A guide to finding the animal you want on a safari

Most of us go on a safari to catch a glimpse of the Big Five. These include lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalo and are generally the animals that you won’t see anywhere else. You certainly won’t be coming across them in your daily life, and it’s unlikely that many of your holidays will include such exhilarating sights. Sure, you could go see all of these animals in a zoo, but that’s nothing compared to watching them in their natural environment, where both you and they can be completely comfortable without cages or bars limiting their range. You might also be on the lookout for the “little five”, which are the buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion, and rhino beetle, but none of those are going to quite equal the splendour of a lion stalking his prey or an elephant playing with her baby.

When you go looking for the Big Five, however, you should quickly realise that you will rarely catch them all together at all times of year. If you’re prioritising a certain type of animal, make sure you head to that spot in order to catch the best views. Some of the best places for all five are the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Lake Nakuru in Kenya, and Maasai Mara, also in Kenya. There aren’t any guarantees, but these are generally the best places to find wildlife. Kruger National Park also has some amazing accommodation, right in the park, so you’ll be able to be up close and personal on your game drives right away.

If you’re looking for specific animals, your destination may change based on your objectives. Rhinos, for example, are quite rare, and it’s often difficult to find them in the wild. Your best chance is generally in South Africa, though you’ll often find the black rhino in Namibia. If you’re after monkeys, especially gorillas and chimpanzees, it’s best to head for the forested regions around Uganda and Tanzania. They’re not part of the Big Five, but they are amazing to watch regardless. Elephants are also another favourite and they’re just incredible to watch, though you don’t necessarily want them charging at you! Our recommended spot for these animals is Chobe National Park in Botswana.

Possibly the most exciting sight you’ll see on a safari is a big cat taking down its prey. Watching that lion or leopard stalking its prey and eventually defeating it is amazing. The best time to catch just this is during the annual Wildebeest Migration. That’s because the herd is immense, comprised of not just wildebeests but other animals following in their wake, so the big cats are always out looking for weaklings or those that lag behind. You’ll catch the Migration going on from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Maasai Mara in Kenya. There is never a wrong time to watch the Migration, but it’s worth spending a little extra time looking into where precisely the animals will be to get the best show available.

Greg Fox is a Director at luxury travel specialists Mahlatini.

Comments (4)

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  1. Safari says:

    Thanks for the post.
    Etosha National Park, in Namibia, is a great place to spot both black and white rhinos though the rest of big five are pretty elusive or none existant.
    But if its rhinos you’re after Etosha is the place!

  2. irene says:

    It never crossed my mind that you wouldn’t be able to see the big 5 on the same trip, i am planning a safari for 2012 with some friends so will certainly be mentioning this, thanks for the great tip.

  3. Emily M says:

    Always remember my Nana coming back from S.Africa quite put out she only saw (in her words) “deer” on her safari!

  4. Paul says:

    If the animal you are looking for is a leopard, probably the best place to go is the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. A few years ago I saw about 20 different leopards over the course of 10 days!

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