A safari in Tanzania is one of the best trips to book if you want to see the Big Five.
African safaris are a bucket list trip for many travelers and seeking out the Big Five – the African lion, African leopard, African elephant, the black rhino and the Cape buffalo – is often a goal of travelers on safari. A safari in Tanzania is one of the best trips to book if you want to see the Big Five.
The Big Five is a grouping of animals that got its name at the turn of the century from hunters who considered them to be the most difficult to hunt on foot. Although their populations have declined drastically since that time, there is still an opportunity to see the Big Five as a traveler on safari. And with the help of researchers and conservation organizations who work hard to protect the remaining animals, we hope future generations might also have a chance to view these amazing creatures in the wild.
Tanzania is one of the best countries in Africa to go on a safari. This is mainly due to the sheer number of animals but also the variety of wildlife. It’s also one of the few destinations where travelers can view all the Big Five animals in one country. Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, and Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Arusha National Parks are just a few of the beautiful places you might visit to see the Big Five on a Tanzania safari.
African lions are the most social of the big cats and live in groups called prides. A typical pride consists of 5-6 related females, their cubs and a dominant male. Females do most of the hunting and their prey consists of zebra, antelope and wildebeest. When they’re not hunting, you’ll see lions relaxing and lazing around.
Three of the five largest populations of lions live in Tanzania. There are nine areas to view lions in the country. Among the nine places you can see lions are the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park, Selous Game Reserve, Ngorongoro Crater and Ruaha National Park. In the Serengeti, your chances of seeing a lion hunt and kill another animal are very high between August and November when many their prey are on the move.
Seventy-five percent of the world’s lion populations are in decline and are now protected under the endangered species act. If you’d like to learn more about the reasons why and how you can help, check out the research and conservation efforts of The Lion Center at the University of Minnesota.
Earth’s largest living land mammals are a must-see for anyone on safari in Tanzania. Among the places to find them are Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks, and Selous Game Reserve. They are highly intelligent and empathetic creatures that form deep bonds within their matriarchal families. They are usually seen traveling in herds and spend most of their day eating plants, fruits, tree bark and leaves.
Tanzania has one of the largest elephant populations in Africa and their numbers in the country are on the rise. However, they are still listed as a vulnerable species. The main threat to elephants is humans who poach them for their ivory tusks. There are several organizations helping to protect elephants in Tanzania such as the African Wildlife Foundation.
Of all the big cats, the leopard is somewhat easy to recognize due to its spotted coat and long tail. But people often confuse the leopard with the cheetah. The easiest way to tell the difference is by comparing their coats side by side to see the unique patterns, then you will be able to distinguish them while on safari. The cheetah has individual spots that are separated from the other spots on its body (left). The leopard has spots that group together to form rosettes (right).
The Serengeti is a good place to view leopards. The lack of vegetation during the migration months between August and November mean that you’ll have a better chance to see them during this time. You can also see leopards in Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park.
In September 2019, nine black rhinos were relocated to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, one of the top places to see black rhinos in Africa. This brings the total number to 141 black rhinos in the Serengeti. You can also view black rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater and Selous Game Reserve. Since black rhinos are shy, elusive herbivores, the best time to view them is when the vegetation is thinner during the dry season.
Fun fact: the name rhinoceros is a literal mix of two Greek words that best describe them: rhino (nose) and ceros (horn).
Gray in color, just like white rhinos, the black rhino probably derives its name as a distinction from the white rhino or from the dark-colored local soil that covers its skin after wallowing in mud. The best way to tell the difference between the two species is by the shape of their mouths. Black rhinos have a pointed lip which they use to pick fruit and leaves from branches. White rhinos have a flat, wide lip in order to graze on grasses.
Thanks to drastic conservation efforts, both black and white rhino numbers have risen after nearly going extinct in the last century. But they are still threatened by poachers and require help from organizations like Save the Rhino and International Rhino Foundation in order to survive.
The largest of African bovids or wild cattle is the Cape buffalo, also called the African buffalo. They are not very tall but weigh a massive 935–1,910 pounds. They live in herds that usually consist of females and their offspring, plus one or more males. Males that are not part of the herd can form bachelor herds or live a solitary life.
Mating season of African buffalo takes place between March and May. Pregnancy lasts 11.5 months and ends with one calf. The animals survive in mostly grasslands and the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are the best places to see them during the months of February-March, as well as June–November in the southern parks.
The main predator of the African buffalo is the lion. Lions must work very hard when hunting solo or hunt in a group to bring down these large animals. A buffalo is big and strong enough to kill a lion with its deadly horns. Buffalo have even been known to seek out and kill lion cubs. They have excellent memories and will recognize a person (such as a hunter) or a lion that threatened or hurt the herd in the past and attack them on the next encounter. For these reasons, the buffalo is the most dangerous of the Big Five animals. This might explain why it’s the only one of the Big Five that are not threatened or endangered.
Big Five and Much More
Other animals you might see in Tanzania include cheetahs, giraffe, hyena, zebra, antelope, wildebeest, crocodile, hippopotamus, monkeys, apes and chimpanzees. The country is also home to various bird species like Hornbill, Trogon, Tinkerbird, Secretary Bird, Pink Flamingos, Weaver, Flycatcher, and many more.
To see these animals and the Big Five in Tanzania, check out the Private Tanzania Safari Adventure. Other countries where you might view the Big 5 are South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.