Leopard tortoises, one of Africa's little five
Leopard tortoises, one of Africa's little five

Published on August 08 2013
Written by: Fran

Little five safari animals: Showing Africa's wildlife diversity


  • The antlion is the smallest of the five

  • The buffalo weaver can be found in many safari destinations, making it one of the easiest to spot

  • The elephant shrew is genetically close to the aardvark than the rest of the shrew clan

Africa's little five animals

Once you’ve set foot in Africa, undoubtedly you will be looking to see and experience the Big Five. Strong, fierce and wild, the big five game is Africa’s pride and receives central attention. But there is another group that should not be forgottenthe little five. In its own and unique ways, aiming to find the little five can also be a rewarding wildlife experience. Not nearly as intimidating as the big five, the little five creatures include the elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver and the leopard tortoise. 


Antilon or Ant lion, one of Africa's little five animals

The smallest creature in the little five group, the antlion (or ant lion) deftly survives in the African bushveld.  Antlions are larvae of an insect similar in appearance to the dragonfly. With an impressive display of technique and skill, the antlion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy soils. These funnels act as a clever drama stage: when potential prey approaches, the antlion will pretend to be an ant falling down the funnel, stimulating the prey to lurch after the fallen ant, an easy meal!  But only to discover it has been trapped, and so the ant lion catches prey in its trap.

Buffalo weaver bird

Buffalo weaver, one of Africa's little five

There are a few kinds of buffalo weaver birds in Africa, including the black buffalo weaver, the red-billed buffalo weaver and the white-headed buffalo Weaver. The weaver in this photo is the white-headed species. Buffalo weavers are large birds feeding on insects and fruits and seeds. Living highly sociable lives with huge communal nests, these weavers are highly enjoyable to watch. Calling many of Africa’s large parks home, the buffalo weaver is the easiest among the little five to find and observe.

Elephant shrew

Elephant shrew, one of Africa's little five animals

How cute is this guy? With their long noses resembling elephant trunks but with a size similar to a large mouse, the elephant shrew is the smallest mammal among the little five. With their long legs, they hop in search of small bites to eat. The elephant shrew is hard to find as they are well camouflaged with their sandy brown colors.  Occurring throughout South Africa and Botswana, watch out for the small creature scrambling across dusty safari roads. An interesting fact about elephant shrews is that recent scientific research has shown that elephant shrews are genetically closer related to aardvark and elephants than to the rest of the shrew clan.

Leopard tortoise

Leopard tortoise, one of Africa's little five animals

There is one stark contrast here—speed!  Unlike its namesake, the leopard tortoise covers land very slowly. The leopard tortoise shells are quite beautiful, with perfect symmetrical black and yellow patterns. The largest tortoise found in Africa, the leopard tortoise is found throughout southern and eastern Africa but with preference for savanna grasslands. As they mature, their tortoise shell color changes from dark brown to yellow. 

Rhino beetle

Rhino beetle, one of Africa's little five animals

The rhino beetle is one of southern Africa’s largest beetles. With its impressive body armor it is kitted to win the bushveld battle. The rhino beetle’s horn resembles the rhino’s horn. This horn is used to dig and burrow for food. The rhino beetle is known for its impressive strengthin comparison to its small body size. Male rhino beetles also use their horns to fight over food and females.   

Africa is a continent of true diversity, as so clearly demonstrated by the big five and little five wildlife. The purpose behind Africa’s little five is exactly this: to demonstrate the extreme wildlife diversity found on the continent—from extremely big to extremely small, you can find them all on safari. Some of these little five creatures are quite hard to spot, making your encounter with the little five even more remarkable.  

Sources and credits


About the author

Has been on: 11 safaris

Seeing beyond the average tourist routes and experiencing local life is my type of travel! Living in South Africa I'm an environmentalist at heart, and I continue to marvel at the beauty of the African continent.

Share on:

Like this article?

Go on, give it a kudu!

4 gave this
a kudu


© Your African Safari Ltd, All rights reserved.



Said on 17 October 2019 19:56

We saw an elephant shrew on safari in Botswana this January! Now for the rhino beetle.


Said on 09 August 2013 12:30

What a great article. I personally love learning about the bio-diversity of Africa.


Said on 08 August 2013 20:19

This made me laugh...I've only seen the leopard tortoise! A new goal.

Log in to leave a comment
About YAS

Your African Safari is a safari-planning and safari review site. It was created to help support a healthy African wildlife population. All reviews are vetted before being approved and only ethical tours are published