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Africa’s Little Five: Small Animals with Big Names

Africa’s Little Five: Small Animals with Big Names

Everyone knows about Africa’s big animals. If you’ve looked into going on safari at all, you can probably name Africa’s Big Five. But can you name Africa’s Little Five, and do you know the reason behind the name?

Africa’s Little Five

What are Africa’s Little Five? No, they’re not the five smallest animals in Africa. They’re also not the opposite of the Big Five in that they are the least dangerous animals in Africa. Instead, the “Little Five” are small animals that have matching names to their bigger counterparts—elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, and rhino.

Africa’s “Little Five” are the:

  • Elephant Shrew
  • Antlion
  • Rhinoceros Beetle
  • Buffalo Weaver
  • Leopard Tortoise

These must-see tiny animals are just as impressive as Africa’s big game and are remarkable in their own rights. However, we will warn you, it might be a little more challenging to spot these animals on safari, but be sure to ask your safari guide, and he’ll do his best to show you as much as possible.

 

Elephant Shrew

elephant shrew

Photo by Smithsonian’s National Zoo—flickr

The elephant shrew is a tiny mammal that eats insects and earns its name from its elephant-like snout. Just 23 – 31 cm (9 – 12 inches) long, this itty-bitty shrew weighs only 680 grams (1.5 lbs). And he is arguably the cutest of Africa’s Little Five.

Elephant shrews can be found throughout Southern Africa. They can thrive in a wide range of habitats from desert to dense woodland. But while they are abundant, they are seldom seen. This little guy is difficult to spot on safari because he is exceptionally shy and swift. In fact, he can reach speeds over 28 kmph (17 mph) and leap almost a meter in a single bound.

As for their “trunks,” they are very flexible and are useful in sniffing out insects. But unlike elephants, they are not very social creatures and live only in monogamous pairs.

 

Antlion

antlion

Photo by Mike Keeling—flickr

The antlion is the smallest creature on the Africa Little Five list. They can be found across the globe in dry, sandy regions. But even though there are more than 2,000 different species of antlions, when they reach adulthood, they all resemble dragonflies.

However, antlions are most well known for their larvae (sometimes called doodlebugs). These fearsome-looking creatures are hairy with sickle-shaped jaws and savage temperament. They are capable predators that ambush their victims (typically ants) by lying in wait at the bottom of a crater. As for their scary-looking jaws, they are hollow, which allows them to such their prey dry.

It is the viciousness of their larvae that gives antlions their name. They are as fierce as their lion counterpart.

 

Rhinoceros Beetle

rhinoceros beetle

Photo by Kentish Plumber—flickr

The rhinoceros beetle is the next insect within Africa’s Little Five. Belonging to the scarab beetle family, these cool little guys have a self-explanatory name. Male beetles have large hooked horns that they use to fight over territory and dig for food inside rotting trees. And while they look ferocious, they are completely harmless.

Rhinoceros beetles can be found all over the world. There are more than 300 species across the globe, 60 of which can be found in Southern Africa. They can grow up to 15 cm (6 inches) in length, though in Africa, they only reach 5 cm (2 inches). However, their small size does not mean weak. In proportion to their weight, rhinoceros beetles are some of the strongest creatures in the world!

But don’t expect to spot a rhinoceros beetle on your safari. They are only active at night, rarely fly, and spend their time eating fruit, bark, sap, and vegetables.

 

Buffalo Weaver

Red-Billed Buffalo Weaver

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver photo by Francesco Veronesi—flickr

The only bird on Africa’s Little Five list, the buffalo weaver is a beautiful addition. There are three species, including the white-headed buffalo weaver, white-billed buffalo weaver, and the red-billed buffalo weaver. However, the type you’ll see depends on where you visit. All three species live in Eastern Africa, but Southern Africa is only home to the red-billed buffalo weaver.

The good news is that the buffalo weaver is common and easy to spot. They are highly vocal birds that live in loud, boisterous colonies. They are also fairly large, growing up to 24 cm (9.5 inches) in length. Their name comes from the intricate nests they weave from small sticks and dry grass.

You’re most likely to find a buffalo weaver in areas of dry savannah and scrubland, and living on a diet of seeds, fruit, and small insects, including scorpions.

Buffalo Weaver Nest

Buffalo weaver nests

 

Leopard Tortoise

leopard tortoise

Photo by Brave Africa

Our favorite animal on Africa’s Little Five list is the leopard tortoise. These cool guys can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, though they prefer semi-arid environments such as scrubland and savannah. They graze on grass and burrow under the ground for safety and in bad weather.

Of course, they get their names from their colorful and unique shells. They have unique gold and black markings that resemble the rosette spots of a leopard. Each shell is entirely unique and exceptionally hard. They are highly resilient creatures able to climb, swim, and live up to 100 years.

You’ll most often discover leopard tortoises on the road. They are solitary creatures that grow up to 100 cm (39 inches) long, making them the fourth largest tortoise in the world.

 

Small Safari Animals

As we’ve said before, going on an African safari isn’t just about seeing the big game that everyone knows. From almost two-dozen different types of antelopes to wild dogs, hyena, giraffes, zebra, and more, there are always some amazing animals to see and experience.

Incredible Botswana Safari Sightings: Lion VS Hyena

Incredible Botswana Safari Sightings: Lion VS Hyena

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Brave Africa team was lucky enough to be out in the Okavango Delta for 18 days in March with a guest. Throughout the trip, they had many incredible Botswana safari sightings. Still, one lion sighting really stood out: a small pride of lions versus a lone hyena fighting over a buffalo kill.

Here’s the story of our incredible lion VS hyena battle from our co-founder and expert guide, Tabona Wina.

 

Flooding in the Okavango Delta

The bush was amazing!

It was so beautiful, and the game was incredible. While we can almost always say that about the Okavango Delta, during such an early and robust flood season, it is even more true.

Water was everywhere while we were on safari. In fact, it was so flooded that if it weren’t for COVID-19 closing down everything anyway, there’s a good possibility that the government may have had to close down certain sections of the Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai for safety reasons.

It was actually difficult to drive to many areas because the water was so deep and spreading. It was a marsh wonderland, which brings many interesting challenges and opportunities.

Okavango Delta flooding

When it floods early, the areas where the game roams shrink drastically. Basically, the floods create hundreds of small islands where there’s no water, and it’s possible to hunt and forage. This brings the predators and their prey into close proximity, which can provide some amazing Botswana safari sightings.

It’s especially true for the animals in the Okavango Delta who are highly adapted to flooding. They know how to cross from island to island in search of safety and food. As a safari guide, if you know where to go and can get there, there’s no end to the incredible sightings you can have.

Lion VS Hyena

Lion King pitted lions vs hyena and made the hyena out to be the bad guys. That’s not quite true in nature. While lions and hyena do not get along—they are both predators and thus competitors—they aren’t necessarily enemies that will kill each other at the slightest provocation. And that’s something we got to see in person.

One morning, after our usual coffee and breakfast, we headed out to the bush in search of something special, and within a few minutes, we found it.

Lion Buffalo Kill

The lions’ buffalo kill.

We discovered a small pride of three lions—two females and a male—huddled around a buffalo kill. They were enjoying their successful hunt, immensely, and eating as much as possible. Of course, with blood on the air, it was inevitable that hyenas would show up.

Two male hyenas prowled at the edge of the kill, well out of the way of the much larger and dangerous lions, but they were just biding their time. And eventually, they found their chance. When the male left the kill—bellies full—and found a bush in the shade to rest, the one bold hyena tried his luck.

It was like a National Geographic sighting. The bold hyena went straight up to the buffalo carcass and started eating. While the females weren’t happy and circled the kill and the hyena a few times, as long as they stayed on opposite sides of the body, they allowed the hyena to enjoy the kill, too.

Eventually, one of the lionesses even relaxed enough that it seemed like she didn’t care at all that the hyena was there at her kill. But that was NOT the case for the male.

Lion VS Hyena Chase

From the shade, he watched the entire situation played out, and after a while, decided that he might be full, but he would not allow a hyena to eat what was his. He broke away from the shade and chased the hyena off.

From that point forward, the lions decided that the hyena was no longer allowed around the kill, and no matter how persistent he was, he was chased off over and over and over again.

It was beautiful to watch, and we spent the entire morning with the lions and hyena.

On Safari in Botswana with Brave Africa: Wild Dogs Hunt at Camp

On Safari in Botswana with Brave Africa: Wild Dogs Hunt at Camp

On a safari in Botswana in Brave Africa, there’s always something new to experience. We never know what we’re going to see on a game drive, but we know it’s always going to be something exciting as long as we’re open to the possibilities. This time it was a pack of wild dogs hunting.

On our most recent trip out to Xakanaxa (Moremi Game Reserve), even our staff got to join in on the excitement when at least two-dozen wild dogs, including four puppies, hunted an impala at camp.

Wild Dogs at Camp

Wild Dogs in Moremi

Wild dog pack of about two-dozen dogs hanging out at the Brave Africa camp in the Moremi Game Reserve.

After a wonderful all-day game drive, Wina and our guests were heading back to camp for dinner when they ran right into a huge pack of wild dogs. We were barely a hundred meters from camp. You could see the staff tents, our moving trucks, and the main tent, and yet right there in front of us, there had to be about two dozen wild dogs all walking along in the setting sun, including four puppies—around six months old.

They had just woken up from their afternoon nap and were on the hunt.

With a pack that large—more than twenty dogs—hunting enough food for everyone is a challenge. The pack has to kill multiple times a day to stay healthy, and that can be especially difficult with pups. The pups always have to be protected, but they also have to learn how to hunt, so it’s a fascinating balancing act.

When we first came upon them, the pack was slowly meandering along. They were spread out and looking for food, but nothing urgent. The pups were toward the back, bouncing along, with assigned minders to make sure they kept up and didn’t get into too much trouble. And the rest of the pack was in formation, looking for prey.

Then, between one moment and the next, everything changed.

Wild Dogs Hunt at Brave Africa

The wild dog pack prepares to hunt.

Suddenly, we heard some high-pitched squeaking. It was the dogs sending out a warning call about nearby prey. It seemed like we blinked, and then there was an impala on the move.

She was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. No lone animal would stand a chance surrounded by more than 20 hungry dogs, and neither did she. While she leaped and ran as fast as she could, she wasn’t fast enough.

The wild dogs won.

Only a few of the pack actually went to the kill site, the rest stayed back with the puppies, and so did we. The puppies didn’t have the energy to keep up with the adults on the hunt, and we didn’t have the speed, but in this case, waiting behind was not a problem.

While we didn’t witness the kill, a few minutes later, we saw something just as special.

Wild Dogs Taking Care of Puppies

Wild Dog puppies

Four wild dog puppies waiting for the adults to come pack with food.

Wild dogs are incredibly social creatures. They are all about the pack. No dog is left behind, and every pup is well cared for, and we got to witness this first-hand.

Since the puppies were too young to hunt, the adults brought the kill to them. No, they didn’t drag over the kill like lions would do. They also didn’t force the puppies to move to the kill site—that would be too dangerous. Instead, the adults took turns eating and regurgitating food for the puppies.

That’s right. We got to witness wild dogs vomiting pre-chewed and swallowed food so the puppies could enjoy.

It was ADORABLE. And no, we’re not joking.

Wild dog puppies eating regurgitated impala thanks to a successful hunt.

It was astonishing to see the family dynamics. The four puppies stayed together, and every time an adult came back from the kill site, they immediately went up to the puppies and regurgitated enough for a meal.

The puppies squeaked and squealed and ate their dinner happily until the next adult would come back. They did this over and over again until the puppies were full, and the kill was demolished.

Wild Dogs and Brave Africa Staff

Wild Dogs at Brave Africa

All the Brave Africa staff came out to watch the wild dogs hunt. You can see our main “mess” tent on the far right with our staff tents and moving vehicles on the left.

For some of our Brave Africa staff, it was the first time they’d ever seen a pack of wild dogs. While they’re out in the bush regularly, they mostly stay at camp. This means they’ve all seen elephants and various antelope, but predators are always rare, and they’re especially rare if you remain at camp and don’t go looking for them.

This time, the staff didn’t have to go on a game drive to experience something that is incredibly rare and exciting. All they had to do is stand at the edge of camp and watch. It was thrilling, and something we’ll be talking about for years.

Watch the wild dogs hunt for yourself!

The Brave Africa Difference: All-Day Safari Experience

The Brave Africa Difference: All-Day Safari Experience

Out of dozens, if not hundreds, of safaris, what’s the Brave Africa difference? What makes us stand out and why should you choose to join us on your first, second, third, or hundredth safari? It’s all about our all-day safari experience compared to the traditional African safari experience!

The All-Day Safari Experience

Guests go on a Botswana safari for one reason only: to see Africa’s many amazing animals. They want to go home with incredible photos, unbelievable videos, and memories that will last a lifetime.

That’s why, at Brave Africa, our number one priority is to ensure that you have an unforgettable all-day safari experience.

To make that possible, we take our guests on all-day game drives. This increases your possibility of seeing something astonishing by keeping you out of camp and in the Bush as long as possible—after all, you have a 0% possibility of an amazing animal sighting from inside your tent.

12 to 13 hours in the Bush instead of 6 to 7 hours

All-Day Safari experience

Lunch in the Bush means you get to choose amazing views like this one.

At Brave Africa, you get almost double the time in the Bush as you enjoy on a traditional safari.

On our all-day game drives, you head out of camp at sunrise—between 5:30 am and 6:30 am—and you don’t come back until sunset, or slightly after (6:00 pm – 7:00 pm). In total, you get 12 to 13 hours in the Bush every single day you’re on an all-day safari with Brave Africa.

On a traditional African safari, you have 3 to 4 hours on your morning game drive—from sunrise until around 10:00 am. After that, you’re back at camp for almost 6 hours for lunch and an afternoon nap. Then, you’re finally back out in the Bush at 4:00 pm until sunset for another 2 to 3 hours on a game drive.

That’s just 6 to 7 hours in the Bush with the other 6 hours spent at camp.

Cover more ground instead of being stuck near camp.

Brave Africa difference

Your Brave Africa safari vehicle can travel almost 6 hours in one direction before having to turn around, which means you can really explore the bush.

Being out on our all-day game drives also means that your Brave Africa car can travel long distances. Since we don’t have to be back at camp until evening, we can really explore the area, following the animals where they go or even just to enjoy a change of scenery.

However, because traditional safaris require you to be back at camp within a few hours, your area of travel is highly limited. You can’t explore too far from your home base or you won’t make it back for lunch.

A pace you control instead of a set schedule.

All-Day Game Drive Lion

If you are enjoying an incredible sighting of a male lion, you don’t have to leave because you’re on a schedule. You can stay as long as you want.

Twelve to 13 hours in the Bush every day doesn’t mean you never have a chance to breathe or relax. Instead, it means the Bush and the animals help decide your day instead of trying to force nature to conform to our schedule.

So, if your game drive is really packed full of animals, you can put off your rest times until there’s a natural break. However, if the day is slow, you can rest early and give more time to your afternoon. Whenever you’re ready for a break, your guide will find a gorgeous spot in the bush—under some shade—where you can rest, relax, eat, drink, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

On a traditional African safari, your day is scheduled for you. Yes, if you have an incredible sighting you can stay out longer, but there is always time pressure to get back to camp for lunch. Your schedule is controlled by the camp and not by nature, which can make you feel a little more like you’re in a theme park instead of on a Botswana safari.

Why Do You Want All-Day Game Drives?

So, why are all-day game drives what you want when you go on safari?

  • Sometimes during the heat of the day—from 10 am until 3 pm—is the best time to see animals. It was during these hours that on one all-day game drive our guests and team ran into a cheetah hanging out and watching some warthogs.

We saw this cheetah around 1 pm during an all-day game drive.

  • Botswana is a desert. It’s HOT, especially in the middle of the day. It can easily reach over 40 degrees (C)—over 100 degrees (F)—and that’s hot no matter who you are or where you’re from. Would you rather be roasting in your tent in the middle of the day—few if any camps or lodges in the Bush offer air conditioning in your tent? Or would you rather enjoy the natural air conditioning offered by a moving, open-air vehicle and the chance to see incredible animals?
  • A Botswana safari is not cheap. If you’re paying thousands of dollars do you want to pay for an all-day safari or a traditional African safari where you spend half of your time back at camp? You’re basically paying to take a nap instead of paying to spend time with the animals.

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