Meet South Africa’s Small Five

Most animal lovers or nature lovers have at some point or another heard of the term “The Big Five”. If this is the first time you hear about the BIG FIVE animals, then this is a great time to read all about these magnificent animals we call the Big 5.

Besides the Big Five animals in Africa, we also have what is called the Small Five animals. Yes! Even though everyone has their checklist of the Big Five handy when visiting Africa and Kruger National Park, it is important to know that Africa and Kruger National Park have a lot more to offer than just the Big Five animals. This is where the Small Five animals make their debut.

Introducing the Small Five

1. Elephant shrew

2. Leopard tortoise

3. Ant lion

4. Rhino beetle

5. Buffalo weaver

These interesting animals we call the small five can be quite hard to find, especially during a driving safari (full-day guided safari with an open safari vehicle). The reason why the small five is so hard to find is that they are either very small; for example, the Ant lion, rhino beetle, and the Elephant shrew, or they are just shy and hard to find like the buffalo weaver and the leopard tortoise. Nevertheless, they all play an equally important role in nature and the ecosystem, and finding them is something to be proud of.

How to find the Small Five animals

Like we previously mentioned, the small five can be hard to find, especially whilst driving. Your best bet to find the small five animals will be during a walking trail/walking safari. To increase your chances to help find the small five, perhaps hire a professional field guide to help point out the signs you need to look out for when searching for the small five. On foot, you will be more in touch with nature and your senses will be wide awake. Who knows, you may be lucky and you will perhaps find all of the small five…

Why the Small Five is called the Small Five

The little five is perhaps less known to their Big Five counterparts; namely lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant.

This term – little or small five – was introduced by conservationists who wanted to draw attention to the smaller creatures of the African bush, many of whom are equally fascinating and perhaps more difficult to spot than Africa’s larger animals.

Each animal in the small five, share its name with its larger namesake, for example as per below:

1. Elephant shrew – Elephant

2. Leopard tortoise – Leopard

3. Antlion – Lion

4. Rhino beetle – Rhino

5. Buffalo weaver – Buffalo

Shining the spotlight on the Small Five animals

About the Elephant shrew

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Macroscelidea
Family: Macroscelididae
Genus: Elephantulus
Scientific Name: Elephantulus
Type: Mammal

Diet: Omnivore
Size (L): 10 cm – 30 cm (4 inches – 12 inches)
Weight: 50 g – 500 g (2 oz – 18 oz)
Top Speed: 13 km/h (8 mph)
Lifespan: 2 – 5 years
Lifestyle: Solitary
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Colour of the animal’s coat or markings: Black, Brown, Grey, White, Tan

Skin Type: Fur
Favorite Food: Insects
Habitat: Forest, woodland, and grassland
Average Litter Size: 2
Main Prey: Insects, Worms, Spiders
Predators: Snakes, Lizards, Birds of Prey
Distinctive Features: Longnose and long back legs

The Elephant shrew has a mouse-like appearance and gets its name from its elongated nose that resembles the trunk of an elephant. This little creature is an omnivore and is undoubtedly one of the cutest members in the little five. They feed on fruit, seeds, insects, and nuts.

Its favorable habitat is near rocky outcrops, savannah grasslands, and arid lowlands and can be found throughout South Africa.

Due to the small size of the elephant shrew, it has a number of natural predators in the wild. Snakes, lizards, birds of prey, and omnivorous mammals, all prey on the elephant shrew, but the elephant shrew is not the easiest meal to catch.

Female elephant shrews give birth to more than 1 litter of babies annually. Baby elephant shrews are born after a gestation period of between 1-2 months. Baby elephant shrews are well-developed when they are first born but remain in the nest for a few days before they begin to head into the big wide world.

IF you manage to see an elephant shrew before an actual elephant, you can count your safari a real success!

All about the Leopard tortoise

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Geochelone
Scientific Name: Geochelone Pardalis
Type: Reptile

Diet: Herbivore
Size (L): 40 cm – 70 cm (16 inches – 28 inches)
Weight: 18 kg – 54 kg (40 lbs. – 120 lbs.)
Top Speed: 0.5 km/h (0.3 mph)
Lifespan: 50 – 100 years
Lifestyle: Solitary
Conservation Status: Threatened
Colour: Black, Brown, Tan, Yellow, Grey

Skin Type: Scales
Favorite Food: Grasses
Habitat: Grassland and Savannah
Average Clutch Size: 12
Main Prey: Grasses, Weeds, Flowers
Predators: Cats, Dogs, Humans
Distinctive Features: Large body size and protective, patterned shell

The Leopard tortoise gets its name from the unique gold-and-black markings that resemble the rosette spots of a leopard. The average lifespan of a Leopard tortoise is about 100 years. The leopard tortoise is also the world’s fourth-largest species, growing up to 70 cm long, and weighing in at over 50 kg.

It is easy to spot them when they cross the road, slowly but surely. Leopard tortoises are gentle, their main diet consists of plant material (herbivorous). Occasionally they’ll nibble on bones to get calcium.

Never pick up a tortoise as it will release its stored water from its bursa. The tortoise will store water in the bursa during the dry winter months and this will be used for hydration as well as to moisten hard ground, making it easier to dig a hole for a nest where the tortoise will lay eggs.

All about the Antlion

Scientific name: Myrmeleontidae
Family: Myrmeleontidae; Latreille, 1802
Kingdom: Animalia
Order: Net-winged insects

Phylum: Arthropoda
Name: Family of Myrmeleontidae
Native: Worldwide Distribution
Measures: 1.5 cm fully grown Larvae, Adults 4 cm with a wingspan of 8 cm

If you think about the lion, you think powerful and fierce. Well, this little antlion might be the smallest of the small five, but it lives up to its big namesake, the African Lion. During their larvae stage, the ant lion builds characteristic little conical traps into which ants fall. After they have built their traps, they lie at the bottom of the crater, waiting to ambush their victims. The Ant lion’s jaws are hollow, enabling them to literally suck their prey dry. Once they’re done, they toss aside the carcass and wait for their next victim.
There are more than 2,000 individual species within the antlion family, found all over the world. Adult antlions, which have undergone metamorphosis, are often mistaken for dragonflies, with their translucent wings and narrow bodies and fly at night.

All about the Rhino beetle

Name: Belongs to the subfamily (Dynastinae) and is part of the family of scarab beetles (Scarabaeidae)
Native: Not completely known
Measures: 6 cm

Weight: 30-40 grams
Predators: Snakes and Birds
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Scarabaeidae
Subfamily: Dynastinae MacLeay, 1819

Strongest animal on the Planet proportionally and can carry 850 times its own weight. While an Elephant can only carry 25% of its own weight.

This individual of the Small Five gets its name from their body armor, especially due to the fact that the hooked horn resembles the horn of a rhino.

60 of the 300 species of rhinoceros beetles are found in Southern Africa, all of which belong to the scarab beetle family. The largest Southern African rhinoceros beetle measured about 5 cm / 2 inches in length. Some species grow even larger at about 15 cm / 6 inches.

About the Buffalo weaver

Name: Species of bird in the Ploceidae family
Origin: Native to Africa
Natural Habitat: Dry Savannah
Diet: Primarily insects, seeds and fruit

Egg Laying: Sept to March, laying 2-4 eggs each and incubation lasts 14 days
Leaving the nest: Between 20-23 days
Measures: 24 cm
Weight: 65-80 grams – largest of all weavers

You can find three species of buffalo weaver; the white-headed buffalo weaver, the white-billed buffalo weaver and the red-billed buffalo weaver. They forage omnivorously on the ground, often following the trail of buffalo herds, hence the name buffalo weaver.

Weavers are known to build massive communal roosts that they weave in tall trees in dry savannah and acacia woodland areas. Their nests can be easily recognized by the rather bedraggled state and the weavers can be quite a noisy bunch.

They usually weave their nests from coarse grasses that later resemble an untidy twig structure.