Wildlife watching in Southern Africa: What to see that isn’t the ‘Big Five’

For most people, the aim of going on a safari in Southern Africa is to spot some or all of the ‘Big Five’. That’s the lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard, by the way – animals that are notoriously difficult for hunters to successfully kill. I’ve managed four so far but the king of the savannah currently still eludes me.

Having been on numerous game drives across Botswana I’ve seen no end of animal species in the wild for the first time, and although the Big Five are impressive there’s much more to your safari than the large stuff. Here’s my alternative to the Big Five, or Small Five+, to spot in Southern Africa on your next visit:


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The largest species of Oryx, the Gemsbock is simply a beautiful animal to behold. Elegant and pretty in its markings, powerfully impressive in its horns and with a quiet, confident manner, as if he knows he’s the most attractive beast in the savannah.

Kori Bustard

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The newly-crowned national bird of Botswana is the world’s heaviest flying bird. The way he struts across the plain shows he knows he’s something special.



Africa’s most dangerous beast is a lot of fun to watch in the wild – the way they give you an unimpressed look then disappear straight down into the water is hilarious.

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Our car wildly swerved and came to a halt on the track: “Chameleon crossing the road!” cried the driver. This guy was in no hurry, taking his sweet time to complete his odd rocking walk to the other side.


Easy to spot, the wildebeest may look intimidating but is usually quite timid and nervous. Seeing them kicking up dust in a fight and rubbing their forehead scent glands on the ground would suggest otherwise, though.


The awkward teenager of the African bush, giraffes are great to watch in the wild. Check out their blue tongues, odd walking style and incredible height up close.


A little more challenging to spot in the wild, diurnal jackals are opportunistic hunters. And such foxy little things!



With several types of hornbill native to Southern Africa, these friendly birds can often be found perching by your tent in the morning, checking out what you’re having for breakfast.

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