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Hunting for the Big Five-with a camera

Updated on June 13, 2014
Rhino in Kruger
Rhino in Kruger | Source
Notice the Oxpecker on the Cape Buffalo in Kruger
Notice the Oxpecker on the Cape Buffalo in Kruger | Source
Leopard - the most elusive of the big five- this one in Kgalagadi
Leopard - the most elusive of the big five- this one in Kgalagadi | Source
Young Lion in Kruger
Young Lion in Kruger | Source
Elephant, always exciting to see.
Elephant, always exciting to see. | Source
Young Elephant protected by herd-Addo
Young Elephant protected by herd-Addo | Source
Dung-Beetle-one of the small five.
Dung-Beetle-one of the small five. | Source

African Camera Safari

Hunting for the Big Five in South Africa-with a camera.

It is possible to find the big five in many of the game reserves, both private and public, in South Africa. As a visitor to the Kruger National Park, the largest and most famous Game reserve in the country you are likely to find at least three of the five in a day. Elephants are pretty much guaranteed if you follow any of the roads along the many river courses that flow through the park. Depending on where you are in the park that stretches almost 300 km from north to south you are likely to find at least two of the other three (Rhino, Buffalo and Lion).

The most difficult in Kruger is a Leopard because it is nocturnal and spends much of the daylight hours in a tree or rocky ledge, depending on the climatic conditions of the day or season. On occasions we have been lucky enough to see all five in a day but that is the exception. A visit for a week is almost certain to produce the Big Five. A night drive that is offered from most of the camps at a reasonable price will obviously increases your chances.

Addo Elephant Park, Pilansberg and Hluhluwe Game Reserve are examples of other game reserves that offer the Big Five, and much the same conditions apply as do in Kruger. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park does not have Elephants but is probably the best place to see the big cats as they often move along the river beds looking for prey. We have had our best sighting of Leopard and Cheetah there.

Many of the private luxury reserves will guarantee the big five as they only cover a small area and the game ranger/guide knows where the animals are. This however comes at a price as they are very expensive by South African standards. At the same time they offer first class accommodation, excellent food and personal attention. If you have the money and your time is limited then that may be the way to go.

If however you are on a limited budget and have more time then the places like Kruger, Kgalagadi, Hluhluwe and Addo are great options. Here you can drive your own vehicle and enjoy the excitement of looking for and finding the animals yourself. A wide variety of accommodation options are available in all the National Parks from camp sites to luxury chalets. The restaurants offer good meals and the shops a variety of food if you prefer to self cater.

There are 19 National Parks spread across the country, each offering different options, and because we have seen and photographed the big five we sometimes now prefer to visit the smaller parks and enjoy their unique characteristics.

Recently on a one night visit to Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth we were fortunate enough to see three of the big five in our limited time. Elephants are a certainty and Buffalo and Rhino usual but like Kruger the nocturnal Leopard is rare. On this occasion we were fortunate enough to enjoy one of our best views of Lion. At the same time the smaller animals and even insects can also be a joy to behold. We spent some time watching a pair of Dung-Beetles working Elephant droppings in the road.

For most people however the excitement of seeing the Big Five on a visit remains an experience to savor and relish. If you have not done so put it on your bucket list.


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    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Make your plans-it is a grear country to visit.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Johan. This has been on my bucket list for a while now. Oh how I would love to come to South Africa to see the animals. Hopefully some day soon. Great job.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Wait for me. I just got a 400-500mm lens for this camera. I still need an 800.

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Serengeti is way north but I would also love to visit there one day.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Johan, I am saving my far are you from the Serengeti?


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