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Little five: Showing Africa's wildlife diversity

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Africa's little five game

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 forgotten – the 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. 

Elephant shrew

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.

Ant lion

The smallest creature in the Little Five group, the ant lion cleverly survives in the African bushveld.  Ant lions are larvae of an insect similar in appearance to the dragonfly. With an impressive display of technique and skill, the ant lion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy soils. These funnels act as a clever drama stage: when potential prey approaches, the ant lion 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.

Rhino beetle

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 strength – in comparison to its small body size.  Male rhino beetles also use their horns to fight over food and females.   

Buffalo weaver bird

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. 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. Home to many of Africa’s large parks, the buffalo weaver is the easiest among the little five to find and observe.

Leopard tortoise

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. 

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.  

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Little five: Showing Africa's wildlife diversity

This article is part of a series

Big five safari animals


Wanderlust Said: 08 August


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

Javier Said: 09 August

Javier Tuason

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

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