Tag Archives: The Big Five

The Big Five – Part Four – Rhinoceros

Over the past three weeks I have blogged about the animals known in southern Africa as ‘The Big Five.”  Today it’s the turn of the rhinoceros, of which there are two species in our region – the Black rhinoceros and the White rhinoceros.  As I stated before, the Big Five get their name from being the most dangerous and difficult animals to track and hunt, and the rhinoceros is therefore not a docile animal by any means.  Although rhinos have poor eyesight, their sense of smell and hearing is highly developed and, combined with the ability to run at high speeds, they can be quite deadly when they break into a charge and use their horns for ramming their victims.  They often charge for no apparent reason, probably to determine whether an object is a threat to them or not.

White rhino - broad flat lip

These enormous beasts have a prehistoric appearance with their thick hides folding over their legs and shoulders to look almost as if they are wearing a suit of armour.  They sport two horns on their long faces – a small one at the back and a large one in the front.  Their name is derived from the Latin meaning nose and horn.  The horns are made of keratin, the same composition as our hair and nails.  Unfortunately for the rhinoceros, their horns are believed to have medicinal properties and for this reason they are being poached into extinction as they fetch extremely high prices on the black market.  See my blog  “Where have all the rhinos gone” about this serious problem.

Black rhino - prehensile lip easily visible

The two African species are easy to identify by the different shapes of their mouths.  Black rhinos have prehensile upper lips because they are browsers, whilst White rhinos have wide square lips that are suitable for grazing.  They both have barrel-shaped bodies, but differ in size, with the Black rhino being much smaller than the White rhino.  The browsers prefer a diet of branches, thorns and leaves so their habitat is treed or bushy, and the grazers mainly eat short grass which is found in more open bushveld.  Both require plenty of drinking water and enjoy wallowing in mud to cool themselves down.  Black rhinos are solitary and moody as opposed to the more sociable White rhinos which live in small groups with a territorial male.

Mother and baby White rhinoceros

Females have a single calf, born throughout the year after a gestation period of about 16 months.  Calves remain with their mothers for up to four years and when they are seen together, the calf is usually walking in front of its mother.

Black rhinoceros

If they are left alone by poachers, rhinos have a life expectancy of between 40 and 45 years.  Their main predator is man and they are sometimes taken by lions.

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The Big Five : Part 1 – Leopards

Anyone who has been to (or done research on) the game reserves in central and southern Africa will be familiar with the term “the Big Five”, which relates to leopards, lions, elephants, rhinoceros and buffaloes.  This term was coined early in the twentieth century by great white hunters (nowadays known as professional hunters) to denote the five most difficult and dangerous animals to track and hunt.  These days, of course, it’s on every safari-goers bucket list to see the Big Five and even more impressive if they can say they saw them all in one day!

Leopard

I though it would be fun to blog about the Big Five over the next few weeks, as we are always excited to see these animals.  I’ll start with the leopard, as this beautiful cat is one of the most difficult of the Big Five to see.  This is because it’s nocturnal, which means that it hunts at night and generally sleeps during the day.  There are exceptions to this rule, of course, and leopards are sometimes seen early in the morning or late in the day.  People will wait for hours in a particular spot if they’ve heard that a leopard has been seen there earlier on (we’ve done this ourselves), as leopard sightings are considered to be very special indeed.

Leopard - up close

Leopards like to sleep in trees, so if the tree is close enough to the road there is sure to be a good audience – a safari version of the paparazzi!  Leopards are not as nervous as other animals and their relaxed behaviour enables folks to get some really good photographs of them in the wild – if you can spot them in the first place that is.  They are amazingly camouflaged in the African bush and you really have to look carefully for them.

A favourite sleeping spot

They are solitary animals that only get together for mating purposes.  They mark their territory by spraying urine and scratching on trees.  Leopards are not like lions that live in prides, so when more than one is seen, it is usually a mother with her cubs.  She suckles cubs for three months, but introduces solid food to them after six weeks.  They stay with her, learning the ropes about survival and hunting, for just under two years.  Litters comprise of between one and three cubs born after a gestation period of one hundred days.

Leopard cub

Leopards are powerfully built and hunt a wide variety of warm-blooded prey.  Unlike lions, they seldom eat their prey on the ground, but drag it up into a tree to eat at their leisure and to protect it from other predators like lions and hyenas.  Their strength is such that they can haul a carcass of their own weight up into a tree.

A favourite sleeping spot

Unfortunately, here in Namibia, leopards are a problem to farmers, often killing their livestock or expensive imported game animals.  It is sad that these losses lead to the extermination of these beautiful animals by the farmers, and we hope that they won’t become extinct because man has taken over their natural habitat and hunting grounds.