the big five. Not only due to their size but also there are plenty of elephants in most of the African game parks. The females can be seen in large herds with their offspring, whilst the male elephants tend to be roaming around the bush by themselves.

There are some safari parks where you can particularly see lots of these beautiful giant animals. Chobe National Park in Botswana is home to the worlds biggest concentration of African elephants. Another interesting park to visit if you want to see lots of elephants is Addo National Park in South Africa. It is located close to Port Elizabeth, as part of the famous Garden Route.

herd of elephants with babies
Herd of African elephants with babies – Chobe National Park in Botswana

Black Rhino

There are 2 types of rhino in Africa, the black and the white. They are both grey in colour but got their names due to a miscommunication in the early days. The term “wyd” (which is afrikaans for wide) was heard as white by the British. The white rhino has a wide lip, while the black rhino has a hooked lip.

black rhino looking straight at the camera

Most tourists and guides will count the white rhino as part of the big 5 safari. But in fact, the white rhino is much more peaceful and much less aggressive than the black rhino, therefore the white rhino was not part of the big five. The black rhino is more difficult to find while on safari, because they tend to roam in between bushes while the territory of the white rhino is open grassland. Also there are more white than black rhino left in the wild, making the black rhino much harder to see.

Tip: Etosha National Park in Namibia is famous for its many waterholes. Especially in dry season, most wildlife gather around these waterholes to drink. The waterhole at Okaukuejo campsite is lit at night and often rhinos come to drink in the late evening. It’s worth a visit. The chances of seeing the Big Five on your safari these is pretty high.

2 black rhino eating bushes

The big five are definitely the more spectacular animals to see during every safari for most people. However, I always enjoy viewing all the other animals that are found in the various safari parks in Africa.

Have you seen the big five during your African safari? How was your experience?

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