The Big Five of Africa 

Africa is a vast continent complete with the kind of natural wonders that photographers will find no place else on earth. 

The biodiversity of wildlife here is incredible with an overwhelming array of mammal and bird species that help to give the African continent its identity. It is here where lions, leopards, zebras, giraffes, and vast herds of elephants still roam free amongst the expansive plains.

Often when folks travel to Africa, they are doing so on ‘safari,’ which is a Swahili word that translates to “journey.” Any trip to Africa is indeed a great journey and when folks think of a ‘safari,’ images of megafauna running through their natural habitat of vast plains alongside vehicles full of people, some photographing with big lenses, and others simply “oohing and ahhing” quickly come to mind.  

Safaris are quests to have as many wildlife encounters as possible, yet the ‘Big Five’ are typically the most highly sought after. 

The lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo were the five large African mammal species that were known to hunters as dangerous, and successfully hunting them was considered an accomplishment. This earned them the name ‘Big Five.’ 

Today, the expression is more in line with safaris. ‘The Big Five’ has become more of a checklist of trophy animals to see and photograph. 

So, how about some fun facts about ‘The Big Five?’ 

Lion: And you thought your house cat was lazy. Did you know lions spend the majority of their day sleeping? Like up to 20 hours a day! When they are awake, however, you’ll know about it. A lion’s roar can be heard up to five miles away. 

Leopard: Leopards are the least seen of the Big Five because they are solitary, secretive, and nocturnal. They are so antisocial that they even avoid interacting with each other – beyond mating and raising cubs. 

Rhino: If you catch a glimpse of a Rhino attacking a tree or a rock, this is because they have really poor vision. Their hearing and sense of smell, however, are excellent, which can help to make up for their terrible eyesight. 

Elephant: One important piece of gear for every safari is sunscreen. The sun in Africa can be harsh, and we humans burn under the bright lights. So do elephants – elephants get sunburnt! So, in an attempt to prevent sunburn (and to keep those pesky insects away) they will routinely throw sand on their backs and heads.

Cape Buffalo: Cape buffalo are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal. They are called ‘Black Death,’ and ‘Widow Maker’ because they still kill over 200 people each year. Who’d have thought that out of this list of megafauna buffalo would be the most dangerous? 

Encountering any of these creatures in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime and transformative travel experience, and Backcountry Journeys can take you there! 

We now offer a selection of itineraries that will allow Africa to capture your imagination, whether it from the luxurious safari-style “camps,” or from the safari-style boat and/or overland vehicle trips, as they will provide close (enough) encounters with the highly sought-after ‘Big Five.’  

Read More about Botswana
Botswana: A Tale of Two Seasons
The Beating Heart of Botswana
Botswana: Land of Giants
An Exploration of Botswana
Africa’s Garden of Eden: Okavango Delta
Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda 
Ultimate Botswana Wildlife Safari

Kenton Krueger








Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and has had several of his writings and photographs published in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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