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Last Updated : Oct 14, 2016 11:51 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Play “The big Five game” on your next African safari

Visitors to these game reserves are almost guaranteed to see a bounty of animals from predators like cheetahs to grass eaters including zebra, gazelle, and giraffes. However, what visitors to these parks are most encouraged to look out for are ‘The Big Five‘ of African safaris; the lion, the rhino, the leopard, the elephant and the buffalo.

The African grasslands are a traveler’s favorite destination when they’re seeking excitement, drama and a ‘back-to-the-land’ experience. Various countries including Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia have acres of protected land known as safari parks or game reserves.

Visitors to these game reserves are almost guaranteed to see a bounty of animals from predators like cheetahs to grass eaters including zebra, gazelle, and giraffes. However, what visitors to these parks are most encouraged to look out for are ‘The Big Five’ of African safaris; the lion, the rhino, the leopard, the elephant and the buffalo.

The concept of ‘The Big Five’ can be traced back to the mid-1900s when hunting was considered a gentleman’s sport. Known as ‘Big Five Game,' lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos and African elephants were deemed to be the most difficult, dangerous animals to hunt. For this, reason, seasoned hunters sought the Big Five Game animals out to prove their hunting prowess.

Today ‘The Big Five Game’ has transformed into something different; a literal game which safari guide companies and resorts teach tourists to play. Tourists are given a checklist, similar to a Bingo card, where they can tick off every member of the Big Five they see.

While there’s no prize for spotting all five like you get in Bingo, each sighting of the animals will reward tourists with tons of excitement and a plethora of photographs to make friend back home green with envy and likely to book a trip to Africa themselves.

Perhaps easiest animal to spot is the African elephant. Massive herds of them storm through the grasslands leaving a trail of flattened grass and eaten bushes in their wake. Elephant herds are usually led by a matriarch who is large, ferocious and extremely dangerous if she feels her herd is threatened. For the most part, however, elephants are perfectly content to ignore the combi (tourist vehicles) and go about their own business, allowing you to take dozens of photos.

Almost as common as the elephant is the African buffalo whose chief distinguishing feature is its magnificent curved horn which is called the 'boss'. Don't allow yourself to be too amused by that name - a buffalo's horns are wildly dangerous and can kill a man by goring him. Observed from the safety of a safari vehicle, buffalo spend their time munching on grass and getting into the occasional horn fight over an alluring female.

Buffalo are favorite yet challenging prey for lions, one of the predators in The Big Five. Africa has a variety of subspecies of the animal from the West African Lion to the Maasai Lion, found in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania to the Congo lion. Lions are the easiest predators to spot in the safari parks; if you're lucky you'll be able to catch them hunting (early morning and evening), frolicking (the cubs) or feeding.

The other predator in The Big Five, the leopard, is a lot harder to spot primarily because it spends most of its time patrolling dense shrubs by night and sleeping in treetops by day - also a favorite past-time of its domestic feline cousin, the cat. Leopards move with fluid grace, a sight which will delight you should you be lucky enough to spot one. However, leopards are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because of a steadily declining population.

Also on the IUCN Red List is the rhinoceros; spotting one is almost equivalent to finding the Holy Grail in safari speak. Like the buffalo, the rhino has a reputation for goring, with its posterior horn, which can grow up to 100 cm. The rhino has a thick, wrinkly skin which is often a perching spot for tiny birds of the savannah, making for great photos.

Indeed, you should go prepared with a couple of rolls of film (or a couple of spare SD cards) when you go for an African safari. Try scoring photos of all The Big Five for the ultimate photo collation!
First Published on Oct 13, 2016 05:18 pm
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