The Little 5: The Fascinating Animals Not to Forget in Africa
If you’re interested in experiencing a safari in Africa, chances are you’ve heard the term Big 5. Despite the term originating as a game hunting term, these animals – lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinoceroses, and leopards – are considered some of the most incredible to see while experiencing a safari in Africa, as well as a favorite of conservationists who look to protect each species. However, the Big 5 and other “big” animals such as giraffes or wild dogs are not the only animals to keep and eye out for as you experience Africa.
According to Trip Savvy, Africa’s Little 5 was a term introduced by conservationists who wanted to draw attention to the smaller creatures of the bush who can be just as fascinating as the rest. Interestingly enough, the Little 5 actually correspond to the Big 5 (pay attention to the names!). Take a look at what makes these animals unique below:
The aptly named elephant shrew is a favorite of adventurers searching for the Little 5. With a truck resembling an elephant’s, this small mammal is no bigger than a large mouse. You’ll be able to spot them hopping along the bush (or sometimes in the city!) in South Africa and Botswana. Keep your eyes peeled, though, because not only do they blend in with the sandy color of the ground, but they are one of the fastest small mammals on the planet with speeds of over 20 mph and are known to be tough to spot. If you see one, you’ll have good luck for the year!
Fun Fact: Elephant shrews live in monogamous pairs. However, the partners don’t necessarily care for one another and are only paired up (for life) for reproduction.
This tortoises has gold and black markings on their back resembling that of a leopard. Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but you’re most likely to spot one just on the side of the road. Living as long as 100 years, these tortoises can grow up to 39 inches in length, making them the fourth-largest of the world’s tortoises and the largest found in all of Africa.
Fun Fact: Seeds pass undigested through the gut of a leopard tortoise, so they play a significant role in seed dispersal in Africa.
Buffalo Weaver Bird
The Buffalo weaver bird is the easiest to spot of the Little 5. There are three species of the bird – the white-headed, the white-billed, and the red-billed – and all three species are found in East African countries including Kenya and Tanzania, and if you’re in South Africa you can keep your eyes open for the red-billed buffalo weaver. For this member of the Little 5, it’s more important to keep your ears open if you want to spot one – they’re vocal!
Fun Fact: Males tend to be polygamous and control anywhere from 1 to 8 nests with 3 females.
Unlike the rest of the Little 5, the ant lion can be found all over the world. These winged-insects resemble dragonflies but have hairy bodies that helped give them their name. They have a famously savage temperament, just like their lion counterpart. According to Your African Safari, the ant lion digs a funnel-shaped crater so that “when potential prey approaches, the ant lion can pretend to be an ant falling down the funnel, stimulating the prey to lurch after the fallen ant, only to discover it has been trapped, and so the ant lion catches prey in its trap. They can survive for months at a time without food and live for several years.
Because of their small size, this may be one to talk with your safari guide about and something you get help with spotting in the bush, but they are nocturnal, so recommend a night bush walk.
Fun Fact: The predatory actions of the ant lion have attracted attention throughout history and have even been mentioned in literature since classical times.
Named for their body armor, hooked horn on the head of males, and impressive strength, rhino beetles are similar to ant lions in that they are nocturnal and can be found around the world. Those in Africa typically reside in South Africa, and they can live up to 2-3 years – impressive for any beetle. The size of the horn on a rhino beetle is a good indicator of nutrition and physical health.
Fun Fact: Rhinoceros beetles have become popular pets in parts of Asia due to being relatively clean, easy to maintain, and safe to handle.
Have you seen any of the Little 5 while on safari? If not, consider a Discover Corps trip to Kenya, Tanzania, or South Africa and talk with our expert conservationist guides about how to round out your list of all 10!