Big in Africa: How to spot Africa’s biggest wildlife

This month, Big in Japan is on vacation in Africa, and will be bringing you travel news and happenings from around this often misunderstood continent.

The thrill of the safari is one of the greatest pleasures of traveling in Africa. Boasting more than a hundred different species of mammals (350+ if you include bats!), the continent is a veritable Lost World of charismatic creatures. Of course, the whole safari experience can easily be lost on you if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for.

Most people on safari are obsessed with spotting the so-called Big Five, which include such lofty entries as lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and black rhinoceroses. A common misconception is that the Big Five refers to the five largest animals in the African bush. However, the phrase was originally coined by big game hunters to denote the five most dangerous animals to hunt, especially since each animal in the group has a reputation for pursuing its attacker when wounded.

Fortunately for you, you’re here in Africa to observe them, not to shoot them…

1) Lions Although they’re near the top of everyone’s ‘must-see’ list, lions are surprisingly easy to spot in East Africa. They have a wide habitat tolerance, and spend most of their days lying about. However, to see this massive predator in top form, arrange for a guided night drive – lions prefer to hunt under the cover of darkness. If nocturnal viewing is not allowed in a park, lions are also active in the early morning and late afternoon.

2) Leopards Africa’s most common cat is surprisingly the most difficult to spot. True to their feline roots, leopards are stealthy and nocturnal, and prefer to spend most of their days sleeping in the treetops. This is one animal that may require the services of a well-trained guide to spot. However, rare sightings do occur in the open, particularly in woodland-savanna areas.

3) Elephants Elephants drink an average of 65 liters of water per day, so it’s usually safe to assume that they’re congregating near a water source. In national parks, elephants are accustomed to vehicles, though drivers should always exert caution and approach herds slowly, especially when offspring are present. Fortunately, elephants will usually give a mock charge if they are threatened, and this usually enough to scare away anyone with the slightest instinct of self-preservation.

4) Buffaloes The African Buffalo is regarded by big game hunters as the most dangerous of the Big Five since they will incessantly pursue an attacker when provoked. Furthermore, solitary males employ the ‘attack is the best defense tactic,’ though large herds are fairly relaxed and unlikely to charge. Buffalo herds have fairly predicable movements, seeking out good grazing and water during the early morning and late afternoon.

5) Black Rhinos Despite their formidable appearance, black rhinos are extremely edgy and nervous animals. When disturbed, they are quick to flee the scene, though they will confront an aggressor head-on, particularly if a young offspring is present. As a result, they are difficult animals to observe in the wild, and it doesn’t help that they are far more endangered than white rhinos. Black rhinos can be easily identified by their triangular (rather than square) lip and the lack of a neck hump, and are smaller than their white counterparts.

Safari njema! (Have a good trip!)

** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **