African Safari blog

Did you know about the Ugly 5?


One thing that African luxury safari holidays are notorious for is the chance to see the Big 5. And for good reason. Those 5 animals are amazing and a genuine treat to see in their natural habitat. Building your itineraries around a wildlife safari is an absolute must when you visit Africa. 

However, there is a list of animals that are a little less well-known: the Ugly 5. Even though their faces might repulse you, these 5 animals still have compelling stories to tell. Yes, you might also see them far more often than the Big 5 when you’re on African safari trips, but they are still an exciting sight.

Without further ado, let’s introduce you to the 5 faces that are the interesting kind of ugly:


Did you know about the Ugly 5? »

Their ugly appearance made for excellent villains in the Disney classic, The Lion King. These predators are the infamous rivals of lions, and best known for their scavenging habits. They may not be the prettiest animal, but they are always a great sighting on a holiday in Africa.

Although they are better known as scavengers, they are quite the successful hunters, statistically beating out lions. They actually hunt 75% of their food, but will never let the opportunity pass by to steal a kill from other predators such as leopards and cheetahs.

Hyena clans are dominated by females, who are larger and stronger than the males. Hierarchy is extremely important to hyenas. Subordinate members will sometimes even walk on their front knees in front of dominant members to show respect. Even the highest-ranking males are outranked by the low-ranking females in the clan.

While you are on your holiday safari, make sure to listen out for their “whoop-whoop” calls that you can especially hear at night.

Lappet-faced vulture

Did you know about the Ugly 5? »

These enormous birds are easy to distinguish from other vultures because of their facial appearance. Their purple and wrinkled facial skin sets them apart from any other birds that you will see at a kill site. With a big beak it is easy for them to tear meat from carcasses, and with their sheer size they will dominate feeding on carcasses after the lions have left.

Lappet-faced vultures only reach sexual maturity after 6 years. Females lay one to two eggs, and the eggs are incubated by both males and females.

Even though they are quite commonly found, you are most likely to see them at kill sites during your African tours.


Did you know about the Ugly 5? »

The second bird in the Ugly 5, and probably the most deserved inclusion of this list. Nicknamed the undertaker, its face looks like it has risen from the dead. Combine that with some pretty grim habits, and the marabou does some serious damage to the reputation of the stork family. They definitely are the ugly cousins.

But luxury African safaris are not about judging an animal’s appearance. It’s more about appreciating what the animals bring to the table. Marabous actually play a very important role in the ecosystem. These omnivorous birds will basically eat anything it encounters that is not too big to consume. They do not think too highly of themselves to scavenge, but will also catch fish, small birds, reptiles, insects, and even small mammals.

Despite the fact that they have grey legs, it will often appear as white. Marabous will defecate on their own legs. There is a simple explanation for this: As the faeces evaporates, it cools them off.


Did you know about the Ugly 5? »

Named for the warts found on their faces, warthogs are the cute kind of ugly. Finding a family of warthogs on their knees while their scouring for food during your wildlife safari, is very sweet to see.

Warthogs live in abandoned burrows in the ground. They will enter these burrows with their backside first. In case a predator enters the burrow, the warthog will be able to defend itself by charging the predator with its tusks.

Whenever a warthog runs away from danger, you will see their tails shoot right into the air. This will help other members of the family to easily follow, as they can see the hairy tip in the tall grass.

These animals should not be underestimated, though. They are brave members of the African bush and will prey on puff adders – quite a venomous snake. They also feed on roots, grass, fruits, insects, small mammals, and reptiles making them diverse omnivores.


Did you know about the Ugly 5? »

Usually spotted in large herds, the migration of these animals in their thousands have attracted tourists to Kenya and Tanzania for many years. Seeing these massive herds of wildebeest on an East African holiday is truly unforgettable. 

Wildebeest will often be seen with herds of zebra. Zebra prefer eating long grass, while wildebeest prefer eating short grass. By following the herd of zebra, the wildebeest can easily graze on the grass that they prefer.

There is another benefit to this alliance. Zebra have great eyesight, but bad hearing. With wildebeest it is exactly the opposite. When these two animals combine forces, it is easier for them to detect dangerous predators. Should they not be able to detect the predators beforehand, wildebeest might probably outrun them. They may seem slow, but they are among the fastest antelope, reaching speeds of up to 75 km/h.

Do you want to see the Ugly 5 in their natural surroundings? Then book your luxury African safari through Destinations Africa today. We look forward to hearing from you.   


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