Big five, small five, shy five

Africa is known for its ‘big five’: the five large wild animals you MUST see on safari: the lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and leopard. While traveling through Namibia, I noticed that the desert seems so empty and that there are hardly any sights in terms of wildlife. Until a local guide pointed out the ‘small five’: a collection of spiders, beetles, and lizards that live in the desert. Under his expert guidance and trained eye, the arid environment suddenly transforms into a world teeming with life!

In Botswana, I told another guide about this discovery and he came up with a very different ‘small five’ derived from the names of the ‘big five’: the ‘ant lion’ (an ant that traps other ants in a pit

Big five, small five, shy five

and eats them), the ‘elephant shrew’ (a kind of mouse with a long snout), the ‘leopard tortoise’ (a tortoise with a leopard print on its shell), the ‘red-billed buffalo weaver’ (a bird with a red beak that always travels with the buffalo) and the ‘rhinoceros beetle’ (a beetle with horns on its nose, just like its namesake).

Impressed by this creativity in making the local wildlife interesting for tourists, I returned to South Africa, where my journey had started. What I had not noticed before, now caught my eye: a special tour in search of the ‘shy five’! Grant McIlrath has spent years making friends with animals that you would otherwise never see, such as the Meerkat, the bat-eared fox, the porcupine, and the aardvark. He organizes special tours that introduce you to these shy, but extremely interesting animals. At the same time, he tries to make his guests aware of the importance of protecting these animals and their environment.

If, one day, we all have wiped out the ‘big five’ (see the websites with horrible photos of hunting holidays below), know there is still enough reason to go on safari! However, without the ‘big five’ Africa will never be the same again …


Big five safari: many providers, among others, fantastic horse riding safari 7 days South Africa and Botswana.
Small five tour: Namibia. email:
Shy five: South Africa in the South Eastern Cape Province, Oudshoorn: Grant McIlrath, the ‘Meerkat Magic’ man.

Do not go commercial hunting! At this Google search, you can see proud photos of people who shot one of the ‘big five’. Disgusting! Hunters have a lot of money to shoot the animals we love to see alive: shooting a leopard or cheetah costs, for example, 4,000 dollars (‘if available’, it says on the site…)