The ‘big 5’: lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant



The ‘big 5’ refers to 5 African animals that are known around the world. Tourism organisers use this term to advertise the beauty and importance of these big African animals.

So what are these 5 animals? They are the lion, the buffalo, the elephants, the leopard and the rhinoceros. They are found across Central and Southern Africa.


African lions are often called the ‘king’ of the animal kingdom. They have no predators (other animals that hunt them) and live in big groups called ‘prides.’ They are brilliant hunters and work in teams that are led by a female. The animals that predators hunt are called prey. This prey can be zebras, crocodiles, buffaloes or even young elephants. Lions are under threat from hunting, however they are important in African landscapes. They hunt and maintain good numbers of plant eating animals (herbivores.) Without them the grasslands would be over eaten, and fewer crops would grow.


The African buffalo is the only species of wild cattle in Africa. Buffalos live in grasslands and forests. There are about 900 000 buffalo in the world and most of them live in Africa! They are very big and can weigh 1500lb and live to 20 years. When their habitats are split up by roads or fences, this puts the buffalo in danger. Buffalos have died out (become extinct) in some parts of Africa. Buffalos are important to humans as well as the environment. For example, Buffalo fat can be used in soap. You can drink buffalo milk. Buffalo dung can even be used for fuel for fire!


African elephants are the largest land animal on earth. The only other species of elephant is the Asian elephant that is found in countries such as India. Elephants live in hot environments and need to keep cool. They have big ears to lose lots of body heat. Elephants are found near watering holes, using their trunks to spray water on their body to cool them down. The horns used to be hunted for their valuable material, however this is illegal as it causes the elephants numbers to decrease. Elephants have environmental importance for many reasons. They are often nick-named ‘architects of the grassland’. This is because they walk on the soil and make the grassland easier for other animals to live in. They create open spaces in the woodland, so new plants can grow. Without elephants, African landscapes would look very different.


Like lions, leopards are part of the cat family. They are smaller than lions and live in forests instead of grasslands. They climb trees to sleep and look out for prey to hunt. Other animals like to steal a leopard’s prey, so the leopard hides its food high in a tree. The spots on a leopards are called ‘rosettes’ and are square shaped in Southern African leopards, and circle shaped in East-African leopards. Leopards like to eat lots of different food including fish, snakes and antelopes. Leopards will not eat farm animals unless there in not enough other prey for them to eat. So, it is important to make sure there is enough food for them such as antelopes and gazelle. Unlike many African big animals, leopards live alone and are active at night- this is nocturnal behaviour.


Rhinos are large animals that can weigh over one tonne. They live in many different habitats including savannah and forests. They only eat grasses and other plants- this means they are ‘herbivores.’ Rhinos prefer to live on their own. However, some species of rhinos prefer to live in small groups. Rhinos love to splash in mud as this cools them down. Sadly, rhinos have been hunted until there are not many of them left. This is because poachers kill them for their horns. Many national parks are working hard at protecting these tough and strong animals.

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