Guest post from Josh and Caroline Eaton of Traveling 9 to 5.
It’s all you hear about when researching an African Safari. They are the biggest, most dangerous, and by far the most popular animals in Africa. These are the animals you’ll be awed by, but you don’t want to mess with.
You might be unaware that these aren’t the 5 biggest animals, but the most dangerous and expensive to hunt on foot. Even if you are just “hunting” with your telephoto lens, you’ll be on the lookout for all of these spectacular mammals. We spent all three weeks in Botswana and Namibia on a self-drive safari and were lucky enough to see each of the Big 5 along with hundreds of other animals. The Big 5, in no particular order:
1. African Elephant
Your first reaction will be awe and amazement at the beautiful, enormous and seemingly gentle animals of Africa. A large herd of 30+ elephants is a highlight of anyone’s safari, especially watching the babies interact with the adults and fumble around while they learn how to use their trunks, but if you get too close, you’ll see this!
And you might not breathe for a minute or two, as this massive animal looks you in the eye and sizes you up. If you live through the experience, you’ll observe fascinating behavior, as elephants are constantly moving, digging, spraying, growling, drinking and eating.
The elephant is probably the easiest of the Big 5 to see, especially in Botswana, where they are around every curve, even outside the parks!
The rhinoceros is severely endangered, and therefore very difficult to find in the wild. We badly wanted to see one of these big-horned mammals which led us to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Botswana. With only 30 rhinos, a sighting isn’t guaranteed, but we were lucky enough to spot a mother and baby rhino on our first trip to the water hole. If it weren’t for the lighted watering holes at Okaukuejo in Etosha National Park, the sanctuary would have been the only place to see this amazing creature.
3. African Cape Buffalo
Buffalo may not seem like the most exciting animal to come across, but they are regarded as the most dangerous of the Big 5, having caused the most hunter casualties. These extremely powerful animals can charge and knock out or gore their prey with their massive horns. The horns are fused on top the head in a bone shield called a “boss” which has been known to stop rifle bullets! You’ll mainly observe the buffalo grazing, but keep your distance so you don’t experience “the boss” firsthand.
The lion needs no introduction. The “king of the jungle” (yet they live out in the savannah) sits atop the food chain, and is by far most sought out animal on an African Safari. The great thing about lions is that if you find one, you’ll probably see several as they are rarely alone. Your best chance of some action is during the very early morning or late evening when they hunt. During the day, lions can be found lounging in the shade or sleeping under a tree. Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll hear about a spotting from another safari-goer and race over to join the crowd of 4x4s surrounding a pride of apathetic predators.
The leopard was the final Big 5 animal we saw, and is usually the most elusive, which makes a sighting that much more exciting. This predator tries to get within 5 yards of its prey before pouncing, and that same stealth keeps it hidden from your untrained eye. You might spot one sleeping up in a tree, or relaxing in the shade. They are solitary hunters, unlike the lion, so spotting just one is quite an event.
The Big 5 is at the top of everyone’s African Safari checklist. While our hearts raced when we found any of these, we quickly fell in love with the zebra, wildebeest, hippo and warthog running about. Each game drive is unique and exciting in its own way. While an African Safari isn’t usually included in a standard backpacker’s budget, this is a once in a lifetime experience you can’t miss!
Josh and Caroline Eaton are the creators of Traveling 9 to 5. From Chicago, IL, they’ve quit their corporate jobs, sold (almost) all of their belongings and are currently writing and traveling around the world hoping to inspire others to say yes to their own adventure.