Do you really want to see the Big Five?
The word “Safari” comes from Swahili and Arabic words meaning to travel or take a journey. In the 19th century the rich Victorians went to Africa to explore and see nature in the raw. They developed the habit of shooting much of what they saw and it wasn’t long before certain animals were recognised as being more dangerous to hunt on foot than others. Thus the Big Five came into being. The elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and lion were the five that stood out. They were strong, large, fast and cunning. Consequently, they were slaughtered in their thousands and, in species like the rhino, nearly wiped out.
Baby Rhino, original drawing by David Dancey-Wood, image courtesy of Jon Isaacs
Fortunately today things are generally different, although there are still game parks in South Africa where animals are raised in order to be shot by wealthy hunters from America, Britain or elsewhere. They pay vast sums in order to shoot rare species and some of this money is ploughed back into conservation. I leave the reader to decide on the ethics of this.
For most people on safari however, the thrill is in the photographing, or viewing, of such powerful and interesting mammals. Many people on their first safari attempt to see the Big Five, often with the encouragement of the younger guides, who like to show off their skills in the locating of such diverse animals. Such a quest can be fun, and I have been fortunate enough to achieve it once, by luck, in a single game drive. However, it seems a shame to me to rush hither and thither in a desperate search for these elusive creatures, when there are creatures of interest around every corner, just waiting to be spotted and observed
Aardvark, Photo Copyright Jon Isaacs 2021
Tourists, who have been hooked by the magic of Africa, and are on return safaris, tend to steer away from chasing the Big Five. Indeed, I have often found that many older guides look positively happy when we say that we’re not particularly after the Big Five but would be happy to stop at any interesting sighting.
Many adults now tend to take their children on safari and for them there are the Little Five to be discovered. These consist of, the lion ant, the rhinoceros beetle, the buffalo weaver bird, the leopard tortoise and the elephant shrew. These are great fun to hunt around lodges and can be equally difficult to find. It took me over a dozen safaris before I saw my first wild tortoise. Adults can also get hooked on seeing these little creatures, all of which have interesting behaviour of their own. As with all competitions, the rules continually evolve, and one of the latest versions of “Spot the Five” I’ve come across involves spotting a Shy Five. This is understandably difficult, but with many lodges now offering an early evening extension to the afternoon drive, this can be quite fun and a relaxing end to the day. The mammals that make up this Five seem to vary from area to area but a typical” Five” might include: pangolin, porcupine, aardvark, aardwolf and springhare.
Wild Tortoise, Photo Copyright Jon Isaacs 2021
I’ve also noticed recently that there are books coming onto the market suggesting a 100 birds, mammals etc to see before they become extinct or you die. I find the thought of rushing around the world to try and see a hundred endangered animals rather depressing, (Probably because of my advancing years), not to mention being environmentally unfriendly. However, a top five in Africa strikes me as a challenge and one I’m game for. At the moment my African Five to see and photograph in the wild consists of: serval, caracal, cape fox, striped hyena and aardwolf. The beauty is that as I see any of the five I can then choose another one and continue with the game.
Another bit of fun you could consider, is to name a Big Five from David’s prints. Can you actually find all five original species amongst his work?
Whatever Five you decide on, African or British if you are staying at home or in Lockdown, go on a safari searching for animals and enjoy every minute of it. It really is the best holiday ever!