Did you know?
The biggest leopard tortoise on record (at Addo Elephant Park) could actually move small cars.
Once you’re done meeting Africa’s Big Five, the so-called charismatic megafauna, why not move on to a more whimsical Little Five safari?
The Big Five have their alternative game-viewing counterparts in the elephant shrew, the rhino beetle, the red-billed buffalo weaver, the leopard tortoise and the ant lion.
The real purpose of the Little Five is to draw your attention to the hidden charms of the bush. The most interesting creatures are not necessarily big and hairy.
The most impressive of them, strength-wise, is the rhino beetle, with an unmistakable horn on its head. It’s about the size of a person’s thumb, but it’s said to be able to lift 850 times its own bodyweight, making it the strongest creature, proportionately, on the planet.
Look for it under logs or in thick undergrowth, but don’t expect it to do exhibition weight-lifting for you. The rhino beetle only shows its strength when battling a rival.
The messiest of the Little Five is undoubtedly the red-billed buffalo weaver. This dark bird with its bright red beak lives in the northern parts of the country. It likes to live in communal nests – but nothing fancy, mind you. You’d mistake its nest for a huge, discarded jumble of twigs.
The weirdest of the Little Five is the ant lion. It’s an insect that lives its entire larval life underground, setting conical pit traps in the sand to catch ants or termites. It also qualifies as the least lovely of the lot – until it becomes a glorious adult.
The biggest of the Little Five is the leopard tortoise. It is found in most parts of the country, and the largest one ever recorded weighed 43kg.
Winner of the cute prize is the elephant shrew, a tiny little beast with an impossibly long, whiffly nose (hence the name). Look out for it in the early evening, when it comes out to rootle about for insects.
Travel tips & Planning info
How to get here
The Little Five are dotted around the country, and it's not worth going on a real expedition to find them. Just keep a look out for them. The buffalo weaver is mostly found in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The ant lion is found all over the country. The elephant shrew can be seen in many bushveld areas at dusk. The leopard tortoise is most easily seen in the arid Karoo. The rhino beetle is usually found in forested areas.
Best time to visit
Your best chance to see them is during the South African summer (October to April) since the leopard tortoise hibernates through winter and creatures like the rhino beetle are less active.
What will it cost
Nothing at all. It's just a question of keeping your eyes open if you're visiting nature reserves or national parks.
What to pack
In the case of the ant lion, a magnifying glass might be fun – although they're certainly big enough for the naked eye.
Where to stay
Any bushveld or nature reserve destination will likely yield at least one or two of the Little Five.