Whether you are an Africa aficionado or a first timer to East Africa, you have probably heard of or seen Africa’s Big Five. Initially coined by the early big-game hunters it was used as way of describing five of Africa’s most fierce, elusive, difficult and dangerous animals to hunt for on foot. These days the phrase has come to represent the most sought-after safari sightings; namely, the African elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and African buffalo. But… did you know that Africa also has the “Little Five”?
The Little Five (also known as the Small Five) are a little harder to find than the Big Five and makes it a fun challenge and addition to your safari “must see” list. The Little Five are not necessarily rare, but the term was introduced by conservationists who wanted to draw attention to the smaller creatures in the bush and how they are just as important to the ecosystem. The names of the Little Five relates to its Big Five counterparts. They are: the Elephant Shrew, Ant Lion, Leopard Tortoise, Rhinoceros Beetle and Buffalo Weaver.
Arguably the cutest and one of the least common of the Little Five, the elephant shrew is a small, insect-eating mammal that lives in the arid lowlands, savannah grasslands and forests.
It gets its name from its elongated nose, as it is thought to resemble an elephant’s trunk. Though they cannot use them like an elephant’s trunk, they are extremely sensitive to smells and pheromones. They use their long nose as well as their large ears to detect any predators and prey. Their keen sense of smell comes in very handy for scent marking their “highways” – a number of elephant shrews will make a series of cleared highways through the undergrowth and spend most of their days foraging and patrolling along looking for insects and keeping the path clean and debris-free to give the elephant shew a quick and clear escape should need be.
Despite being very active animals during the day, the elephant shew is seldom seen. They are shy, incredibly well camouflaged and very quick. Keep your eyes peeled for them hopping along between the bushes.
FUN FACT: Elephant shrews live in monogamous pairs; however they do not necessarily forage together or care for each other. It is believed they are only paired up for reproduction purposes.
The Ant Lion is the smallest member of the Little Five. They are actually very similar to dragonflies in their adult form but have hairy bodies that help give them their name, and just like a lion; they have a savage temperament and an interesting technique in capturing their prey. If you have grown up in Africa and spent time in the bush, then you would have definitely played with an Ant Lion.
It is the larvae that are most fascinating; they are successful predators. Where it is dry and usually sunny, the ant lion will dig a small funnel-shaped sand trap about 2 inches deep. These pitfalls are designed to trap and catch small insects such ants and termites. When a small insect has stumbled into their trap the ant lion strikes quickly, shooting grains of sand to keep the insect from climbing out. This is where the larvae will strike quickly using their large steel-like mandibles, dragging the insect under the sand.
When you are on safari, ask your safari guide to find an ant lion hole and show you how the ant lion pounces.
FUN FACT: In North America, ant lions are known as “doodlebugs”, because of the doodles they leave on the sand while surveying the area for a suitable spot to make their traps.
Found throughout sub-Sahara Africa, in semi-arid areas of the savanna and scrubland is the leopard tortoise. Definitely not the fastest animal, but it most certainly is a beautiful animal. The leopard tortoise is named after their striking and unique markings, which roughly resemble the rosette spots of a leopard. Young leopard tortoises will generally have darker and more defined markings and as they mature their spots will become smaller and duller. They are among the largest species of tortoises, with adults weighing up to 40kg, grow up to 39 inches in length and live as long as 100 years!
Leopard tortoises are usually solitary and can often be seen on quiet stretches of road, so you might just be lucky enough to find one on your game drive.
FUN FACT: The sex of a leopard tortoise is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. If temperatures are between 31-34 oC or above, then the eggs will produce female tortoises and if the temperature is between 21-21 oC, then the eggs will be male.
The Rhinoceros Beetle (or Rhino beetle) is aptly named because of their body armour, long hooked horn on the head of males, and impressive strength. Despite their menacing appearance, rhinoceros beetles are completely harmless to humans. Males are generally more aggressive than females; the horns on a male are used for digging and fighting with other males over territory and for a mate.
FUN FACT: The rhinoceros beetle is one of the strongest creatures in the world. They are able to lift up to 850 times their own body weight.
The Buffalo weaver is the easiest to spot of the Little Five. In Kenya and Tanzania there are three species of buffalo weaver – the White-billed, White-headed and Red-billed Buffalo weaver. Buffalo weavers are sociable birds who build large, untidy and unstructured communal nests, made up of coarse grasses and twigs. These birds are usually found in the dry savannahs and sparse woodlands. All three are common in their range and can be quite easy to spot, especially as they are very vocal.
FUN FACT: These birds breed in colonies where males are usually polygamous, each controlling 1-8 nests and up to about three females.
About Origins Safaris
At Origins Safaris we are passionate about wildlife, cultural heritage, adventure and exploration. We customize each and every safari to your personal requirements and expectations, ensuring an exclusive, unique and authentic experience every time. With over 50 years of experience, our depth and knowledge is unmatched. We are constantly creating new and innovative excursions so that you can truly experience the excitement and romance of a traditional safari.
Let Origins Safaris help you to experience Africa and its little five. Contact us on www.originsafaris.com for more information.
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