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Finding the Big Five on Safari

3 Jan 2020 | By Author Thornybush | Wildlife

No matter how enchanting you find the smaller creatures, plants and birds while out in the bush, the inevitable “success” of any safari is often measured by the number of Big Five sightings you record.

But, you may not know exactly what makes up this famous five, so read on to find out.


The largest member of the ‘Big 5’, the elephant, would logically seem like the easiest to find due to its sheer size. However, if you ever have the privilege of being really close to them as they move through the bush, you will be astonished at their stealth. Their movements are almost soundless and they can disappear into the woods just as quickly as they appeared.

The whereabouts of elephants are relatively easy to predict – they are often found near sources of water. Broken branches, bent trees and piles of their cannon-ball like dung are a good sign that they are in the area too.

Fortunately, these large pachyderms are tolerant of our admiration, so you can enjoy spending time with them once you have them in your sights. That being said, you should always be alert for signs that you are perhaps paying them too much attention and take care not to get between a mother and calf in a breeding herd of elephant.


Not so happy-go-lucky is the buffalo, the master of the death stare, often found leering out of dense riverside thickets or hanging out with their peers, sometimes hundreds at a time, grazing the long grass.

Don’t let their bovine heritage fool you, the buffalo is a serious contender for the most dangerous animal in Africa, and is as tough as they come, with a passionate hatred of their fellow Big Fiver, the lion.


The king and queen of beasts are largely inactive during the daytime, preferring to conserve their energy for nighttime hunting. Lions are superbly camouflaged and difficult to spot, whether lying in the shade of trees or moving through the beige grasses of their habitat. They are most easily seen at waterholes during the early morning and evening.


Black rhinoceros sightings are a true blessing – these creatures are one of the rarest in Africa and prefer deep, thick, bush where they are difficult to see.

The more common white rhino is sometimes included in today’s Big Five and may be seen wallowing in mud pools or grazing on the riverbanks and in the grasslands.


The ultimate creature of the night and stealth operator par excellence, leopards are most often seen on evening drives under the auspices of a skilled ranger, but you may be lucky enough to spot one during their daily repose in the thick branches of riverside trees.

Other tips for game watching success while on a drive include leaving the heavily fragranced deodorants and perfumes for dinnertime, not smoking, keeping quiet, and following the instructions of your ranger.

Thornybush Game Reserve is teaming with the Big 5, especially now since we’ve become part of the Greater Kruger National Park – so there is a high chance that you will get to see them.