Everyone knows the African Big 5 – buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, and rhino – the popular sightings that people on luxury safaris in Africa look for. They were named so as they were the hardest animals to hunt on foot. But Africa is the second largest continent in the world with an impressively large variety of wildlife, and it would be unfair to focus on only the Big 5. All animals were created equal, after all. Too often overlooked, the less “majestic” creatures have just as much of an impact on the environment and the wild African landscapes. The Little 5, for instance, definitely deserve their own celebrated fame and attention. Not only are they incredibly cute, but some are quite hard to spot, making them even more special.
The Elephant Shrew
This tiny animal feeds mostly on insects, fruits, seeds, and nuts, and has a long snout and long legs which make them extremely fast and able to leap really high. They generally grow to a maximum of 250-300 mm, and tend to get eaten by snakes and raptors. They are extremely shy and cautious, so spotting them is a special treat. They are usually found in Southern African countries in abundance, in a variety of climate including desert and woodland. Although not particularly social, they are monogamous. They are more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than shrews.
The Buffalo Weaver
The buffalo weaver is a bird, but there are three different types: the red-billed, the white-billed, and the white-headed weaver. They are social birds usually found in Eastern Africa, and are known to be loud and boisterous. They nest in communal colonies, but are not known to be tidy in their nest-building abilities. They feed on seeds, insects, and fruits, and can be found in groups on the ground foraging for food. They are the easiest of the Little 5 to spot, and fall prey to snakes, baboons, and other birds.
The Ant Lion
The ant lion is the smallest one of the Little 5, and is found mainly in sandy and dry areas. In their younger years, they start off as larvae, with a large hairy body and small pincher-looking jaws. They are as aggressive as they look, and can live for months without food. They prey on ants and ambush their victims in cone-like traps that they dig themselves, waiting for the unsuspecting ants at the bottom of their trap. Once they surpass the awkward growth period, they tend to look more like dragonflies, even though they don’t fly. At that stage, their main purpose is to reproduce.
The Rhinoceros Beetle
The beetle is found in the Southern African region. It belongs to the scarab beetle family, where the males have a hooked horn on top of their head, a horn that resembles a rhino’s – hence the name. The horns serve multiple purposes; they are used for digging, burrowing for food, and for fighting off male rivals. One of the strongest animals in the world relatively to their size, the beetle can lift up to 850 times their body weight. They take about 5 years to grow into a mature adult, and grow up to 50 mm, feeding mostly on fruit, vegetables, bark, and sap. They are harmless to humans, and are only active at night, and therefore really difficult to spot.
The Leopard Tortoise
Found all over Sub-Saharan Africa, the leopard tortoise is found mostly in semi-dry bush and grassland areas. They get their name in reference to the leopard due to their black and golden markings on their shell when they mature into adulthood, although they are definitely not fast like their namesake. Incredibly resilient despite having their eggs eaten by other species, they can live for up to a century, and can survive in water and on land. They feed on grass and succulents, and are quite solitary, often spotted alone. They only dig to make nests and lay eggs, otherwise they stay in other animals’ abandoned holes during extreme weather conditions.