African Safari blog

Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari


Something that can be said about the African bush is that it’s unpredictable. While you are on a wildlife safari, one day may be filled with impressive and unforgettable sightings, followed by a day where the sightings are far and few between.

Those are the days where I like to shift my focus from the big mammals and try to spot the smaller animals that often fall to the wayside while game viewing. Given these smaller creatures are not as striking as the predators we all long to see, but they are still fascinating and quite fun to spot. For instance, were you aware that you may come across the Small 5 when you are on an African safari tour? Perhaps you were unaware that Africa has a Small 5. Maybe you have been on safari before, but were oblivious to these small birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects and never even noticed them while on your trip. To keep you in the loop so you can spot them next time on your African holiday, let me introduce you to the Small 5.

Leopard tortoise

Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari »
Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari »

This beautiful species is often seen on the road while on a wildlife safari and is probably the easiest member of the Small 5 to spot. As is the case with many other species, like zebra and leopards, the markings on the shell of the leopard tortoise are unique to each individual.

A leopard tortoise will store water during the dryer months. This comes in handy during those months when water is scarce! The tortoise can also use the stored water to soften hardened ground when it wants to lay its eggs.

These reptiles are herbivores, but will also gnaw on bones! Bones are a source of calcium that helps them keep their shells strong. This is paramount as it is their only defence against predators. Even though they are slow movers, they can “sprint” when startled or threatened. 


These little bugs are easy to find on your African tour, if you know where to look. It might be far easier to spot this masterful predator’s pit rather than the animal itself. Antlions dig small funnel-shaped pits in the sand. They then bury the majority of their bodies under the sand. With only their jaws sticking out they lie… waiting.

Any small insects that enter this pit (usually ants – hence the name), are caught between the antlion’s jaws. Escaping is difficult. Even if the ant is able to free itself from the antlion’s jaws, it still has to escape the pit before it is out of danger. When an ant manages to escape the antlion’s jaws, the antlion will fling grains of sand at the ant so the ant slides down into the pit where the antlion will once again grab it with its jaws. Once caught, the antlion will thrash the ant against the sides of the pit before dragging it underneath the sand to drink the ant’s juices. After the ant has been sucked dry, the antlion will fling it out of the pit.

Elephant shrew

Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari »
Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari »

The cutest member of this list surely has an interesting appearance. Such a long snout and big ears for such a small animal. It is quite clear why it is named after its Big 5 counterpart. Even though they are active during the day, they are not easily spotted. Compared to the size of their body, their legs are quite long. This enables them to quickly move to safety on previously made paths. However, they will mostly rely on camouflage as protection.  

An elephant shrew’s diet consists of small insects such as ants and termites. They often fall prey to many predators. Snakes, mongooses, bigger lizards and birds of prey are just some of the animals an elephant shrew does not want to encounter.     

Buffalo weaver

Even our bird lovers are represented in this list. A common sighting when you are on an African safari. They are included in this list due to their name, even though they are not necessarily associated with any mammals. You can often see them following buffalo trails looking for insects. However, they are omnivorous and will also feed on fruits and seeds.

Buffalo weavers breed in colonies. They will build large, rather untidy nests on tall trees, power lines, or any suitable structure they can find. The red-billed buffalo weaver has black plumage with a red beak and is seen more often than its cousin, the white-headed buffalo weaver, which has brown and white feathers.

Rhino beetle

Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari »
Keep your eyes peeled for the Small 5 while on a wildlife safari »

Now this is one strong insect. Able to lift and move up to 850 times its own bodyweight, it is said to be the strongest animal in the world. They use their impressive strength to move large objects out of their way, or digging into plant material or soil when in danger.   

With a thick, dark exoskeleton and horns similar to that of a rhinoceros, it looks like quite the intimidating beetle. Yet, these magnificent creatures hold no threat to humans as they do not bite or sting. Adults feed on fruit, nectar, and sap, while larvae feed on rotting plant material. Unlike most of the other animals on this list, rhino beetles are found on every continent, except Antarctica.

Rhino beetles can produce a hissing sound by rubbing their wings on their abdomen. They do this when they are disturbed, or even to attract females. 

The Small 5 are only some of the interesting animals you can encounter during an African safari tour. Contact Destinations Africa when you are planning your next trip. Our knowledge and service in this industry are unparalleled. Our staff regularly visit Southern Africa and East Africa to ensure we refer clients only to the best lodges. Combine our expertise with your African holiday desires and ensure a safe and pleasant trip. 

Take a look at our virtual itineraries to get an idea of the tailor-made African safari package we can put together for you. Or contact one of our friendly staff members at or 61 2 4984 9747 and make your African dream a reality.  


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