The Small Five Animals

Everybody who dreams of an African Safari knows all about the Big Five. During the early years of African exploration by white colonists, they encountered five animals that were almost mythological in their difficulty to hunt.

Of course, today, big game hunting is no longer a symbol of strength but rather selfishness, and modern technology makes the concept of the Big Five obsolete. However, the idea of the five most dangerous animals of the African savanna lives on in our collective consciousness.

For safari-goers and wildlife photographers, the thrill of seeing and maybe photographing one of these legendary creatures is at the top of their bucket list. Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Buffalo and Rhinos are certainly impressive, out of the ordinary (if you don’t live in a national park in Africa), and an absolute joy to see in the wild.

However, there are five more lesser-known, much smaller creatures that should not be relegated to the bottom of your wishlist for an African safari.

The so-called Small Five African Animals are so named because they have similarities to the Big Five. Despite their lesser size, they are equally important parts of the ecosystem.

The Little Five are all named after a member of the original Big Five. Their similarities end with the names, though. The animals are all unique in their own rights. All are found in Southern Africa. If you want a safari to target all of them, then Kruger National Park should be your first stop.

The Antlion

The Antlion, one of the Small or Little Five. This is the adult stage with what are sometimes referred to as lacewing.
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The Antlion, one of the Small or Little Five. This is the adult stage with what are sometimes referred to as lacewing.

While the Big Five are individual species, the Small Five Animals are not all species. Only one of them is. The first four on the list are families of species.

The Antlions are technically known as Myrmeleontidae, a group of insects whose larvae are particularly predatory, a bit like their namesake, the lion.

Antlions exist worldwide, but in South Africa, they are particularly well known, especially in areas with sandy soil. The larva of the Antlion digs a small hole in the earth as a trap for animals such as ants and preys upon any that fall in. However, not all species do this.

The adult stage of the Antlion is often known as a Lacewing due to its large, lacey wings.

The Rhinoceros Beetle

There are many species of Rhinoceros Beetle, this one is the European Rhinoceros Beetle, one of Europe's largest beetles. Only males carry the horn.
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There are many species of Rhinoceros Beetle, this one is the European Rhinoceros Beetle, one of Europe’s largest beetles. Only males carry the horn.

There are over 1500 species of the Rhinoceros beetle worldwide. You have probably seen one already.

They are characterized by a long rhino-like horn, and, like their namesake, are sometimes called unicorns. The Unicorn Beetle is an alternate name for some species.

The European Rhinoceros Beetle, is one of Europe’s largest beetles. It is one of the most rhino like of the rhinoceros beetles, with its horn curving backwards.

The male uses its horn for fighting and fending off other males when it wants to mate. The Females don’t have horns.

The Elephant Shrew

The Eastern Rock Elephant Shrew, has a clear pointed nose, which gives it its name. It is one of the Small Five African Animals visible in Kruger National Park.
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The Eastern Rock Elephant Shrew, has a clear pointed nose, which gives it its name. It is one of the Small Five African Animals visible in Kruger National Park.

Elephant shrews are another member of the Small Five Animals, which is a family of species. found in East and Southern Africa.

Many species are found in East and Southern Africa, essentially dryer areas of Subsaharan Africa. A few are also found on the North side of the Sahara, through Morocco and Algeria.

Elephant shrews are quite simply shrews with an elongated nose. Shrews are small rodents, quite like mice, that eat insects. Their noses are already quite pointed, like their German name, the Spitzmaus, already implies.

Elephant shrews just take this to the extreme with an even longer nose than the average shrew.

As I said, all the Small Five Animals can be found in South Africa, in Kruger, and the species represented here is the Eastern Rock Elephant Shrew.

The Buffalo Weaver

The White-headed Buffalo Weaver is one of the African Little Five. There are numerous Buffalo Weavers that would fit this list.
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The White-headed Buffalo Weaver is one of the African Little Five. There are numerous Buffalo Weavers that would fit this list.

There are numerous weavers around the world, but the Buffalo weavers are native to Eastern and Southern Africa with a couple of species found in West Africa as well.

There are two genera: Bubalornis, the black buffalo weavers and Dinemellia, the white-headed buffalo weavers.

Weavers get their name from their habit of weaving nests. Quite often, you can see a collection of nests hanging from trees, and during the early mating season, you can find the males busily building, interweaving grasses and twigs to form a cocoon safe from predators.

Weavers are passerines that feed on insects. Buffalo Weavers got their name from their habit of following buffalo around. The massive herds attract many insects, and the Buffalo Weavers find them easy pickings.

The Leopard Tortoise

The Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys Pardalis) is one of the small five african animals often seen in Kruger National Park.
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The Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys Pardalis) is one of the small five african animals often seen in Kruger National Park.

Last but not least, and certainly not least in size, the leopard tortoise is the largest of the Small Five. It is also the only one that is its own species  –Stigmochelys pardalis.

Named after the leopard, the leopard tortoise has a leopard-print shell. It can be found across East and Southern Africa.

There is a good chance of seeing the leopard tortoise if you go on safari to Africa. Kruger National Park is a good place to see them.

You won’t see many large tortoises, but they can reach up to 50 kg. However, about half that size is normal.

Adults don’t have many predators, their size and hard shell protect them from all but the biggest, toughest savanna predators like the lion and hyena. Young tortoises, though, especially hatchlings, are at risk from raptors, jackals and snakes.

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