What are the big 5? Why are they called the big 5? Should hippos not be part of the big 5? Why is the giraffe not one of the big 5?
It is questions like these that guides are asked daily. So I thought I would help people out by explaining why the big 5 are really the big 5.
The big 5 are lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard. Now many people would say that giraffes and hippos are bigger than lions and leopards and that brings us to…
As we can see the term “big 5” has nothing to do with the physical size of the animals. In fact the term comes from the era of the so called “great hunters”. The big 5 are basically the 5 most dangerous animals one might encounter (especially on foot). Any one of the big 5 will be more aggressive and much more prone to attack if they are wounded and lion as well leopard might possibly attack when they are mating or feeding. Buffalo have been known to run in circles to get around the hunters and attack from the rear. And black rhino and elephant have been known to follow the scent of a human. Anyone that has walked into a female lion or leopard with cubs will attest the speed and ferocity these mommies show to protect their young.
Although hippos kill more people that the big 5 combined every year, they will most likely seek the safety of the water. But saying that, a hippo bull that has been chased out of his territory by a stronger male might be encountered away from the water and these bulls can potentially be extremely dangerous. In all likelihood they will move away quickly but on occasion they will charge. But why are so many people killed by hippos? Many of these deaths occur where people in rural areas use the same water sources that hippos call home. People often encounter the hippos on game trails moving from or back to the water. Now some suggest that by merely moving off the game trail the hippo will simply run past you. However I am not sure I want to test this theory.
Another scenario where people get attacked from time to time is on boats and canoes. Sometimes a boat or a canoe gets too close to the pod (collective noun) and the dominant bull will charge in an attempt to protect his harem. Females might also do this if they have young at foot.
Females with young and even dominant bulls have been known to attack from the relative safety of the water if humans get to close to the water’s edge. This is very likely to happen in the dry periods (winter months) where water sources start to dwindle and the size of their “place of safety” is reducing on a daily basis.Not all encounters end in tragedy. I remember an experience in Zambia where I was walking home one night and happened into a mother with a very young calf grazing between the tents. She and the calf made a bee line for the water and she didn’t give me a second glance.
Giraffe will sometimes move closer to humans on foot and can be rather curious. But they would rather run away from danger then confront it. But like any animal if they are cornered they can be extremely dangerous. Giraffe have an enormous kick and will use their long hooves as a defensive weapon. I have personally seen a lion have its jaw broken in two places from a single kick in an attempted hunt.
We will have a look at the big 5 individually as well as how to react to each of them when viewing them from a vehicle over the next few blog posts. Is a walking safari not too dangerous? This all may sound really scary. Don’t get me wrong. A walking safari is probably one of the best ways to experience the African bush and can from time to time really test your nerve. In my opinion it is absolutely worth it. An experienced guide will get you into a position to view these animals without them ever knowing your where there. And even if they do detect you your guide will be able to get you out of most situations without any detrimental effects to either the animal or the human. I hope this will help everyone understand the term “the big 5