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The African Big Five

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: September 9, 2022
Image Credit Volodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock.com
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The sun setting in the Serengeti with a large tree in the foreground and several trees in the background.
The “Big Five” refers to the five animals in Africa that were highly sought after by trophy hunters.

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The term ‘Big Five’ today portrays the beauty and power of some of Africa’s most iconic animals, but it actually has a much darker history. Originally used by hunters who travelled to the African continent, these five animals were the most highly sought after, hunted as trophies to display the exotic nature of the individual’s bravery.

Sadly however, the excessive hunting and poaching of these animals has led to drastic declines in their population numbers, meaning that all but one are now considered at least Threatened or Endangered by the IUCN. Including two of the largest animals found on land anywhere in the world, these five are truly amongst the most spectacular animals on Earth.

A mother and baby African elephant walking through a green field with other grazing animals in the background.
African elephants generally live in forests, savannas, and floodplains in Africa.

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Name: African Elephant

Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana africana

Size: 3m – 3.5m (10ft – 12ft)

Weight: 3,600kg – 5,400kg (7,900lbs – 12,000lbs)

Top Speed: 40kph (25mph)

Life Span: 60 – 70 years

Habitat: Forest, savannah and flood plains

Conservation Status: Threatened

Est. Population Size: 300,000

Fun Fact: Can drink up to 50 gallons a day!

A buffalo running out of a body of water.
A buffalo can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

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Name: Buffalo

Scientific Name: Syncerus caffer

Size: 1.7m – 1.8m (67in – 71in)

Weight: 600kg – 907kg (1,323lbs – 2,000lbs)

Top Speed: 35kph (22mph)

Life Span: 15 – 22 years

Habitat: Woodland and grass pastures

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Est. Population Size: 900,000

Fun Fact: Has no real natural predators!

A leopard standing on a tree branch looking attentive.
There are 30 different subspecies of leopard.

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Name: Leopard

Scientific Name: Panthera pardus

Size: 125cm – 190cm (49in – 75in)

Weight: 28kg – 90kg (62lbs – 198lbs)

Top Speed: 114kph (71mph)

Life Span: 12 – 18 years

Habitat: Dry rugged terrain and open savanna

Conservation Status: Threatened

Est. Population Size: 50,000

Fun Fact: There are 30 different sub-species!

An adult male lion standing on a small hill looking into the sun with shrubs and short trees in the background.
There are estimated to be approximately 23,000 lions left in the world.

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Name: Lion

Scientific Name: Panthera leo

Size: 1.4m – 2.5m (4.7ft – 8.2ft)

Weight: 120kg – 249kg (264lbs – 550lbs)

Top Speed: 56kph (35mph)

Life Span: 10 – 15 years

Habitat: Arid plains and savanna grasslands

Conservation Status: Threatened

Est. Population Size: 23,000

Fun Fact: Lives in small groups called prides!

A white rhinoceros walking in the dirt near a puddle with vegetation in the background.
The white rhinoceros is the second largest land animal.

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Name: White Rhinoceros

Scientific Name: Ceratotherium simum

Size: 3.4m – 4.2m (11ft – 14ft)

Weight: 1,440kg – 3,600kg (3,168lbs – 7,920lbs)

Top Speed: 42kph (30mph)

Life Span: 45 – 50 years

Habitat: Tropical bushland and savanna grasslands

Conservation Status: Endangered

Est. Population Size: 11,670

Fun Fact: The second largest animal on the land!

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

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Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals