Listen to an audio version of this blog post! Just press the play button below.
If you’ve gone on safari then you’re sure to have heard of Africa’s “Big Five” – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Safari goers love to “bag” sightings of these famous five as the beautiful and iconic animals they are.
However there is another wildlife collectibles category that isn’t as well-known but highlights much smaller African game, some of them quite tiny but still fascinating.
You’ve heard of elephants but what about the elephant shrew? Everyone goes to Africa to spot majestic lions… but have you spotted your first ant lion? The rhino is an elusive and fascinating creature but so is the horned rhino beetle.
The elusive leopard is known for its distinctive spots and so too is the leopard tortoise. And finally, anyone who has gone on safari has certainly spotted the great Cape buffalo, but did you know a distinctive bird is flying over Africa’s skies called the buffalo weaver?
Let’s learn more about each of these fun and unusual “Little Five” animals.
The Elephant Shrew
Ok, you can’t mistake the elephant shrew for an actual elephant even though its longish snout does look a lot like its larger cousin’s. But at only about nine inches long and a bit more than a pound, the elephant shrew does look like someone merged the face of an elephant with the body of a mouse.
The diminutive elephant shrew lives on insects. Unfortunately, snakes and birds of prey live on the elephant shrew, so this tiny mammal plays it very cautiously. You’ll have to look long and hard to spot this shy fellow of the forest and savannah grasslands.
No, we’re not going to say this is an ant-sized version of a lion – they don’t look alike at all. But this little insect probably gets its name from its rather aggressive behavior. The ant lion digs a tiny funnel-shaped hole in the sand that traps other ants and termites. It is the king of the mini jungle.
The largest of the “Little Five”, the leopard tortoise has a unique marking on its shell that resembles the spots found on the big cat for which it is named. Found in eastern and southern African savannahs, the largest of the leopard tortoises can grow to 18 inches and weighs in at 40 pounds.
As scary looking as its 4000 lb namesake with its singular protruding horn, the rhino beetle is amazingly strong for its size. Said to be able to move 850 times its weight, the males are known for their aggressive behavior… that is with other rhino beetles.
Looking nothing at all like the full-sized buffalo that populate the African plains, this dark bird is accented with a bright red beak. Also, unlike the curmudgeonly African buffalo, this little bird is known for its sociability with other birds making lots of noisy calls and squawks.
The buffalo weaver is also characterized as a rather sloppy builder and housekeeper, constructing ramshackle communal nests with a rather messy collection of twigs and grass.
So there they are, Africa’s “Little Five”. After a day of exploring for the “Big Five”, you might want to enjoy a break discovering these fascinating small individuals closeup and personal in the forests and fields of our Africa.