The name ‘Big Five’ originated from a sad time in Africa’s history, so called due to the difficulty of tracking down lions, elephant, leopards, rhino’s and African buffaloes, which made them rich pickings for trophy hunters! Today, thankfully, these masters of wildlife in Africa are now protected, and the only time any lens draws a bead on them, it is to capture their awesome beauty through a camera lens!
The Okavango Delta is home to all five, a natural habitat rich enough to support the Big Five in style at the end of the Okavango River, born a thousand miles away in Angola. The Okavango River originates in Angola as the Cubango River, the fourth longest river on the African continent, wends its way through Namibia, and on its desperate journey to reach the ocean gets caught up in the grasslands and swamps of the Okavango Delta, creating heaven on earth for thousands of mammals, birds and fish!
The lives of the Big Five in Botswana:
The African Buffalo
Don’t even think about trying to corner this very dangerous and unpredictable monster that can weigh in at a massive 700kg, there will be very little left of you! Leave them alone and you will not fall prey to their sometimes sneaky attempts at ambushing man, keeping clear is the best way to enjoy the general placidness of this awesome mammal! Lion’s unfortunately love Buffalo meat, but, they also run the risk of being killed by a Buffalo in revenge for stealing one of their own!
Having been hunted to near extinction, the Rhino Trust and many other organisations involved in saving these primitive-looking mammals, have brought the population of just a few thousand in the early 1990’s to double its population since then as a result of very strategic interventions. It is a profound experience to view one of these historic mammals thriving in areas such as the Okavango Delta, and one not to be missed!
Their hearing and sense of smell is exceptional, even if their vision is poor enough to lead them into attacking the odd tree or rock by mistake! If you haven’t brought enough sun block with you, you can always try the Rhino way – soak in mud for a couple of hours and the sun beating down on you along with little flying monsters will find it difficult to get through!
Powerful enough to carry even a young giraffe high into the tree tops, seeing a leopard lounging around on trees completely at ease with the world around them is a way of life for these graceful, sleek creatures. This way they also get to protect their prey from greedy hyenas or lions that show a keen interest in their meal, and being the strongest climber among the big cat species, this ensures that a leopard never has to share his meal!
Spotting a leopard can be tough, they are solitary nocturnal creatures who tend to avoid the heat of the day, which makes them the hardest of the Big Five to spot, but when you do, it is an unforgettable experience! Believe it or not, Leopards are the only member of the cat family that can lay claim to being a superb swimmer!
With a muscular trunk that serves as a hand, nose, extra foot, tool for gathering food and a signalling device, the African elephant is by far the largest living land mammal, and at around 6 tons in weight, the biggest can easily reach up to over 3 metres in height! African elephants are able to communicate across vast distances of up to 5 miles, at a frequency so low that human ears are unable to pick up a sound. The African elephant is another of the Big Five facing dwindling numbers due to poaching and trophy killing – once you have seen one up close, imagine facing a world where within ten years you will not be able to show your small children or grandchildren what a ‘real’ elephant looks like? A hard thought to bear when you look into those intelligent eyes!
Living together in prides, African lions are the most social of all the big cats in Africa, and these prides can number up to 15 lions living in organised social groups. Part of this organised society means that when there has been a kill, the male lions get to eat first, although it is the females who do the hunting, it is their reward for protecting the territory of the pride while the females are out hunting! Generally, the darker a lion’s mane is, the older he is, and there is nowhere else in the world that you will find a lion, Africa is the home continent to all lions in our world!
Anyone coming to Africa or living in Africa owes everything they can do to make sure that theirs is more than just a footnote in history, leave a mark on your African adventure by getting involved, no matter how small a contribution it may be, in saving our beautiful African Big Five for future generations to enjoy in spectacular natural surroundings!