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Originally used only by hunters, the term 'Big Five' refers to five of Africa's greatest wild animals - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. As during the bygone hunting era the term "Big Five" still
conjure up the romance and excitement of Africa's exotic destinations and experiences. Imagine watching the sun set over the horizon
whilst you capture the moment of a tribe of lions stalking their prey. Watching a buffalo stolling to a water hole with strength and size that makes it more likely to kill a human than any other mammal. The
rhino, which is almost extinct, with its extraordinary horns and bad temper. And the leopard with its beauty and remarkable speed and
skill to hunt.
Many travellers regard a visit to South Africa as incomplete without having spotted, and perhaps photographed, the Big Five. The Big Five - legends of the wilderness which have become synonymous with Africa.
Habitat: Elephants are always associated with permanent water and abundant vegetation (an exception to this is the unique desert elephant from Namibia, who adapted to survive in the harsh conditions of the area). Because
elephants do not have sweat glands, water plays an important roll in helping them cool down.
Habits: Elephants are very intelligent and highly social animals. They live in herds, made up of the matriarch (the
oldest animal in the group), her female calves and the youngsters. The herd can comprise between 6 and 30 animals, after what they split to form new herds, always maintaining contact with each other at water holes and feeding spots. At 14 years of age, males leave the heard and associate with other bulls of the same age or older. Within the "bull area" hierarchy is well
observed and understood by all bulls; if a group of bulls come across a cow in oestrus, the animal occupying the highest rank is the one to mate. Males are much larger than females and their tusks are much longer and heavier. Elephants have 6 sets of molar teeth; when the last set is lost, the animal is unable to feed and eventually dies. Their life span is about 50 to 60 years.
Diet: Elephant eat practically any vegetable matter.
Leaves, grass, reeds,
roots, flowers, fruits, bark and even soil if the mineral content is high. They eat about 250 kg of food and drink about 150 to 200 liters of water a day.
Breeding: Females are sexually mature at 12 years of age and are mated by visiting bulls. After a gestation period of 22 months, the cow gives birth to a single calf that weighs up to 130 kg. The calf suckles for about 3 years.
Habitat: Leopards are more commonly found along riverine forests and bushes. Although less common, they also can be found along open plains and savanna, mainly in hills and rocky outcrops.
Habits: Leopards normally hunt at night and dusk, staying in secluded spots during the day or lying in high branches of trees. They are solitary animals by nature, only associating with a female for mating and staying with her only for a couple of days. Leopards are masters of camouflage and they
move silently through the vegetation to attack their prey at very close quarters. The victim is normally killed with a bite on the back of the neck, and then taken up a tree, where the leopard will feed at leisure, away from scavengers. Leopards are extremely territorial animals. Their life span is
about 15 years, and they can attain a mass of about 70-kg.
Diet: Leopards are the most successful hunters of the cat family. Their prey includes Impala, Bushbuck, Warthog and also the young of Wildebeest, Kudu and Waterbuck. Rodents, ground birds, monkeys, baboons, frogs and fish, also make part of its diet.
Breeding: The female gives birth to one to three cubs after a gestation period of about 105 days. The cubs are kept in secluded spots, like thickets and rocky crevices. They are much darker than adults. Female Leopards are very dedicated mothers leaving their cubs only when hunting.
Habitat: Lions are more abundant in open plains where there is permanent water and plenty of grazing, and consequently, plenty of game. Lions are also found in semi
desert conditions like the Kalahari Desert. They are the most powerful of the African predators. With a swipe of one of his paws, Lion can break a Wildebeest's neck, and he can carry twice his weight in his powerful jaws. Lions, like any other Cat, can see at night like humans see during daytime. This is due to the fact that their retina is lined by a tissue called "tapetum lucidum", that reflects back the light passing the rods of the retina.
Habits: Lions are the most social of the cat family.
They live in prides
consisting of one or two males, up to seven females and 14 or 15 cubs of different ages. Prides occupy territories that they defend against nomadic
lions and other prides; this is done by the dominant male or males, by means of patrolling and scent marking. At about 3 years of age, young lions are
evicted from their pride; they normally stay together, always on the move, becoming nomads, until they take over some other pride, whose male has become too weak or old, sometimes killing all the existing cubs. The female normally does all the hunting, usually at night, late afternoon or early morning. At a kill, the adults will eat first, with the male sometimes claiming it for himself, and, if anything left, the cubs will then take their turn. In times of scarcity this means very little food available for the cubs, and death by starvation. Scavengers, like vultures, hyenas and jackals, are attracted to
lion kills in great numbers, and in some occasions a big group of hyenas will
appropriate the kill of a small group of lions. The contrary also happens, with lions very often steeling from hyenas and jackals, and even climbing up a tree to appropriate a leopard's kill. Adult males can weight up to 250 kg and females about 150 kg. Their life span is about 15 years.
Diet: Lion's prey includes mostly wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, kudu, giraffe and buffalo. They also tend to attack young elephant calves. In difficult
times they will even go for small prey, like porcupine, with disastrous consequences for both.
Breeding: Breeding occurs all year round, with 2 to 6 cubs being born after a gestation period of about 110 days. The lioness normally leaves the pride to give birth to her litter, in a sheltered spot where she leaves them, while hunting. At this stage the cubs are very vulnerable, sometimes being taken away by scavengers, like hyenas, while their mother is away. If, at any
stage doubtful about her cubs safety, the lioness will find another hide, and will transport them, in her mouth, one by one, to the new location. Once the cubs are big enough to follow their mother, she will take them to the pride and introduce them to their father. This is another crucial time in the cubs' life, as nobody can predict the reaction of the male.
Species: Two types are found, namely Black and White Rhinos. The Black Rhino's head is much smaller, it is a solitary animal, more aggressive and the calf
usually follows the mother.
densely wooded areas, with a lot of shrubs and plenty of water whilst the White Rhino prefers more grassland.
Habits: Black Rhinos are very solitary animals, with bulls associating with females only for mating. Sub adults and youngsters stay with their mother only until the next calf is born, when they are driven off to find their own territories. The Rhino bulls mark their territory by dragging their feet trough their dung, scattering it all over the place and by urinating on to bushes. They are extremely aggressive animals. A charge by a Rhino, with is loud snorts, it's a terrifying affair. They readily attack predators including
humans. They are also short sighted, but their sense of smell and hearing is very acute. Adult males can weight up to 1200 kg, females being slightly
smaller. Their life span is about 40 years.
Diet: Rhinos are browsers, eating leaves, fruit, flowers, but also herbs. Breeding: Mating is always preceded by courtship behaviour that includes snorting and sparring with the horns. Mating is repeated several times
during a period of 2 to 3 days, and may last about 30 minutes at a time. A single calf, weighing about 35 kg is born after a gestation period of about 15 months.
The buffalo Habitat: adaptable occupy Buffalo animals, are being extremely able to
savanna and thickets.
Habits: Highly gregarious animals, buffalo associate in herds of up to 1000 or more individuals.
Despite being very aggressive and extremely dangerous animals (more hunters are killed by buffaloes than any other animal), buffaloes are very peaceful amongst themselves. The dominant bull normally is the oldest bull in the herd. Both sexes have horns, but those of males are more robust and heavier. Males can attain a mass of about 800 kg and they have a life span of approximately 20 years.
Diet: Buffalo are exclusively grazers. Breeding: Female buffalo become sexually matured at the age of 5 years. The gestation period is 11 months and one single calf is born.
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