If you have been on safari, chances are you’ve heard of Africa’s big five animals. They’re pretty hard to miss driving through Uganda’s national parks.
An impressive number of tourists come to Africa on safari to see the elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, and lion, and Uganda shares a good piece of the big game action.
Africa Big 5 animals is a term coined in the 1800s by trophy hunters, referring to what they considered the most challenging and dangerous animals to hunt on foot.
These include the African Elephant, Lion, Leopard, African Buffalo, and Rhinoceros. Today the term is primarily famous with African safari travelers who now shoot the big five with a camera rather than a lethal weapon of choice. Africa’s big 5 animals are all present in Uganda and can easily be seen in all savanna parks.
The phrase today is commonly used to market safaris. However, back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, everyone from European royalty to American presidents wanted to bag an African hunting trophy—the larger and more unpredictable the beast, the better – how the Big Five became famous.
1. Lion (Panthera leo)
The largest and most imposing African carnivore, and the most sought-after member of the African big 5, the African lion, is the most sociable of the large cats, living in loosely structured prides of typically five to 15 animals.
Lions have special cultural significance in most countries on the continent. In Uganda, they enjoy a reputation as ‘king of the beasts’ and are popular symbols of royalty, strength, and bravery.
In Uganda, lions are mainly found in the three largest savanna parks: Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP), Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP), and Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).
In QENP, the Ishasha lions are known for their unique behavior of climbing trees and have been branded the “Ishasha tree-climbing lions” by tourists who flock to this sector to have sight of this rare behavior.
2. Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The leopard is the most elusive and the smallest of Africa’s big five animals. Leopards are sneaky and harder to spot, and naturally shy and exclusively nocturnal, leopards spend the daylight hours hidden from view. The big solitary cats haul large kills, such as zebra or antelope, into a tree to eat alone, in peace.
These impressively shy cats can be distinguished from cheetahs by their rosette-shaped spots and more powerful build, as well as by their preference for wooded or rocky habitats. They are found in virtually all habitats which offer adequate cover and are present in most Ugandan national parks and forest reserves.
On Africa safari in Uganda, leopards can be seen in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo Valley National, Lake Mburo National Park, Mt Elgon National Park, and Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
3. African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
African Elephant (Loxodonta africana), the world’s largest of all Africa big five found in Uganda and perhaps the most enduring symbol of nature’s grace and fragility, is also one of the most intelligent and entertaining to watch on a classic African safari game drive.
A fully-grown male elephant can weigh a whopping 6300 kilos; even the smallest adult male rarely dips below 4000 kilos, which is way more than twice the weight of an average family SUV. Females are usually just over half the weight of the male.
If you’re planning your Africa safari in Uganda and want to meet these magnificent giants, you must know that the African elephants occur in all national parks except Lake Mburo. They are most likely seen in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, and Kidepo national parks. We recommend you take a boat safari on the Nile in Murchison of Kazinga channel in QENP to see these gentle giants gracefully flocking the water banks in massive herds.
4. African Buffalo
Africa’s only wild African buffalo ox species is an adaptable and widespread creature that lives in large herds on the savanna and in smaller herds in forested areas. The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer), or Cape Buffalo, is the most dangerous of all African game species, especially if wounded or solitary. Its reputation has placed it among the African big 5 animals recognized worldwide.
African buffalo are large, even-toed ungulates, characterized by their stocky build and heavy horns. Horns are present in both sexes, and they are not ridged. The buffalo is easily distinguished from other animals because of its dark black color and characteristic horns, smaller and lighter, curving outward, backward, and upwards. Ears are large, fringed with hair, and hang below massive horns.
Buffaloes can be seen in almost all of Uganda’s national parks and large forests. In Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks, you may see hybrids of the savanna buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) of east Africa and the red buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) of the west African forest.
Rhinoceros, commonly known as rhino, is a large, herbivorous mammal identified by its characteristic horned snouts. The word “rhinoceros” comes from the Greek words “rhino” (nose) and “ceros” (horn).
Rhinoceroses are universally recognized for their massive bodies, stumpy legs, and either one or two dermal horns. In some species, the horns may be short or not obvious. They are renowned for having poor eyesight, but their senses of smell and hearing are well developed.
The biggest of the five surviving species occurs in Uganda, the Northern white rhino, and can only be seen in the massively protected Ziwa Rhino sanctuary and the Uganda Wildlife Education Center in Entebbe, commonly referred to as the Zoo.