Your guide to Africa’s famous Big Five

If you’re even remotely interested in safaris, you’ve probably heard of the Big Five – namely, lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos.

Elephants at Singita-Serengeti-House
Elephants in the Serengeti, Tanzania. Credit: Singita.

The ‘Big Five’ is actually an old hunting term, referring to the African animals that were the most difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot. Of course, here we refer to them as the iconic wildlife you can see on a safari, shooting them with a camera, not a gun.

Here are some tips for spotting the Big Five on some of the best African safari tours.

Little_Ruckomechi_2016-09-174 - Mana Pools, Zim - Wilderness
A lion cub in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe. Credit: Wilderness Safaris.


Lions are probably the most famous of all the African animals, so often portrayed as kings of the jungle. These majestic big cats are found widely across Africa, but one of the best places to see them is in Kenya. The Masai Mara is known as ‘big cat country’ and has a very healthy population of lions. The best time to watch them is either first thing in the morning or at dusk, when they’re more active.

Masai Mara
Lions in the Mara.


Another favourite of the Big Five, elephants are wonderful animals to watch on safari due to their social behaviours, ways of interacting with each other – and super cute babies. Sadly, these proud animals are at high risk of poaching, but Botswana’s government-run, organised approach to poaching makes it one of the best countries to see big herds of elephants. Chobe is a particular hotspot for the eles, where herds will often reach the hundreds.

Some of the hundreds of elephants living in Chobe National Park, Botswana.


Another big cat, the leopard is elusive and solitary, often making it a difficult animal to spot. Fortunately, the Sabi Sands – a private reserve next to Kruger National Park in South Africa – is one of the best places in the world for seeing leopards in the wild with high densities of the cat. These animals are truly beautiful predators and are captivating to watch, whether they’re stalking through the bush or lazing in a tree.

Leopard - Sabi Sabi Game Reserve
A leopard in a tree. Credit: Sabi Sabi.


If you’re unaware of the origins of the term ‘Big Five’, Cape buffalo are probably the most surprising inclusion. However, these animals are extremely dangerous to encounter on foot. They are notoriously grumpy and aggressive, so are best viewing from the safety of a safari vehicle! However, it is this temperament that makes them so enjoyable to photograph with great portraits to be taken of a buffalo giving you a hard stare from under lowered brows. Check out the enormous herds that gather in Tanzania’s Serengeti.

Buffalo - Photo by Lewie Embling, Unsplash
A grumpy buffalo. Credit: Lewie Embling, Unsplash.


The endangered rhinos of Africa are, like elephants, under constant threat from poachers. White rhinos are much easier to spot across many countries in Africa, whereas the rarer black rhinos live in thick bush and are solitary and shy. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is home to up to 10,000 rhinos and it’s common to see white rhinos on a game drive. If you’re keen to see a black rhino in the wild, head to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.

Rhinos at Lewa Wilderness
White rhinos at Lewa Wilderness, Kenya. Credit: Lewa Wilderness.

The Big Five

To see the whole Big Five in one trip, South Africa is undoubtedly the best bet. The Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park will usually reveal all five animals – alongside many more – in just a 24-hour period.

Lions at Hwange, Zimbabwe - Wilderness - MM_Davisons_Sept_2011_MM_025
Lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Credit: Wilderness Safaris.

Other destinations for potential Big Five safaris include Botswana’s Chobe National Park or the Okavango Delta, Hwange or Mana Pools National Parks in Zimbabwe, the Masai Mara of Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania.

Leopard at Singita-Serengeti-House-Wildlife6
A leopard in the Serengeti. Credit: Singita.

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