Undoubtedly, South Africa’s biggest tourist attraction is the Big Five: Lions, rhinos, elephants, buffalo and leopards.
These are the superstars of the South African bushveld. Most people who travel to its fair shores hope to catch a glimpse of these majestic and sometimes terrifying creatures. Historically, hunters found these five animals particularly ferocious when cornered and named them the Big Five. These days it refers to the revered bushveld inhabitants who we’re all so desperate to see. The bushveld, however, has much more to offer than just the Big Five. Giraffes and hippos are certainly large enough to catch your attention, but did you know that there is also a Little Five? These little creatures are miniature siblings to the Big Five and were so named to help promote more interest in South Africa’s other wildlife and to celebrate its rich biodiversity.
Who are the Little Five?
The Little Five share a name with their rather large siblings. We have the ant lion,
and leopard tortoise.
Their larger siblings may be world famous, but these remarkable creatures deserve to share the spotlight. The ant lion is a familiar feature in the bushveld. It is often found in sandy areas and preys on ants. The rhinoceros beetle is one of Southern Africa’s largest beetles and shares the familiar horns of its namesake. Both make and female have horns, but only the males are aggressive and use them for fighting. The elephant shrew is a tiny insectivore. This adorable critter gets its name from its elongated snout. The red-billed buffalo weavers are very social birds. They tend to nest in forked branches of tall trees. Lastly, we have the leopard tortoise, which seems like an oxymoron. Yet these creatures make for a striking feature on the bushveld. So named for their black and yellow spotted shell, they are one of the largest tortoise breeds in this part of the world.
So where can you see all these weird and wonderful creatures?
South Africa is perhaps the most reliable destination when it comes to spotting these, often elusive, creatures. Home to a number of national and private parks, it is Kruger National Park and the private reserves that border it which offers guests the best chance of spotting the Big Five. Kruger National Park is overwhelmingly huge and is filled with many beautiful safari lodges and camps. You can do a self-drive safari with or without a guide (it’s always better with one since their inside knowledge increases your chances of a sighting). There are many beautiful rest camps to stop at throughout the region. If you can afford to pamper yourself a bit then you should investigate the private reserves bordering Kruger. These reserves contain some if the world’s best safari lodges like Pondoro, Londolozi, Mala Mala and the Royal Malewane. Here you will be luxuriously pampered and have access to expert guides with intimate knowledge of the area.
The Little Five might be a bit tougher to spot due to their sheer size. Or rather lack of it. These creatures are prevalent throughout South Africa and with a keen eye you would be sure to spot them on your next safari. The ant lion loves sandy areas since it uses sand to lay traps for ants. The buffalo weavers are quite messy builders and their communal nests often look like mashed up grasses and twigs. It would also be impossible to ignore their calls, chirps and cackles if they were near by.
Rhinoceros beetles are a well-known sight on South African farms and in gardens. The elephant shrew’s main enemies are birds of prey and snakes making them very cautious. This means chances of spotting them are slim. Leopard tortoises are quite common throughout Africa, from Sudan to the Southern Cape. In South Africa, they were historically absent from the south coast regions into Kwazulu Natal and Lesotho, but recently they have been introduced to these areas. A knowledgeable guide will be able to help increase your chances spotting them and help you learn more about these amazing creatures.