Meet Africa’s Plucky “Small Five” During Your Safari Adventure

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Much attention is given to Africa’s “Big Five” game animals — and deservedly so — but those who come to Africa to look at just five species will miss out on incredible opportunities to see other beautiful wildlife.

Tackling this problem, conservationists decided to band together and make a push to recognize the not­so­big and not­quite­so­iconic animals you can find throughout the continent. The result was the “Small Five.”

None of these creatures are particularly rare, but they do feature names from each of the Big Five as a clever nod. The real purpose in highlighting these animals is to help people headed to top­rated African safari destinations focus on all the small details that make Africa great, not just Five of them.

Get to know the Little Five and what makes them so endearing by reading their species profiles below.

 

1.   Red­Billed Buffalo Weaver

The buffalo weaver lives in large colonies on savannas south of the Sahara all throughout Africa. Each colony is made up of breeding groups of 3­4 females and one male. The groups make huge nests in baobab trees and other plains trees on the savanna. Each nest contains multiple compartments for individual females to lay eggs and nest upon them.

Even though males often compete for female mates, and females do not tolerate other females in their chamber, red­billed buffalo weavers do cooperate when it comes to building their large nests. Males will even cooperate with one another to build nests, gather food for females and defend the colony territory from invaders.

 

2.   Elephant Shrew

The elephant shrew is a fascinating creature known for their long snouts and rapid speeds. Even though the animals typically measure less than a foot in length, they can sprint at speeds of nearly 18 miles an hour for short distances.

Some species even modify their environment by clearing “lanes” or paths through the underbrush to make finding insects easier. They can also use the cleared lanes to rapidly scurry to safety when a threat comes near.

3.   Leopard Tortoise

Named for the vibrant leopard­like patterns sometimes seen on their hard domed shells, leopard tortoises are desert­loving reptiles found from Sudan all the way to the southern Cape. They eat grasses but prefer desert succulents and spiny thistles, making quick work of them with their leathery tongues.

Leopard tortoises are the fourth­largest species of tortoise in the world, growing up to 16 inches in overall length and 29 pounds in weight. Some tortoises along the Cape have gotten even bigger, growing to 28 inches and weighing more than 88 pounds!

4.   Rhinoceros Beetle

Africa has over a dozen species of rhinoceros beetle throughout its lands, including the huge Archon centaurus at nearly three inches long and Oryctes boas, which has a single horn large enough to make even a real rhino jealous!

Both male and female rhino beetles have horns, but only the males use them to battle for mates. They also use the horn as real rhinos do: to dig, lift objects and help navigate their environment. When threatened, some rhino beetle species “squeak” by rubbing their abdomens against their thin inner wings.

5.   Ant Lion

The most­common of the Little Five but nonetheless fascinating, the ant lion species can be found all throughout Africa and the world. These voracious insect predators are actually the larva of lacewing insects. They burrow into the ground and make trademark “funnel traps” in the sand to capture unsuspecting insect prey. Antlions’ powerful jaws can seize prey many times their size, and their large abdomens and forward­facing bristles help keep them anchored during the struggle.

Africa is home to some of the largest antlion species, including one species of Palpares that grows to 6.3 inches as an adult!

Come Meet the Small Five at Top­Rated African Safari Destinations

When you book a safari destination vacation package, feel free to get excited about lion, leopard and elephant sightings, but don’t forget to take a closer look at the world around you. You just may see an ant lion funnel, or catch the call of a buffalo weaver as they exit their large nests.

Take a second to appreciate all of Africa in this way, and you will get much more out of your trip to come home feeling like you truly experienced as much splendor as possible.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

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