At one time, the “Big Five” were at the top of hunters’ lists, as they were considered the most difficult of Africa’s big game to shoot while on foot. These were: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo. Fortunately, it’s tourists who do most of the shooting today but only with their cameras. A trip to Africa is not complete without experiencing a wildlife safari. Safaris allow you to get up close to the wild animals where they live and feed. On safari you will not only witness a wide variety of wildlife in their natural habitat, but you will also be surrounded by beautiful scenery and stunning landscapes as well.
Whilst rampant big-game hunting has been largely consigned to history, unfortunately poaching has taken its place and it’s the rhino in particular that has suffered as a result.
In the north of Kenya, most notably Lake Nakuru, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Lewa Wilderness Conservancy, rhino can still be seen, allowing you to see all of the Big Five.
These areas are relatively small in comparison to other parks so your chances of seeing these animals are increased, although the leopard always seems to remain elusive and so an element of luck is required to see one. Finally, Kenya’s most famous reserve, the Masai Mara, is also home to the Big Five.
Here’s are some fascinating facts about the Big Five in Kenya.
There are two species—the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros—and five subspecies between them left in Africa. Those include the northern white rhino, the southern white rhino, the eastern black rhino, the southern central black rhino, and the southwestern black rhino. All are huge, with a top weight of 5,000 pounds and horns that can grow up to five feet long.
Due largely to poaching for their horns, the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011. The last male northern white rhino died in 2018, with only two females remaining—making that subspecies functionally extinct.
The biggest of the Big Five is the African savanna elephant, which can weigh up to seven tons. The African forest elephant, which is about three feet shorter and lives in the forests of the Congo Basin, was declared a separate species after genetic testing in 2010 showed big differences between the forest and savanna dwellers.
Savanna elephants are large enough to change the landscape, pulling up trees to make grasslands, dispersing seeds, and overall increasing biodiversity. Long sought after by poachers, elephants have a fragmented range throughout central and southern Africa.
These hefty, cow-like animals often congregate by the thousands in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya; forming large groups is one defense against predators.
Male and female buffalo both have horns, but the males’ curve upward and fuse together in the center, forming a solid bony plate called a boss. It’s a helpful defense—as is being more than three times heavier than their lion adversaries. That’s why a lion that attacks a buffalo is taking a huge risk of dying. Buffalo can be aggressive, and frequently come into conflict with humans outside of protected areas.
African lion (The big five in Kenya)
Lions are the only social big cat, but don’t expect to see the king. There isn’t one. One male may be dominant over the others, but that can change at any time. Lion society is also matrilineal, “so the females hold the territories,” and stay with the pride into which they’re born.
Leopard (The big five in Kenya)
This is the most elusive. Speaking of spots, most leopards are light-colored, with distinctive dark spots that are called rosettes. Black leopards, which appear to be almost solid in color because their spots are hard to distinguish, are commonly called black panthers.
The solitary big cats haul large kills, such as zebra or antelope, into a tree to eat alone, in peace. There’s another reason for leopards to stay aloft: They don’t exactly get along with their fellow Big Fiver, the African lion. If a lion has a chance to kill a leopard, it will.