Big Five Game or “Big Five” refers to the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot in Africa.
It was first used by hunters who hunted animals for trophies but is now more commonly used by Safari tour operators when they take tourists to visit the animals.
List of Big Five Game Animals
African Cape buffalo
The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a sub-Saharan African bovine, of which there are five species. These animals are large and widely regarded as one of the most dangerous animals on the African continent. It has a very unpredictable temperament and has never been domesticated; in fact, it is not an ancestor of domestic cattle and is only distantly related to other larger bovines.
These animals belong to the genus Syncerus and the family Bovidae. They are found mostly in savannas, swamps and floodplains. They are grazing ruminants, eating grass and sedges as well as cud or bolus.
The African buffalo has very few predators and are capable of defending themselves against large predators such as African lions.
The Cape buffalo is found in South Africa and East Africa. They are the nominate species and the largest species, with adult males weighing up to 870 kg (1,920 lb).
The Cape buffalo, is a member of the big five and is therefore sought after for trophy hunting. Hunting, along with loss of habitat, is one of the main reasons the population of the African buffalo is declining. It is currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.
The African elephant, (Loxodonta Africana), is also known as the ‘African Bush Elephant’. The African Bush Elephant lives in the savannas, hence sometimes being called the ‘Savanna Elephant’.
In most places, the adult African Bush Elephant lacks natural predators thanks to its great size, however, the calves (especially the newborn) are vulnerable to lions and crocodile attacks and (rarely) to leopard and hyena attacks.
The largest African elephants recorded weight was over 9 tons and it stood more than 12 feet high at the shoulder. The African elephants average weight is up to 7 tons, about the equivalent of 78 adult human males with an average weight of 90 kilograms each.
The lion (Panthera leo) is a large cat of the genus Panthera and belongs to the family Felidae, along with tigers, leopards and jaguars. It is the second largest cat in the world, following the tiger.
One of the strongest felines in the world, they are apex predators and keystone predators, meaning they are extremely important in the food chain and have a large effect on the environment around them.
African Lions hunt by ambush. A lions main prey includes medium to large-sized mammals such as antelope, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, warthog and deer, however, they will also scavenge for food. Lions can survive for long periods without water, obtaining moisture from prey and plants.
One of the few animals that will attack lions are hyenas, which will kill an injured lion, or if food is scarce, will occasionally attack a healthy one. Lions and hyenas have also been known to kill each other in fights over prey.
The Black rhinoceros (Diceros Bicornis), is sometimes called the ‘Hooked-lip rhino’. The rhinoceros is a mammal in the order Perissodactyla and is native to the eastern and central areas of Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Although the Rhino is referred to as black, it is actually more of a grey-white color in appearance. It will sometimes take on the color of the soil that it lives around.
Black Rhinos have a tendency to attack just about anything, this is because of their poor eyesight. Black Rhinos have been known to attack trees and rocks by mistake. They rely heavily on their strong sense of smell and well developed hearing. If it catches a smell of an unfamiliar presence, then it will instinctively charge mistaking it as a threat. Most of their ‘charges’ are bluffs but because they act in this way, they have been given a bad reputation as being aggressive and dangerous.
Black Rhinos use the larger of their two horns as a weapon when fighting. Sometimes it can break off, however, this regenerates and grows back eventually.
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the five extant species in the genus Panthera, a member of the cat family, Felidae.
Leopards are characterized by their striking fur of dark spots grouped in rosettes, that allow them to camouflage against their habitat.
Leopards are carnivores and favor prey that is medium in size, with a body mass ranging from 10 to 40 kg (22 to 88 lb). They have been recorded to eat over 100 species of animal, but the most common are ungulates, including small antelopes, gazelles, deer, pigs, primates and domestic livestock. However, they are opportunistic carnivores and will also eat birds, reptiles, rodents, arthropods, and carrion when available.
Leopards will scavenge food off cheetahs, solitary hyenas and other small carnivores, too, but will also eat much smaller prey to avoid intense competition for food from other large carnivores like tigers and hyenas, with which they share parts of their natural range.
Big Five Game Conservation status
Africa’s Big Five have become major concerns for wildlife conservationists in recent years.
The African lion and African leopard are both classified as vulnerable. The African elephant is listed as endangered by the IUCN. The southern white rhinoceros is classified as near threatened while the black rhinoceros is classified as critically endangered, so hunting them is greatly restricted.
The African buffalo is the most popular big five game animal to hunt, as its conservation status is “least concern.”