The Big Five

LeopardThe Big Five include the rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and lion. When you see these magnificent big mammals in the wild, you are startled by their beauty and majesty. Each has its own unique distinctive characteristics. These characteristics include specific biological features and survival patterns. Because of their unusual behaviors and hunting habits, they are fascinating to watch as they survive in their natural habitats. They are rare and difficult to locate. This makes them prey to hunters who have hunted them to near extinction.

lionLions live in the open bush, as opposed to the forest. They hunt primarily at night when their prey cannot see them due to a crystal substance located behind their retinas that processes light so they see with just 16% of the light other animals need to see. As a result, they have advantages other animals do not have to hunt which possibly led them to be called the “king of the jungle.” Lions hunt either individually or collectively. Females, called lionesses, do most of the hunting. Their hunting activity, which also takes place during the day, is one of the most fascinating activities visitors enjoy watching as it combines strategy with power, speed, and agility. Lions are gregarious animals and can often be seen playing with their pride (a lion-lioness group) which can comprise up to 30-40 members. They feed based on a hierarchy in which after the lioness kills their prey, it is brought to the lion who distributes the food. Baby lions are fed last and often starve. Though lions are carnivores, they are often found eating grasses, which they use to eliminate fur, swallowed while consuming other animals.

Leopards are carnivores that usually hunt at night. An interesting physical feature is they have flexible claws that can retract. They are agile animals that can climb into trees after a kill to consume it without concern about other animals taking it from them. During the daytime they often are resting in trees. They feed on almost everything from birds to large antelopes and domestic livestock. Leopards have distinctive skins, are very secretive making them difficult to locate, and are solitary animals that are only rarely found in groups.

Cape Buffalo
Africa has 2 types of buffalos. One type is Water Buffalos and the other type is Cape Buffalos. Tanzanian buffalo are Cape Buffalos. Cape Buffalos are extremely dangerous animals that process a lot of adrenalin enzymes, which causes them to become angry quickly. Male buffalos have big horns that make them especially threatening. They are herbivores that normally feed on tall grasses and are usually the first to enter areas after it rains to nibble on new grasses. They spend most of their time resting in the shade and have a poor metabolic system. They normally stay in groups of around 6,000 and grazing in a vast feeding zone. Old buffalos stay together in their own bachelor group.

Their skins and horns are very valuable which makes them a target of poachers.

Rhinoceros are herbivores. There are 2 major categories of rhinos in Africa referred to as white rhinos and black rhinos. Interestingly, what differentiates these rhinos is not their color, as all rhinos are grey. What differentiates them is the shape of their mouths. White rhinos have broad flat lips to facilitate grazing and black rhinos have long pointed lips to help them browse for food in foliage. The term “white” rhinos resulted from a corruption of the term Germans used when pronouncing “wide,” referring to their wide and broad upper lips. Another difference between these 2 types of rhino is that white rhino are more aggressive than black rhinos. When white rhinos walk with their babies, the baby rhino walks ahead of the mother, making her very dangerous when approached. In contrast, the black rhino babies walk behind their mother and she is less dangerous when approached. The rare black rhinos that are an endangered species are located primarily in the Ngorongoro Conservation area. More specifically, they can be found in the Moru Kopjes area of the Serengeti, Mkomazi National Park and Selous Game Reserve. Because rhino horns are believed to have a variety of natural powers, this has inflated the value of their horns and, as a result, threatened all rhinos with extinction due to poachers.

Elephants are the largest mammals on earth. They weight between 12,000-22,000 lbs. Their gestation period is 22 months and can only give birth to one baby at a time. They live approximately 65 years. Their eating habits enable them to eat almost anything in the bush, consuming up to 770 lbs of food a day while feeding 22 hours daily. They can uproot vegetables using their tusks and dig trenches to locate water under the earth during the dry season with their trunks. They have large brains and excellent hearing but poor sight, teeth that can replace themselves 6 times during their lifetime, and can make infrasonic sounds humans cannot hear and trumpet-like sounds when they feel threatened. Prior to mating, males are forced out of the family group into another group so they don’t mate with a sibling which helps to preserve their health but are allowed back into their family group after 30 years. Because the ivory of their tusks are valuable, poachers have reduced their populations all over the world.