The Ugly Five: Only Their Mums Could Love Them

Africa is home, not only to the Big Five, but also a number of other fascinating animals, birds and insects. Some are famous for their beauty and others, well, they’re infamous for their not-so-beautiful-ness.

Enter the Ugly Five: the marabou stork, hyena, warthog, vulture and buffalo.

So they’re not supermodels… we still love them dearly, and think you will too.

Marabou Stork

Rob BixbyMaribou Stork - Rob Bixby

Known as ‘The Undertaker Bird’ due to its black ‘cloak’ and white underparts and the fact that it’s a scavenger, the marabou stork comes with a reputation for not only being distinctly un-beautiful, but ill-tempered too.

It really does have a face that only a mother could love, with a bald head and neck, huge bill and a pink sac that connects to the left nostril. This is inflatable and is used especially during mating season.

There’s nothing small about them either, the adult bird reaches up to 1.5 metres tall, with a wingspan of nearly 2.5 metres.

LaggedOnUserMarabou Stork - LaggedOnUser

Interesting fact: Maribou stork’s leg and toe bones are hollow, allowing them to fly more easily, even though they’re huge.


Tambako The JaguarHyena - Tambako The Jaguar

Made famous as the bad guys in The Lion King, hyenas, with their scowls and sloping backs, laugh in the face of vanity.

They have a bad rap in ancient folklore, too, often being associated with witchcraft, sneakiness and treachery. One Tanzanian tale even has humans transforming into hyenas, or ‘werehyenas’ – Africa’s very own version of werewolves.

Incorrectly thought to only be scavengers, hyenas actually hunt for much of the food that they eat. They’re nocturnal, with incredibly good night vision and hearing and brutally strong jaws, making them very good hunters.

Chris EasonHyena Scuttling - Chris Eason

Interesting fact: Hyenas are genetically more closely related to felines than canines.


Chad RosenthalWarthog Family - Chad Rosenthal

Wild pigs that look like they need a good barber and an orthodontist appointment, these creatures are actually quite sweet in their ugliness. There’s nothing quite as cute as a mommy warthog being followed by her babies, all with their characteristic tail-in-the-air trot.

Warthogs are basically the sleeker, hairier, toothier version of domestic pigs. They have an elongated face and two sets of tusk – a bigger, upper set and smaller lower one. These are used for fighting and hunting, as warthogs are omnivorous.

Warthog Face -

Interesting fact: Warthogs sleep in burrows (often made by aardvarks) and reverse into them so they can burst out – frontwards – at any time.


Snake3yesVulture Feast - Snake3yes

Another bird that really does look like the avian version of an undertaker, with a bald head, long neck and coat-like body feathers. They’re vital to the healthy running of the ecosystem, though, scavenging and removing potentially harmful pathogens carried in carrion.

There are a large number of different vultures, many of whom are critically endangered so these guys need all the help they can get. Watch this great social media campaign launched by Birdlife to gain support for vulture protection:

Interesting fact: The stomach acid of a vulture is so corrosive that it kills bugs that’d make other scavengers sick, like botulinum toxin.


Sascha WenningerBuffalo - Sascha Wenninger

These huge bovines are not to be trifled with. It is thought that they kill about 200 humans a year, so best you don’t discuss their lack of good looks with them. The Cape Buffalo belongs to two of the ‘fives’ – The Big Five and The Ugly Five.

The main distinguishing factor of the buffalo is its thick horns that start in the middle of their heads and curl outwards and then in, looking a little like some kind of intergalactic alice-band. The horns in an adult male can reach up to a metre in total. Again, a good reason to stay out of the way!

Interesting fact: Buffalo herds protect each other. If a calf cries in distress, not only the mother, but the whole herd will respond.

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