Best Big Five Safari Parks in Africa for Seeing All Five Majestic Animals

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For over a century, big game hunters romanticized the adventure of trekking through the African savanna and locating the “Big Five” game. Now, people are more apt to shoot the Big Five with their DSLR camera than a rifle, but the allure of these gorgeous, large, powerful and often elusive creatures remains.

Those looking to see all Big Five animals during their African safari trip will need a hefty dose of luck. But they can increase their odds by visiting the best Big Five safari parks in Africa, where they are most likely to see all Five in one trip.

Start planning your African safari vacation to see the Big Five by taking a look at our recommended Big Five parks below.

 

Kruger National Park, Madikwe Reserve — South Africa

Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in the world and home to millions of visitors every year. The size and popularity of the park make it one of the best destinations for safari game viewing, especially for first­timers. Roads are well­paved, the park features plenty of amenities and game trackers are well­versed in locating the best viewing experiences as the animals go about their routines.

Finding all Big Five safari animals is also most­easily accomplished with a visit to Kruger. The park is home to over 2,000 lions, equalling a density of 5 to 8 lions per every 100km2. There are also over 13,000 elephants, 37,000 Cape buffalo, around 2,000 white rhino and an estimated 1,000 leopards. Black rhinos, which are critically endangered, are a rare sight at just an estimated 300 across the whole park, but they are still numerous in Kruger relative to other areas.

For a more­intimate experience, you can visit the Madikwe Game Reserve, which is the fifth­largest reserve in the world and only a few hours’ drive northwest of Pretoria. Madikwe has ample populations of elephant, lion and buffalo — although, leopards and rhinos happen to be rarer. Madikwe is also famous for its population of rare endangered wild dogs.

 

Masai Mara — Kenya

The Masai Mara National Reserve sits along the path of the great wildebeest migration from the Serengeti. In late summer, millions of wildebeest and other ruminants make the long trek to find grass and water as the dry season sets in.

These wildebeest naturally attract predators, including lions, spotted hyena and enormous crocodiles. As a result, the Masai Mara is teeming with dramatic displays of wildlife throughout the year, including 35,000 elephants and 825 lions. Rhinos and leopards are more­scarce, but Cape buffalo populations remain healthy.

Witnessing the great migration from the Masai Mara is an unforgettable experience, especially in a hot air balloon ride overlooking the massive herds.

 

Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater — Tanzania

For those looking to adventure late or early in the year, November through March provides an amazing opportunity to view wildlife along the Serengeti in Tanzania. During this time, wildebeest and other ruminants return to sire their young and nurse them to be strong and survive the coming years.

Vast herds of 2 million wildebeest, 300,000 zebra, 900,000 gazelle and 70,000 buffalo call the plains home. Since these prey are numerous, the Serengeti also plays home to 4,000 lions and 1,000 leopards. Elephant and rhino populations are smaller, but elephants are still a common sight.

For a more­concentrated experience, the beautiful backdrop of the Ngorongoro Crater is packed with wildlife populations, including all Big Five. You can also see jackals, foxes, flamingos, cheetah, gazelle, hyena and other gorgeous animals here while on safari.

 

Book Your Incredible Experience at the Best Big Five Safari Parks in Africa

If you are interested in paying a visit to one of these breathtaking locations, you are in for quite a treat. Not only will you see most (or all) of the Big Five, you will enjoy the unique settings, sights and sounds of Mother Africa.

Start planning your trip now by taking a look at our sample Big Five safari tour packages, or book a custom safari trip made especially for you when you contact us today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

All About the Hyrax, the Elephant’s Cousin That Looks Like a Rodent

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In a continent full of unique and unusual animals, the plucky hyrax still manages to stand out. These medium-sized mammals are survivors of a primitive group of species that later split off to evolve into elephants, manatees and dugongs. They have some interesting characteristics, including complex barking “songs” and elephant-like rubbery footpads adapted for climbing.

You can find the four different species of hyrax all throughout Africa during an African safari tour. Observing them in the wild is a rare treat that makes them every bit as worth seeking out as any of the Big Five.

The Four Species of Hyrax

There are four different species of hyrax — also called “dassies” by those who speak Afrikaans — and they all have their own distinct habits and habitat ranges.

  • Rock Hyrax — Also called the “rock badger,” these hyraxes are highly social and adept climbers thanks to their thick rubber-like pads. They spend 95% of their time sleeping or resting in the sun.
    • Distribution: Cape Hyraxes are found along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia as well as across Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Yellow-Spotted Hyrax — Also called the “bush hyrax” or the “yellow-spotted rock hyrax” this species lives in clusters of boulders and rocky natural outcroppings found on the plains called kopjes. They are smaller and less-round than the rock hyrax.
    • Distribution: Found along the eastern coast of Africa and also within limited areas of Angola.
  • Western Tree Hyrax — Unlike the social rock hyraxes, this hyrax tends to live alone within tree clusters. They have coarser fur and unique white markings that resemble eyebrows or beards.
    • Distribution: Found in a limited range in western subtropical Africa, including the D.R. Congo and southern Cameroon.
  • Southern Tree Hyrax — The most elusive and smallest of the hyrax species, the southern tree hyrax lives alone or in pairs. They prefer humid regions of forests and savannas as well as rocky areas.
    • Distribution: A limited range in east-central Africa, including most of Tanzania and parts of the D.R. Congo.

Hyrax Size and Appearance

Hyraxes appear similar to rodents or guinea pigs, with the rock hyrax looking rather rotund and the other species looking more-lean. They can grow up to 28 inches in length and 11 pounds.

Hyraxes have interesting teeth structures, with front incisors that grow out into tusk-like formations, similar to their elephant cousins. They also have hoof-like blunt nails that resemble elephant feet.

Hyrax Group Behaviors

The two rock hyrax species are highly social, living in groups of up to 30. As a result of their social organization, they show signs of high intelligence, including the ability to communicate through 20 different vocal noises. In captivity, they tend to be extremely “talkative,” responding actively to caregivers when they approach. They also make chomping/chewing movements as a form of communication.

Unique Adaptations

All hyrax species have unique foot pad structures and sweat glands in between their toes to help them grip rocks and tree trunks. The foot muscles all curve inward to create a suction-cup-like grip.

Another interesting adaptation is the hyrax’s highly efficient kidneys, which can filter waste with minimal use of water. In fact, their concentrated urine creates mineral deposits over time called hyraceum, and the musky scent is highly prized as an ingredient in perfumes.

One thing the hyraxes are not well-adapted for is maintaining their internal heat. Rock hyraxes in particular must huddle together, rest frequently and bask in the sun to maintain their internal body temperature.

See Rock Hyraxes and Other Incredible Species During Your African Safari Tour

You can encounter hyraxes and other charming, unique creatures during your African safari trip when you book one of our safari tour packages.

Take a look at our sample safari tours to book your trip today, and contact us if you want to create a custom safari vacation where you can meet hyraxes in person.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

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

 

The History of Kruger National Park

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Kruger National Park is South Africa’s first national park and one of the largest game reserves in the world. Every year, it hosts millions of visitors from all over the world anxious to go on an African Big Five safari tour and see the continent’s most celebrated, majestic wildlife. The efforts the South African government and local private reserve operators put in also make Kruger one of the most convenient, comfortable and easy-to-reach destinations for Big Five safari tours.

The current success and popularity of Kruger would never have happened without the hard efforts of past South African government officials and passionate conservationists. Learn more about the park’s history and how it came be one of the most popular wildlife preservations in the world by reading on.

Small Beginnings: The Sabi Game Reserve

The Sabi Game reserve was established in 1898 by the former South African Republic. Early park commissioners established a general area equivalent to just over 4,000 square miles. Soon after the game reserve lands were declared, the Second Boer War broke out. A resulting British victory caused all of the formerly Dutch-held Transvaal lands to be transferred to British rule.

The British appointed several wardens to the reserve, and the third one, James Stevenson-Hamilton, became successful at expanding the role of park management. He appointed his own game rangers, assigning them territories to protect within Sabi and surrounding areas. By 1903, a new reserve was established nearby, the Shingwedzi Game Reserve. In 1906, the first hunting ban was enacted between the Olifants and Letaba Rivers.

Around 1916, some within the commission in charge of operating the reserves began to request that the boundaries be shrunk to make way for industry, hunting and exploitation of resources. A report was conducted to study the effects, but when it was released in 1918, it firmly established that not only would the reserves remain intact, but that they would be developed for visitation and easier access to game wardens.

As the report wrote: “The provincial administration should be directed toward the creation of the area ultimately as a great national park where the natural and prehistoric conditions of our country can be preserved for all time.”

The Formation of Kruger National Park

Tourists first began to visit the Sabi reserve in 1923 as part of South African Railways’ renowned “Round in Nine” tours. At the time, park visits consisted of a short bush walk while escorted by armed rangers. These walks proved so popular that the efforts to expand them hastened the establishment of the reserve area as a true national park.

The park was officially proclaimed in 1926, and it was named after the former South African Republic president Paul Kruger, who governed from 1825 to 1904. The first game three tourist vehicles wound their way through Kruger in 1927. Visitors then had to establish their own camps in the bush since the park was devoid of any amenities.

Road construction began that same year, and by 1929 over 383 miles of road were created. In 1948, the park hit a new record of 58,739 visitors. However, the first sealed tarmac roads were not created until 1965. The park was seeing around 300,000 annual visitors by that time.

Visiting Kruger and Big Five Safari Tours Now

Today, Kruger remains one of the most popular natural destinations in the world. Over 1.6 million visitors came to the park in the 2014/2015 season, with 382,396 guests staying overnight.

Big five safari tours and game drives remain one of the most popular attractions in the park, with dozens of comfortable safari lodging options to accommodate a wide variety of budgets and preferences.

If you are interested in visiting Kruger on a safari tour of your own, we offer many different South African safari tour packages to choose from. You can select from a range of amazing and transformative experiences, or you can create your own custom safari tour package when you contact us today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Where to Visit Africa in August

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Africa’s predictable seasons make planning your African safari tour easy. Different parts of the continent have peak visiting times throughout the year for various attractions, helping you pick the most astonishing and memorable activities to take part in during your trip depending on the time you choose.

If you aim to visit Africa in August, for instance, it is the perfect time for both viewing wild game and experiencing some of the most incredible cities on the continent. To help you plan your trip, take a look at the following exciting places to see and activities you can do there.

Botswana

August means that the long, dry winter season in southern Africa is finally winding to a close. During the course of the winter, a lack of rain causes much of the vegetation to die and the temporary water holes to deplete.

This may not sound like the most scenic time to visit, but less vegetation means it will be easier to spot animals that are unable to hide in the tall summer grasses. A lack of water also means that many animals like elephants, lions, gazelle and antelope will all gather near the remaining rivers and permanent water holes, creating spectacular interactions and perfect photo ops.

To get the best viewing in Botswana during your August safari, make sure to visit Chobe National Park and the Moremi Game Reserve.

Namibia

Winter in Africa can bring some surprisingly chilly winds and frigid nights. In August, these temperatures finally begin to inch their way back up, creating the perfect in-between weather for a light jacket and mild days.

There may be no better time on the calendar to visit the deserts of Namibia. You can take sunrise pictures of the towering dunes to capture magnificent photos worthy of a National Geographic spread.

Cape Town, South Africa

Mild weather makes Cape Town a veritable paradise in August. The incredible wildflowers of Table Mountain first begin to bloom around this time, and many wineries are just beginning to roll out the red carpet for Spring’s slew of guests.

Whale watching is also incredible during this time of year. Many pods of southern right whales converge upon South Africa’s coast to calve during this time, offering one of the best opportunities of the year to see them breaching with their mates and newborn calves.

Zambia

Travelling to Zambia in August offers a fair mix of weather and small crowds as the area’s bush camps begin to prepare for their busy season. Mana Pools National Park is a great place to visit during this time as there are few mosquitos, the days are often clear and wildlife viewing is optimal thanks to the thinned vegetation.

You could also travel to South Luangwa National Park for a unique canoeing safari trip where you can get up close and personal with some of the continent’s most iconic animals.

Lake Malawi

The start of spring also happens to be amazing beach weather, giving you a wonderful excuse to explore the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Malawi on a sailboat or kayak.

Book Your August African Safari Tour Now to Save

Booking your African safari tour for August right now can give you the perfect opportunity to save on lodging and game viewing rates. As the peak tourism season approaches, many game lodges and camps still struggle with vacancies and sometimes offer incentives to fill their books.

Take a look at our sample African safari tour itineraries to get an idea of the amazing time you could be having on your luxurious African vacation in August.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Africa’s 4 Deadliest Snakes: How to Avoid Getting Bit

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Africa’s abundant wildlife evolved in some pretty astounding ways to help each species get their lunch without becoming lunch in the process. In the case of Africa’s deadliest snakes, a combination of clever camouflage and potent venom can allow them to play both offense and defense as the situation arises.

Before revealing the most dangerous of these snakes, let’s go ahead and put the idea to rest that they are likely give you a chomp on your African safari trip. All snakes are incredibly shy, more likely to slither away and flee a fight rather than defend themselves with their fangs. Snakes also never strike unless cornered, and only a few in Africa happen to have venom.

By following our tips at the end of this post, you can also reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with these snakes even if you do happen to cross their path.

With that out of the way, here are some of Africa’s most lethal — and beautiful — serpents:

Boomslang

The boomslang snake is a blue/green tree-dwelling snake found in the jungles of Sub-Saharan Africa with a great name and even better coloration. Its venom is slow-acting but potentially deadly, causing internal bleeding over hours or days if left untreated.

Luckily, boomslang bites are rare because the snake flees quickly from humans.

Cape Cobra

Calling the arid regions of Southern Africa home, the Cape Cobra hunts during the day and is particular fond of weaver bird nests, often stealthily infiltrating them for a raw omelette snack. They also have a tendency to find their way into human settlements in search of mice and small prey.

When threatened, they will sit upright, bear their copper-colored belly scales and fan out their iconic hood. In this position, they will not hesitate to strike in response to sudden movement, but standing still will often give them the chance they need to slink away.

Black Mamba

The black mamba is the most famous of African snakes thanks to the gargantuan dose of venom it delivers and its immense size — up to eight feet long! The snake itself is usually brown rather than black, but when threatened it will bare the black inside of its mouth to frighten away predators.

Unlike other mambas, which tend to live in trees, the black mamba hunts in tall grass along the ground. They avoid humans at all costs, staying far away from settlements and typically fleeing rather than getting defensive.

Puff Adder

Puff adders are responsible for the most snake bites of any venomous species in Africa because of their incredible camouflage and widespread distribution. They will hiss quite loudly when threatened and inhale air to “puff” up their body size and appear larger.

While puff adder bites are common, this viper’s venom is mercifully well-tolerated by humans. Most people seek treatment in the time needed to prevent going into a critical condition, and even untreated cases have an 85 percent survival rate.

Avoiding Snake Bites on an African Safari Trip

Your best bet for avoiding snake bites is to wear tall, thick boots with stiff ankles since most bites occur on ankles. You should also avoid walking in tall grasses since many snakes hide in them and will strike if surprised.

When walking around the bush, keep an eye at ground level and walk firmly to send vibrations that make snakes aware of your presence. Pay close attention to your guide’s advice since they have the knowledge and experience to help you avoid risky interactions.

At your lodging, ensure your doors and windows stay shut. Because camp tents zip up tight, they actually provide better protection than most lodge-style buildings.

If confronted by a snake, react calmly and give them a chance to flee. You can move slowly around the snake if possible, outside of striking range. If you must retreat backwards, do so very slowly.

And remember, even if you do happen to get bit, most snakes in Africa are not venomous. We are quite familiar with the ones that are, so most game reserves and park clinics have an ample supply of antivenom for each snake type on hand! Seek treatment quickly, and your odds of survival are typically near 100 percent.

With all this information, you can appreciate the true beauty and uniqueness of these snakes without getting too up close and personal of a look.

Start planning your African trip — where you may even see a rare snake from the safety of your game drive vehicle — by taking a look at our African safari tour packages today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

7 Small Cats of Africa That Need Your Love, Too

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Africa’s lions, leopards and cheetahs are absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word, but they are not the only fabulous felines the continent has to offer. In fact, there are seven other species of wild cats that can be found during an African safari vacation.

While these kitties may be smaller than their larger counterparts, they are no less beautiful or fascinating. Many of them actually happen to have some fairly astounding abilities, like leaping 10 feet into the air! Read on to learn more about seven small cats of Africa that need your love, too.

Caracal

Caracals are gorgeous, medium-sized wild cats recognizable by the tall black tufts they sport on their ears. They stand about 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 40 pounds.

While caracals may be best known for their wispy ears, they have an even more impressive quality: they are some of the world’s best jumpers. An adult caracal can leap up to 10 feet in the air in order to catch elusive prey like pheasants and other birds. The ancient Egyptians even once tamed caracals to use for hunting.

Spotting a caracal is difficult because they are mostly nocturnal, solitary and shy, but they can potentially be found throughout grasslands in southern and eastern Africa.

Serval

A serval is another medium-sized African cat. This species often looks like a large version of housecat but with longer legs and a stunning spotted coat. In fact, the serval has the longest legs relative to body size of any cat. They typically stand around 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh 30 to 40 pounds.

Although they are still shy, you can find servals more easily than caracals. They have a wide-ranging habitat stretching across central Africa and reaching along the east coast all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.

African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat is an incredibly rare and beautiful medium-sized cat that lives almost exclusively in the forests of the Congo, with some subspecies also being found along swathes of the west African coast.

This species is reddish-brown, and about twice the size of a typical domestic cat, weighing up to 35 lbs. Seeing an African golden cat is truly a rare treat that can make safaris in the Congo and East Africa well worth the trip.

African Wildcat

If you spot a creature stalking in the Savannah that looks like it could be a large stray, look a little closer. There is a solid chance that this may actually be an African wildcat, the species that was domesticated to become a common housecat.

True African wildcats have a longer, lankier, and more muscular build compared to a housecat. Their shoulder blades also protrude more noticeably, like a cheetah’s. All have a faint grey tabby pattern.

With a wide range stretching across most of Africa, they are also very common in the wild. And, like most regular cats, they definitely won’t come when you call them!

Black Footed Cat

Black-footed cats are tiny, spotted cats that are found predominantly in arid regions of South Africa. Weighing less than six pounds on average and at a standard size half that of a typical domestic cat, black-footed cats may be the smallest wild cat species in the world.

They typically hunt at night and rest during the day in abandoned burrows dug by animals like aardvarks. Their small size means they must hunt voraciously every night to maintain their energy — an adult black-footed cat may catch as many as 14 small animals a night!

Cats of North Africa

  • The Sand Cat is a small cat adapted to life in the desert, with thick paw pads and large ears used to detect vibrations caused by small prey.
  • The Jungle Cat is rare in Africa, only found near the Nile in Egypt, but found more commonly in the jungles of southern Asia. They live mostly in wetland habitats, hunting with large fangs.

Come Get to Know Africa’s Small Cats on an African Safari Vacation

You can potentially meet Africa’s small cats in person — and ensure they get the spotlight they need to shine alongside their big cousins — when you book an African safari vacation package today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui