Before any trip to South Africa, or anywhere else on a continent known for its safaris, you’ll inevitably hear about “The Big Five.” These are, you’ll come to learn, the five game animals hunters once declared to be the most dangerous and difficult to hunt on foot. Despite the fact that these animals aren’t hunted legally anymore, the name has stuck – nowadays, it’s a sort of badge of honor to see all of the “Big Five” animals during a safari trip.
The thing is, as you’ll no doubt realize quickly, there are far more animals that are worth getting excited about when on safari. The moniker “big” doesn’t even necessarily need to refer to an animal’s size, either – if it’s a rarity to see an animal in the wild, it’s a big deal to catch a glimpse of it, no matter how big or small it is.
Not only that, you don’t want to inadvertently piss off a hippo just by leaving it off your must-see list, right?
It is in the spirit of making sure all the amazing animals in South Africa get their due that I humbly submit to you a new list – the Big 22.
The Big Five: Classic Edition
The undisputed king of the jungle, the lion is easy to include on any list of “big” African animals. Seeing a male lion on safari, especially given how close you can often get to them, can be pretty eerie.
The enormous African elephant is one of the animals game reserve rangers give wide berth – they’re sort of unpredictable, and since they tower over safari vehicles they’re not exactly easily intimdated.
There are two kinds of rhinos you may see on safari – the white rhino and the black rhino. Both qualify for the old-school “Big Five” status, and (sadly) both can be relatively rare sightings these days, thanks to poachers.
The leopard is typically the most difficult of the “Big Five” to see while on safari, as they’re masters of stealth. They hang out in trees, so to have a better shot at seeing them plan on a winter safari when the trees are bare of leaves.
The Cape buffalo may look more or less like cows with huge horns, but these guys are more dangerous than you might think. They can be pretty aggressive, and you really don’t want to be on the wrong end of those horns.
The Big 17: 2012 Additions
Great White Shark
Despite being herbivores, hippos kill more people in South Africa than all the other animals – combined. Why? They’re insanely aggressive, and people are lulled by their oafy appearance into thinking they’re just like overgrown pigs.
Southern Right Whale
Whether you think they’re cute or creepy looking, there’s no denying that you’re likely to get a chill when a couple of hyenas start walking toward your open safari vehicle in the middle of the night.
One popular description of the wildebeest is that it looks like it was put together from the leftover parts of other animals – but there’s something exceptionally cool about seeing those wide-set horns atop a herd of wildebeest heads looking your way in the twilight.
No visit to Cape Town is complete without a stop at Boulders Beach to check out the wild African penguins – also known as “jackass” penguins (for the sound they make, not for performing idiotic stunts for a television show).
Photo by: Zulfi Malik, Leon Molenaar, Steve Garvie, David Berkowitz, dreizehn28, bellamy.andrew, jerang, jerang, Colin the Scot, Alaric Webster, Jordi H, Brian Ralphs, Justine Mondon, Kevin Agar, rolfkleef, hopstepper, Terry Carew, Damien du Toit, Chris Eason, Joan Stewart, Christian Sanchez Photography, Dave Nunez