Kate Nelson, General Manager at Camp Jabulani, shares her personal views as to why the Big 5 is an outdated concept. “We welcome many guests from all around the world who come to Africa to admire and photograph some of earth’s most incredible animals. It is an absolute privilege to share the humbling experience of seeing these wonderful species in the wild for the first time. However, I always find it a little sad when ticking off the Big 5 becomes the measure of success for a safari holiday – there is so much more to see.
History of the ‘Big 5’
The term ‘Big 5’ was coined by the big game hunters of the last century as being the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. They are, in no particular order, the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. In more recent times, the safari industry has adopted the phrase for marketing purposes; South Africa even features the species on its bank notes. It is therefore hardly surprising that tourists quickly pick up on the branding and come with an expectation that a ‘Big 5’ safari is the holy grail of wildlife encounters.
Relevance to today’s visitor
Thankfully, most visitors to South Africa today are not coming to hunt wildlife with guns – nowadays shooting with cameras is much more in vogue. Modern day safari encounters are (or should be) about conservation through education. There is definitely a thrill in seeking certain species to tick off, so rather let’s create lists about those animals that are relevant to today’s safari visitor.
I have noticed that for most guests seeing African ‘flagship species’ such as giraffe, zebra, hippo or crocodile are some of their favourite highlights. Personally, I would far rather see a serval hunting than a lion sleeping under a tree. I could go on and on… there are a lifetime of pleasures to be derived from the African bush. All it takes is for us to open our minds as well as our eyes.
Celebrate what you do see
I remember finishing a game drive in the Kruger National Park and being asked by my host whether I enjoyed my drive. Whilst I was waxing lyrical about seeing giraffe bulls fighting, watching a baboon mother nurse her baby and the sighting of a particularly rare bird, the guy behind me huffed “But we still didn’t see a lion”. How sorry I felt for him that his experience of exactly the same game drive was ‘glass half empty’ while mine was glass overflowing. The wonderful thing about a safari holiday is that every encounter with wildlife is absolutely unique, and no two game drives are ever the same.
Sure, there will always be sightings that you want to ‘tick off the list’, but try not to let these become an obsession that prevents you from enjoying what is in front of your eyes.”