If you are thinking of going on an African safari for your vacation then you’ve probably heard the term, “The Big 5.” The term comes from a time when African safari meant hunting animals on foot through the wilds of the African bush with just a rifle and your wits.

The Big 5 were the toughest to take down and the most likely to fight back when you hunted them. Take a shot at a gazelle, it will run away. Take a shot at a Cape Buffalo, it will run at you!

These days a safari for most of us involves a camera or binoculars, a game truck, and a luxurious lodge waiting for us at the end of the day. Which means now we can safely “hunt” The Big 5 from the comforts of a Land Cruiser and not worry about them turning on us.

Think of The Big 5 as just a starting place for your safari spotting checklist though because there are plenty of other amazing critters out there you’ll want to snap a few shots of.


I don’t need to tell you how dangerous a lion is because it has a reputation we’ve all heard of since childhood. You don’t get crowned “King of the Jungle” because you are sweet and cuddly.

If seeing a lion is on your bucket list be sure to double check your planned safari includes the possibility of seeing them. I say this because the first safari lodge we stayed at in South Africa did not have lions on their reserve so in order to see lions we had the option to do a day trip to a nearby game reserve.

Most lodges or safari companies will state clearly in their marketing material if they are able to show guests “The Big 5.”



To see an African elephant in the wild is an amazing experience. There is just something about those gentle giants that make them special. Even though we saw them on many safaris it never got old.

elephants in kwazulu natal

Cape Buffalo

The cape buffalo will mostly be the beast on this list you see the most of and you’ll probably wonder how they got on this list because they basically act like cattle. From our safari experience no matter how close the game drive vehicles got to the cape buffalo they paid us no mind and just kept munching away on what every grass was near them.

A full grown male can weigh up to 1,800 pounds and is said to be most dangerous when wounded or a calf in the herd is under attack.

Check out this video that shows just how dangerous they can be.


A rhino is another animal that needs no introduction and because of that, I can not imagine being near one on foot due to their legendary charging ability. But from the safety of a game drive vehicle, they act more like armored cows than the deadly animals they are.

south africa rhino


This is by far the most elusive animal on the list because they are quiet, sneaky, and like to keep to themselves. Though an expert safari guide knows how to find them.

On a game drive in South Africa, our guide was able to locate a leopard resting deep within some bushes because of how a bird was acting. Because of his awareness and expertise, I was able to capture this photo which shows just how hidden she was.

south africa leopard

Click here to learn about taking a safari in a private game reserve vs a national park