Monday, 17 September 2012 10:10 AM
Africa is well-known for its unique wildlife and if you're planning on organising a safari in Botswana, Kenya or South Africa, you have a good chance of coming face-to-face with some of the Big Five. Here are some facts about these creatures you didn't know before.
This group of animals - lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant - was the term originally given to the five most difficult creatures on the continent to hunt, but now it is used by safari-goers the world over to identify which exciting animals you can see.
Most people come on safari to see lions, as these are thought to be the fiercest predator on the continent. Males can weigh up to 189 kg and females are 126 kg, meaning they have great strength to be able to take down their prey.
Despite this, it typically takes a lion five attempts at killing before it is able to succeed and, when they do, they can eat up to 30 kg of meat in one go, which is needed to sustain them before their next hunt.
One way to ensure males keep authority over their pride is to roar and this sound can be heard up to 8 km away, making it the loudest big cat. Therefore, while you may hear a lion during your safari, you might not be able to spot one as they typically hunt at night as they have eyes that are sensitive to light, which makes them active when the sun goes down.
Leopards are far lighter than lions and weigh between 30 and 80 kg. As a result of this, they don't rely on big kills for their diet and they are able to eat insects, reptiles and fish, as they are particularly good swimmers and aren't afraid of the water like you might believe.
They can then haul their kill up a tree, as they are incredible climbers, where they can keep it safe from scavengers such as lions and hyenas.
Unlike lions, these creatures are solitary and, other than the young, which stay with their mothers until they are two years old, they tend to live alone.
Groups of buffalo
Despite buffalos being vegetarian, they pose a huge threat to humans and other creatures. This is because males can be more than 680 kg in weight and they are known for their unpredictable nature, meaning they can charge at you without warning.
Buffalo tend to live in large herds, often with a few hundred others. These numbers help to protect them, particularly young calves. They do this by creating a circle around the targeted prey so that a predator cannot break through. You may also find smaller groups of older males who typically stay by themselves. These also tend to be the creatures that carnivores such as lions hunt, as they are more vulnerable.
Rhinos are huge in size, measuring more than 6 ft in height and 11 ft in length. However, they are very fearful of predators as they have very poor eyesight. Their defence therefore is being able to run fast, reaching speeds of up to 35 mph.
While their horns are incredibly strong, you might be interested to find out that they do tend to break off as they are made of keratin, but they then grow back.
Despite their stature, they have very poor eyesight, making them fearful of any possible predator, including humans. However, with their huge horn, you wouldn't want to get in the way of a rhino if it charged.
The animals are unique because, despite their mighty size - weighing as much as 6,300 kg - they have adapted to cope with life in the savannah. For instance, they are able to use their trunk - which can weigh 130 kg - to do something delicate like pick up a small twig to eat. Another feature they have is being able to hold 6 l of water at one time - and you may get to see an elephant squirt this over themselves to have a bath.
Elephants have a gestation period of 22 months. However, the young tend to remain with their mothers for a few years, as baby elephants are easy targets for hungry lions.