Who are they?
The Big Five has now become so synonymous with safari that they practically go hand in hand. It’s often the first question you get asked before you go, “Will you see the Big Five!?” And the first question you get when you come back, “Did you see the Big Five!?” Unfortunately, the safari industry has done much to proliferate the term, marketing destinations as whether you can or can’t see the Big Five.
Hippos aren’t in the Big Five, neither are Giraffes, or Elands or Sables, so it’s not just animals that are big in size which you might see on your safari Adventure. The term was originally used in trophy hunting to refer to the most dangerous animals to hunt. I’ve also heard it was used to refer more specifically to the most dangerous animals to hunt when wounded. More recently the photographic safari industry began to use the term to describe the largest and most charismatic animals that guests most enjoy seeing on an African safari.
Ok, so where can I see them?
Buffalo. Common in and out of the protected areas of Tanzania, you will almost certainly see some on your safari tour. Old grumpy ones who hang out in the muddy bits and large breeding herds. The really big herds invoke a very special wild and foregone feeling if you can find them, try Ruaha and the Serengeti for those.
Elephant. A very special animal that powerfully represents wild spaces, communities and their conservation. Quite emotionally overwhelming in a wonderful way the first time you get close to them, and indeed every time after that. Tanzania is lucky to have one of the largest populations of elephant left in Africa. Ruaha and Tarangire for real elephant lovers.
Leopard. You’re going to need a lot of luck. Leopards are everywhere, but seeing them is a totally different matter. Always an incredible, awe-inspiring moment if, if you do. It’s no use spending hours looking for them, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. And for that you need excellent safari guides who know their patch. My favourite method is asking the baboons.
Lion. Along with elephants, lions are the big one everyone really wants to see. And rightly so, lions really invoke the spirit of safari. There’s nothing quite like being eye balled by 200kg killing machine. Lions are critically endangered, with only a few thousand left across Africa. They need vast protected areas to thrive. Tanzania has these and a number of the last major lion populations, namely in Nyerere National Park (the Selous), Ruaha and Serengeti.
Rhino. Now limited to scattered populations that are often under tight security, Rhinoceros were once common across Africa. In Tanzania they have suffered terribly from poaching. You can see them in the Ngorongoro Crater, which is a stunning place to see a Rhino. Also in the Serengeti and even Nyerere if you’re incredibly lucky. Hopefully we might start to see them being re-introduced in other areas of Tanzania soon enough.
These days you might come across all sorts of other fives on safari, the Little Five, the Ugly Five (very unfair) and so on. It’s a fun way to interpret the animals you might encounter but I urge you to remember that there is so, so much more to a safari than the Big Five.