While every person coming to Africa on safari has seeing the Big 5 – African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Black Rhino, and Leopard – in their sights, Africa has much more than just those majestic five animals to see. In fact, there are almost 150 species of mammal, just under 120 species of reptile and over 500 species of bird just in the iconic Greater Kruger National Park.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that some clever people have put together various alternative lists of 5’s! These include the ‘Small 5’, whose names mimic the Big 5 of Africa, but size is total contrast; the 'Shy 5’, who are hard to spot due to their introverted nature; and the ‘Ugly 5’ who can be loved only by their mothers.
We’re fans of all the creatures of Africa, and here we list (and show) you these fantastic little, ugly and shy animals, who call Africa ‘home’. They’re well worth adding to your ‘Things to Spot’ list when on safari.
The Ugly Five of Africa
So, they’re not the supermodels of the African wild, but these wildlife species make up for it by being interesting.
Warthog, with bags under their eyes, double sets of tusks and coarse-haired bodies are found throughout Southern Africa and are often rootling around close to camps.
They’re delightful to watch as they trot about, tails straight up in the air, or kneeling on their front legs snuffling about for food. Don’t be fooled by their cutesiness, though, they can be vicious if challenged but enjoy a sweet, symbiotic relationship with some of their fellow African creatures:
The most distinctive feature of wildebeest is their massive curled horns that start between their ears, grow backwards and then turn outward and forward, giving them a kind of halo. It’d work if they were angelic looking but, well, they’re not.
By no means are we denying that they’re majestic animals though, and if you’re lucky enough to see a migrating herd – which can run into the thousands – it’s a pretty spectacular sight.
Vultures really do get a bad rap, probably mainly because of their rather bloodthirsty scavenging habits. See a flock of vultures circling high up above the African bush and you can be sure there’s a kill below.
Despite there being numerous vulture species, these birds are at a real risk of becoming extinct due to humans invading their habitat with poisons in their hands. Birdlife have done wonderful campaigns to save these special creatures:
These dudes are huge, with wingspans reaching 2.6 m. They have faces that, well, are not-so-pretty, and it’s not surprising that they’re part of the Ugly 5 list. You see, they’re bald, with an enormous conical bill and red-spotted head.
Interestingly, marabou storks have hollow leg and toe bones: a clever way of making sure that, despite their size, they are light enough to fly.
With their sloped backs and distinctive laugh-like voices, hyenas tend to look slightly unkempt. Incorrectly thought to be pure scavengers, hyenas are actually also very good, nocturnal, hunters.
As brave as they are ugly, it’s not unheard of for a hyena to take big risks while trying to steal meat from the big predators like lions, often with fatal consequences.
The Shy Five Animals
You’re a very lucky human if you get to see any of these African animals as they are notoriously bashful and will do their best not to meet you!
Porcupines are cute but prickly. And we mean that literally. A porcupine’s entire back is covered with sharp, black and white, quills that can reach up to 50 cm in length. If challenged, the porcupine will turn its back to the danger and raise its quills. Even if you’re a leopard:
Porcupines, too, are mostly nocturnal and can sometimes be spotted on night drives, rootling around.
These sweet li’l creatures with their huge upright ears and narrow snouts ensure their privacy by being mainly nocturnal. They are masters of disguise and, if they feel in danger, they lie down in tall grass or thick bush and become perfectly camouflaged due to their colouring.
Another reason they’re hard to see is that they’re really small – usually only about 30 cm tall, weighing in at 3 to 5 kg.
These must be one of the cutest members of the Shy 5 animals, with their long noses and sweet upright ears. There’s something kangaroo-like about aardvarks. They have a long, tapered tail and arched back, and are covered in coarse grey-brown hair that protects them from being bitten by insects.
During the day, aardvarks sleep, curled into a tight ball in their burrow, coming out at night to hunt for termites and other insects.
While this one is often questioned as a 'shy' creature, as there are troops of habituated meerkats who are curious and wonderful to watch, they have extraordinarily well-honed senses and, in their natural environment, will disappear way before a human can get anywhere near.
Slender-tailed and often striped, they are known for their standing pose – often whole troops together – to suss out their surroundings (and you, if you’re lucky enough to be in their presence).
Aardwolves, too, are mostly nocturnal, and small, usually measuring only about 45 cm in height. They are, in fact, a species of hyena but, unlike their rather-less-handsome cousins, their diet consists of termites. They can eat up to 300 000 termites in a night!
Due to their needing to eat vast amounts of termites, they are solitary creatures and meet up with other aardwolves only to mate and rear young.
The Small Five of Africa
While these five animals are not necessarily shy, they’re often as hard to see, just because they’re mostly small. Each one has one of the esteemed Big 5 animals in its name.
Arguably the cutest of the little five, the elephant shrew looks like a small mouse but with a very long nose/trunk. Measuring just over 25 cm, including its tail, which is longer than its head and body, you’re very lucky indeed to see one of these in the wild.
They’re quick as lightning and agile, living in areas with rocky outcrops that provide crevices in which they can find shelter.
The leopard tortoise’s name conjures up images of feline stalking. Despite this, there's nothing of the sort done by these slow-moving reptiles. The leopard part of their name comes from the characteristic black-spots-on-yellow-background of their shells.
They’re gentle creatures and snack on plants. Occasionally they’ll nibble a bone to get some ever-essential calcium.
Like the leopard tortoise, with a name like ‘ant lion’ you’d kind of expect these insects to be large and fierce. They’re not large at all, but in their larval form can certainly be fierce. But only if you’re an ant: the larvae build characteristic little conical traps into which ants fall.
Adult ant lions, who have undergone metamorphosis, are often mistaken for dragonflies, with their translucent wings and narrow bodies. They mostly fly at night.
Rhino beetles are tough little guys and strong contenders for joining the ugly 5 list, too! They’re fierce-looking but are totally harmless to humans being neither biters nor stingers. In fact, they’re not even terribly efficient flyers, due to their size.
The only time that rhino beetles tend to fight is over the attention of female rhino beetles. Sounds familiar.
There are two main kinds of buffalo weavers: red-billed and white-billed, distinguished from each other by, surprise(!), the colour of their bills. They are sociable creatures and colony-type nests are built which house numerous birds in separate ‘compartments’.
Buffalo weavers dine on insects like grasshoppers and ants, so can often be found hunting their prey on the ground.
So now you know who they all are and you can add them onto your lists of African animals to spot on your dream safari. Speak to one of our knowledgeable ABS travel consultants and book that wildlife safari now!