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Africa’s Little Big Five

The Other “Big Five Animals” of Africa

For anyone that has ever dreamed of (or gone on) a safari in Africa, the “big five” are likely to be big blips on your radar. They are the who’s-who of impressive, large, or fearsome animals in Africa that all travelers want to check off their lists. The are five fantastic beasts who occupy the top of the food-chain. They are: The lion, the elephant, the black rhinoceros, the cape buffalo, and the leopard.

While they are truly marvels of evolution and masters of their domain, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate a different big five. The little big five, if you will. Tanzania is home to Serengeti National Park, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and many other diverse locales that boast an array of strange, beautiful, and bizarre creatures. We would like to take a moment to highlight some of the less-known, less-celebrated, but no less-worthy denizens of the Safari trail. And so!

#1) Guinea Fowl

Guinea fowl, the plumpest member of the little big five

The Guinea Fowl. Quite silly.

If there ever was a bird less likely to exist, I haven’t heard of it. The Helmeted Guineafowl roam freely in seemingly all parts of Tanzania and in large numbers. They have cemented their place on this list because they look and move like an animal that barely has a grasp on life. Awkwardly shaped with a round body and a bald, brightly colored head that would seem an obvious invitation for where predators should strike, the guineafowl seems to be a creature who’s very existence defies probability.

#2) Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird of the little big five

The Secretary Bird, Struttin’

This bird originally made the list because of its excellent strut. Like a massive pigeon with thin, gangly legs and a spiky head full of hair, the Secretary Bird bobs it’s head with each massive step in a way that looks undeniably “dancy”. With bright colors and a massive stature the secretary bird is one of the biggest and most memorable birds you’re likely to see in Africa. As if the appearance of dancing to Beyonce wasn’t enough, upon further research, I found that their legs are spindly and long for a reason. There are no feathers on the lower half of their scaled legs because they use them for stomping on snakes to kill them. Yes, it’s somewhat gruesome, but not only does the secretary bird appear to be strutting on the savannah like a catwalk, but it uses this high fashion as a weapon, too.

#3) Dik-dik

Dik-dik, of the little big five

Cutest member of the little big five

The Dik-dik ranks highly on my list because it’s the cutest animal in Africa. It also gets extra points because it doesn’t seem to be widely known. Imagine the cutest tiny deer and the cutest tiny rabbit had a baby, and you’ll get the idea. Little more needs to be said. Love you, buddy!

#4) Warthog

The warthog of the little big five

The Warthog (Yes, Pumbaa)

Yes, the Warthog is a household name already, thanks to the Lion King. In fact, the warthog in question’s name is Pumbaa, which is the Swahili word for “warthog”. And even though this list is primarily reserved for the dark horses of Africa, the warthog deserves a special nod for many reasons. First of all, bearing the name “warthog” and their buffoonish representation in the movie that carries the brunt of their social awareness, they’ve kind of unfairly been pigeon-holed as disgusting, dumb sweaty beasts. But as the relative to the other “swine” of the world, they have been unfairly given a sour reputation despite being incredibly resilient, smart creatures. Warthogs have demonstrated an incredible ability to adapt to many kinds of diets, survive droughts, and generally do a fine job at surviving tough situations. With a stout body and fearsome tusks and a swash of hair that would look fitting on an Outsider, they look like tough animals. And indeed they are, but in the face of adversity, they know when to high-tail it and run away. Basically, the warthog is a well-adjusted, sensitive creature, and they make this list because it’s about time they got a little more praise. You can see these creatures in some of the best spots in Africa.

#5) Hyrax

Oh, the Hyrax. What can we say about you that has not already been said? Probably everything, because the Hyrax does not seem to be a well known inhabitant of Africa, outside of Africa. As much as I would like to tell you that there is something ineffably goofy and cantankerous about these relatives of the elephant (IT’S TRUE!), and as much as it might help for me to describe them like beaver/rabbit/spider hybrids that scurry all over woodpiles and ceiling beams looking for snacks, I think they only way to show my love for the crown jewel in the Little Big Five of Africa is a photo montage. Enjoy!

The king of the little big five

A Noble Hyrax

Hyrax of the little big five

A shy Hyrax. A SHYRAX.


Honorable Mention: Ground Pangolin

The ground pangolin, almost in the little big five

The elusive ground pangolin

The ground pangolin gets points because it looks like it came from Mars. And it is obviously a pokemon. Unfortunately, I have yet to spot one, and so they remain shrouded in mystery, ready to break into the top five.

While the traditional “big five” of Africa rightfully garner attention and admiration, let’s not overlook the charm and uniqueness of the “little big five.” From the comical antics of the Guinea Fowl to the graceful strut of the Secretary Bird, each member of this eclectic group adds its own flavor to the African wilderness. Whether it’s the endearing Dik-dik or the resilient Warthog, these creatures bring diversity and wonder to the safari experience. And let’s not forget the enigmatic Hyrax and the elusive Ground Pangolin, adding a touch of mystery and intrigue. Together, they remind us that Africa’s beauty extends far beyond its most famous inhabitants.

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