Any introductory material about safari will mention the Big Five, a phrase coined by game hunters and referring to the five most difficult African animals to hunt on foot. The Big Five includes lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. All are animals that capture our imagination, inspiring respect, if not very healthy fear. Bekari, our Tanzanian guide, who worked for ten years as a tracker on hunting safaris, told us that the Big Five were also chosen for the degree of danger they pose to a hunter. In other words, they are all animals that can kill you quickly!
Every tourist on safari hopes to see the Big Five and it goes without saying that every safari guide wants you to see all five magnificent animals. Their tip is likely to be more generous that way. I should mention that we were never at risk during our trips into the Serengeti or any other parks, as long as we stayed inside the vehicle. The boxy Land rover is not perceived as a threat by most animals, but step outside and you become part of the scene ... a threat or maybe someone's dinner!
How did we and our guide fare? Fortunately for us, we were visitng several parks, making our chances of seeing the Big Five (and many other wonderful animals) very good. We saw elephants, lions and a leopard on one of our first days. (See our earlier post about elephants in Tarangire Park.) Bekari was particularly talented at spotting leopards. He confessed that the leopard was his favorite animal and that for him, each time he saw a leopard, it was like seeing one for the first time. They rest in trees during the day, as you likely know, making them hard to see, harder to photograph.
We encountered a whole herd of Cape buffalo grazing in the grasses just metres away from a group of five lionesses who were actively hunting. We watched for ages, saw them give up stalking, regroup and begin another strategic effort. Still nothing transpired. Bekari said that typically it could take up to ten tries before a group like this would make a successful kill. Watching, it seemed like a kind of slow-motion drama. With binoculars in hand, it was pretty exciting.
It was when we reached Ngorongoro Crater that we found our rhino. White rhinoceros. We saw upwards of nine rhino in one day. While they are still severely endangered due to poaching, the Tanzanians do make serious efforts to protect them. At times the rhinos will wander out of the crater which is a carefully controlled reserve. When they do, rangers herd them back, coaxing them along the forest game trails back to the crater. We did see armed rangers on patrol in a few places. These were tough ex-army guys who stared down everyone, even tourists. I wasn't up to "poaching" a photograph. As for the rhinos, they were worthy of many photos, especially this wonderful female-led family unit.
In all our travels, we saw dozens of elephants in almost as many different contexts. As a lumbering silhouette on the open grassland ... As a larger-than-life animal retreating in the dense bush. We never grew tired of their imposing presence.
We searched for the Big Five and we were not disappointed.