The Big Five

The term 'Big Five' refers to five animals chosen as the most sought-after game which tourists to our country wish to see.  

The ‘Big Five’ is displayed on the bank notes of South Africa,  signifying their importance to the country in respect of tourism. 

 The five bank notes feature the following:



     R10,00  Rhino

     R20,00  Elephant

     R50,00  Lion

   R100,00  Buffalo

   R200,00  Leopard  



The rhino is a powerful animal which makes up the family Rhinocerotidae.  Only five species now exist: two in tropical Africa and three in Asia and the Malay Archipelago.

South Africa has both the African black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros.  The former is a two-horned species found on maintain sides south of Ethiopia and in savannahs.  They are characterised by long, pointed upper lips, which enable them to strip leaves from trees and shrubs.  They are known to be aggressive and dangerous when confronted.  Their front horns can be as long as 105 centrimetres and they can live up to forty years. 

The second type in Africa is the white rhinoceros, of which fewer than 50  are said to exist in Eastern Africa, with about 4000 remaining in South Africa.   The white rhino is square-lipped, has a longer front horn that the black rhino and is large in body size.  It is also less dangerous because of its placid nature, than the black rhino.

Rhinos have been declared an endangered animal, as they are being killed for their horns.  A large market exist in Asia for their  horns, which  are used medicinally and as an aphrodisiac.  Some are also used in artistic carvings, much as is elephant ivory.  The horns are composed of fibrous protein found in hair and are mostly used by the animal for defence. 

 Further reading on the rhino


The elephant is scientifically classified as the family Elephantidae.  The African elephant is recorded as Loxodonta africana.

The African elephant grows to 4 metre (15 feet) in height and can easily consume up to 200 kg or 440 lb of forage per day , drinking up to 190 litres of water.  Elephants have a keen sense of smell, but their hearing and eyesight is not so good.  Elephants mature at 20 years of age and can live as long as humans.

The diminishing number of African elephants, partly due to the ivory trade,  have been the cause of much debating in the past and culling practices in game parks around South Africa have been frowned upon by elephant lovers the world over.


 The buffalo which belongs to the family Bovidae, is a cud-chewing animal.  Our African buffalo is known as oxen and in America is known as bison.

African buffalo include the dwarf forest buffalo and Cape buffalo, which are of the same species.  The dwarf forest buffalo live in forested areas of western and central Africa and has horns about 76 centimetre long, curving backwards.  The Cape buffalo is found mostly in southern and central Africa and is noted for horns that have massive bases at a length of about 1 metre.


 The leopard is the third largest member of the cat family and experienced hunters regard them as the most dangerous animals of the wild.  A leopards coat is light tan in colour with black spots.  It fur is sought-after by makers of coats in the fashion industry. 

 The female usually gives birth to 2-4 cubs, but show none of the lion’s family instincts and togetherness.  They prefer to live alone and only get together during the mating season.

 Leopards are found in most game parks in South Africa and are agile tree climbers, although they do not live in trees.


This powerful and beautiful beast comes from the same family as the cheetah, namely Felidae.  They usually live 8 to 10 years but in captivity they can live for more than 25 years.  Although the male lion is the king of the beasts, the female does most of the stalking and killing of prey.  She is also the centre of the lion pride.

 These tawny, yellow-coated animals, once common in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, today  are only found in protected areas such as the Gir Forest, a wildlife sanctuary in India and south of the Sahara in Africa. 

 Lions are territorial, defensive animals that dislike dense forestation and prefer thorn bush country and open grassy plains.  The male lion has beautiful mane hair and larger frame than the lioness.

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