Searching For The Big Five In Uganda

Searching For The Big Five In Uganda

March 28, 2022
News Journeys Uganda

Are you searching for The Big Five in Uganda? “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. One of if not the most famous quote of this era. One might relate it to the disparities in today’s society but this resonates more with wildlife. The wild untamed savannah grasslands of Africa have been blessed with a multitude of different animal species ranging from carnivores, herbivores to large numbers of insectivores but amongst them all, only five have stood the test of time and have risen above the rest, The Big Five, namely the African Elephant and largest predator to African acacias, the predominantly solitary Leopard, the extremely social Cape Buffalo, the big eating Lion, and the herbivorous Rhinoceros. Each of the big five are examples of charismatic mega fauna, featuring prominently in popular cultures, and are among the most famous of Africa’s large animals any one on a safari in the plains would like to encounter. There are a couple of different theories as to why these particular animals are referred to as the Big Five.

One of the theories dates way back to ancient times in Africa where the term was coined by big-game hunters, and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Another theory covers the different values, interactions and ecological contributions these animals make that grades them to stand out such as crowd control which is handled by the Lion and Leopard as they check on the animal populations in the wild with their hunting of various animals, the Rhinoceros and Buffaloes handle the grass and bush levels by keeping them short and the mighty bush Elephant controls the forest to open plain level whilst in the savannah and being the biggest predator to most savannah acacias and albysias. While some people also attribute to them being called the big five simply because these particular animals are the most sought after animals by wildlife enthusiasts that travel to Africas plains.

The concept of the big five has become so widespread and acknowledged that the 1990 and later releases of South African rand banknotes feature a different big-five animal on each denomination. The countries where all can be found include Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Malawi.


With three extant species of the elephant; the Asian elephant, African bush elephant and the Forest elephant, it is the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) that makes it onto this list. The African Bush Elephant is also known as the gentle giant whose presence graces the African plains and also the largest terrestrial mammal on the continent. Their distinguishing features include the dexterous trunk, large ears that cool the body when flapped since they contain plenty of veins, and elongated incisors in the form of tusks. The trunk is a prehensile elongation of its upper lip and nose. The trunk is so strong that elephants can use it for lifting about 3% of their own body weight. They use it for smelling, touching, feeding, drinking, dusting, producing sounds, loading, defending and attacking. Elephants sometimes swim underwater and use their trunks as snorkels. These magnificent gigantic creations have been sighted in national parks such as Kidepo Valley National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park respectively on any safari in Uganda.


The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a large, carnivorous feline. Its fur may be either black, or tawny with dark rosette-shaped markings. The leopard is considered the most difficult of the Big Five to hunt because of its nocturnal and solitary habits as it is most active between sunset and sunrise, although it may hunt during the day in some areas, and because it is wary of humans and will take flight in the face of danger. The king of ambush can be found in the savannah grasslands, brush land and forested areas in Africa. Among the Big Five, they are the most difficult animals to acquire a hunting license for on many safaris to Uganda our senior guide Paul Tamwenya always says, ‘they see us more than we see them on game drives’.


A pest to ranchers, a prize to hunters, and a temperamental tank to anything that bothers it, African buffalo roam by the thousands in sub-Saharan Africa. With five extant species, it is the most diverse and gregarious animal amongst the big five. They’re distinguished by colouring, size, and even horn shape. There’s the forest buffalo, the West Africa savannah Buffalo, the Central Africa savanna Buffalo, the Cape buffalo and the Water Buffalo, which is the only one of the other subspecies that doesn’t occur on the African continent. Weighing in at not too far short of a ton, the Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) is considered by many to be the most dangerous to, and has killed many hunters than any of the Big Five. Wounded Buffalos have reportedly been known to ambush and attack their pursuers. It is the only animal among the Big Five that is not on the “endangered” or “threatened” list. On many Ugandan safaris, it can be easily sighted in Kidepo, Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth and Lake Mburo National Parks.


The “King of the Jungle” is an animal like no other. The lion (Panthera leo) is a large, carnivorous feline found in Africa and northwest India. It is a muscular, deep-chested cat with a short, rounded head, a reduced neck and round ears. Its fur varies in colour from light buff to silvery grey, yellowish red and dark brown. The colours of the underparts are generally lighter. The young lions, referred to as cubs, have dark spots, which fade as they reach adulthood, although faint spots often may still be seen on the legs and underparts. The lion is the only member of the cat family that displays obvious sexual dimorphism. Males have broader heads and a prominent mane that grows downwards and backwards covering most of the head, neck, shoulders, and chest. The mane is typically brownish and tinged with yellow, rust and black hairs. African lions live in scattered populations across sub-Saharan Africa. The lion prefers grassy plains and savannahs, scrub bordering rivers and open woodlands with bushes and this lush habitat can be found in Murchison falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth and Kidepo National Park.


Rhinoceroses are some of the largest remaining mega fauna with all species weighing at least one tonne in adulthood. This magnificent creation is one of the most diverse amongst the genesis of animals in the big five with two of the extant species being native to Africa, and three to South and Southeast Asia. Amongst this diverse selection of rhinos, it is the “Black Rhinoceros” (Diceros bicornis) that makes it to the list of the big five in Africa. Its name was chosen to distinguish this species from the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) and this can be confusing, as both the species are not truly distinguishable by colour though one can tell them apart as the black rhino is much smaller than the white rhino, and has a pointed mouth, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding. Rhinoceros are killed by poachers for their horns, which are bought and sold on the black market for high prices, leading to most living Rhinoceros species being considered endangered and have thus become extirpated in the country though the possibility of re-introduction is still an option for the country as it progresses with its conservation and habitat rehabilitation. On any safari to Uganda we can find Rhinos as the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre and in the wild savannahs of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on the way to Murchison Falls or Kidepo Valley National Park.