Big five game

In Africa, the Big Five game animals are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros (both south-central black and southern white species), elephant, and Cape buffalo.[1] The term was coined by big-game hunters, and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot,[2][3][4] but is now also widely used by safari tour operators.[5][2][6]

The Big Five
The Big Five in art

The 1990 and later releases of South African rand banknotes feature a different big-five animal on each denomination.

Each of the big five are examples of charismatic megafauna, featuring prominently in popular culture, and are among the most famous of Africa's large animals.

Countries where all can be found include Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Malawi.[7][8]


African elephant

African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is a very large herbivore with thick, almost hairless skin; a long, flexible, prehensile trunk; upper incisors forming long, curved, ivory tusks; and large, fan-shaped ears. There are two distinct species of African elephant: the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana). Elephants are difficult to hunt because, despite their large size, they are able to hide in tall grass and are more likely to charge than the other Big Five species. They become aggressive when their young ones are being mistreated or their view of their young is being blocked. [9]

Black rhinoceros

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is a large herbivore with two upright horns on its nasal bridge. Its thick (1.5–5 cm), protective skin is formed from layers of collagen arranged in a lattice structure, and is very hard to puncture. Because it is now critically endangered, hunting is extremely limited. In the context of big-game hunting in Africa, the term "rhinoceros" may also refer to the white rhinoceros, but among big-five game hunters, the black rhinoceros is more highly prized.[10]

Cape buffalo

African Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

The African buffalo or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large horned bovid. It is the only animal among the Big Five that is not on the “endangered” or “threatened” list.[11] The Cape buffalo is considered by many to be the most dangerous to hunters of any of the Big Five:[12] Wounded buffalos have reportedly been known to ambush and attack their pursuers.[13]

African lion

Lion (Panthera leo leo)

The lion (Panthera leo) is a large, carnivorous feline found in Africa and northwest India. It has a short, tawny coat; a tufted tail; and, in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders. Lions are desirable to hunters because of the very real danger involved in hunting them.[14] [15][16]

African leopard

African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)

The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is a large, carnivorous feline. Its fur may be either black, or tawny with dark rosette-shaped markings. The leopard is considered the most difficult of the Big Five to hunt because of its nocturnal habits (it is most active between sunset and sunrise, although it may hunt during the day in some areas), and because it is wary of humans and will take flight in the face of danger. Leopards can be found in the savanna grasslands, brush land and forested areas in Africa. Among the Big Five, they are the most difficult animals to acquire a hunting license for.[17]

Conservation status

Africa's Big Five have become major concerns for wildlife conservationists in recent years. The African lion, African leopard and African bush elephant are all classified as vulnerable. The southern white rhinoceros is classified as near threatened while the black rhinoceros is classified as critically endangered, so hunting them is greatly restricted.[18] The African buffalo is the most popular big five game animal to hunt, as its conservation status is “least concern,” but it is experiencing a population decline in uncontrolled areas due to poaching and urbanization.

See also

  • Big game hunting
  • Charismatic megafauna
  • Elephant gun
  • Game reserve
  • Impossible five
  • Little five game
  • Trophy hunting


  1. Capstick, Peter H. (1984). Safari, the last adventure. St. Martin's Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-312-69657-3. Generally known as the "Big Five," the group we're talking about comprises lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino, although not necessarily in that order.
  2. Zijlma, Anouk. "The Big Five: Index". Africa for Visitors. Archived from the original on 9 February 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2006.
  3. Capstick, Peter H. (1983). Death in the Dark Continent. St. Martin's Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-312-18615-9. No human being could begin to outrun any of the big five, nor would he last more than a few seconds in any contest of strength.
  4. Du Toit, Richard (2001). Africa's Big Five. Struik Publishers. ISBN 978-1-86872-582-3.
  5. "Understanding and Protecting the Big Five in South Africa". Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  6. Nelson, Marsea. "Ten Wild Facts about the "Big Five"". Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  7. Planet, Lonely (28 October 2013). "Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2014 - top 10 countries".
  8. "Rhinos Return to Rwanda's Akagera National Park after 10 Years". 2 May 2017. Archived from the original on 20 July 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  9. Fodor's African Safari, 1st Edition: From Budget to Big Spending Where and How to Find the Best Big Game Adventure in Southern and Eastern Africa. Fodor's. 2004. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-4000-1234-3.
  10. "Current Zoology" (PDF).
  11. Stumpf, Bruce G. "Africa on the Matrix: The Cape Buffalo". Archived from the original on 20 December 2002. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  12. Wieland, Terry (2006). Dangerous-Game Rifles. Countrysport Press. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-89272-691-2.
  13. "African Animals Hunting facts and tips - Buffalo Hunting". safariBwana newsletter. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  14. Capstick, Peter H. (1984). Safari, the last adventure. St. Martin's Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-312-69657-3.
  15. "African Lion". Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2010.
  16. Robinson, Steve (2008). "Unpleasant Truth About Canned Shooting". Shakari Connection. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  17. "News - Meet The Big Five". Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  18. "Diceros bicornis".
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