The Big Five: Tanzania’s Most Popular Residents

August 27, 2014 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

Tanzania is considered to have the greatest collection of wildlife in the entire world. In fact, Tanzania contains about 20% of all the species of Africa’s large mammal population. Safaris in Tanzania are unforgettable experiences, but the biggest wildlife prize is the Big Five: the lion, rhino, elephant, leopard, and buffalo.

Tanzania contains each of the Big 5 species—and over 310 mammal species as a whole. Up to 80,000 African bush elephants reside here (some estimates are as high as 130,000). Tanzania is truly one of the world’s last great populations of elephants. The greatest and most famous predator of all is the lion. Over 16,000 lions can be found in Tanzania—that’s close to 40% of all lions in Africa! With high populations of rhinos, leopards and buffaloes, safaris in Tanzania are must-do item on any travelers list.

Origin of the Name

The origins of the term trace back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Initially a hunting term used in the hunting heyday of that timer period, professional hunters obtained as many trophies (the animals) as fast as they could. The term was used to rank the level of difficulty to hunt for each animal.

Historically, hunting the Big 5 was considered a rite of passage for seasoned travelers. American presidents and European royalty visited Africa to hunt the large animals. Today, it’s still a rite of passage for wildlife lovers and safari adventurers, but most of the “shooting” is done with a camera.

Guide to the Big Five


Characteristics: The “King of the Beasts” is powerful, beautiful, and charismatic. The lion is tawny in color, with gold and black manes on the male lions.

When: July-October during wildebeest hunts; January-March when wildebeest calve.

Where: Found in the deep shade and trees of the savannahs and plains of the Serengeti National Park, Mara River, and the Ngorongoro. Famous tree-climbing lions can be found at Lake Manyara.


Characteristics: The African Elephant is the world’s largest land animal (11 ft. tall weighing over six tons). Females live in loose herds; males tend to roam between groups.

When: Given their high level of activity, elephants can be seen throughout the day and night.

Where: Often at dams and rivers of famous reserves. Selous Game Reserve is home to 50% of Tanzania elephant population. Can also be found in Mikumi and Tarangire National Parks.

Buffalo (Cape or African Buffalo)

Characteristics: The buffalo is Africa’s only species of wild cattle. Height is up to 5 ft. at the shoulder with short, stocky legs. Herd-oriented. Females are smaller, with a reddish-brown color.

When: June-October. Large herds can be found around waterholes in the early morning or late afternoons.

Where: Katavi National Park (especially for lion-buffalo interaction); Serengeti NP; Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Rhino (Hook-lipped or black rhino)

Characteristics: Solitary, but may gather in temporary groups. Distinguished horn feature. Poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and smell. Black rhino more elusive than white rhino.

When: All times; can be found near roads or dams, or solitary under trees.

Where: Mainly in the Ngorongoro Crater. Rare in other parks like Serengeti and Selous.


Characteristics: Extremely elusive. Larger than other spotted cats with dark rosettes on its back and flanks with solid spots in the face. Colors range from off-white to russet.

When: Typically at night while hunting. During the day look for overhanging branches of larger, older trees. Best months are December-February; May-July.

Where: Lerai Forest of Ngorongoro Crater; Forests of Lake Manyara NP; Arusha NP

Zara Adventures

With safaris in Tanzania through Zara Tours, it’s possible to see all Big Five animals within the space of one hour. Plus, the landscapes are stunning and will enchant you with open savannahs, forested areas, volcanoes and craters, and beautiful lakes. You will be amazed with the options for safaris in Tanzania. Contact Zara Tours today to learn more!

Experience the magic of Tanzania with Zara Tours.


Entry filed under: African Safari, African Safari Tours, African Safari Trips, Tanzania Safaris. Tags: , , , .

Tanzania Beyond Kilimanjaro: Visit the Unique Ngorongoro Crater AMERICAN SENATORS VISIT SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK – TANZANIA

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