108. The Little Five

Some years ago, conservationists recognized what an important marketing draw the term “Big Five” had for safari agencies and camps. Wanting to bring attention to East Africa’s wonderfully diverse wildlife (little as well as big, feathery as well as furry, ignoble as well as dominate), they compiled a list of animals they called The Little Five.
They chose animals whose names aligned with the names of the already famous Big Five.


1. Antlion

Antilon or Ant lion, one of Africa's little five animals

Antlions live most of their lives underground (Good luck spotting one!) and are actually the larvae stage of a winged insect that, in adulthood, resembles a dragonfly. 

Source: antlionpit.com,
Photography by Mark Swanson

The antlion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy or loose soil. When potential prey approach, the antlion will pretend to fall down the funnel so as to lure the prey in, thinking it has found an easy meal.  Once its prey falls in, the ferocious little devil literally sucks its prey dry and discards the empty husk outside the hole.

Some species are considered endangered.


2. Buffalo Weaver

There are three species of buffalo weaver. All three are found in Kenya.

Source: Wikipedia, White-headed Buffalo Weaver


Like most weavers, the white-headed buffalo weaver is a social bird who forages on the ground for insects, fruits and seeds.  It’s noisy, with a wide range of cackles and squeaks.

The white-headed buffalo weaver is listed as threatened.

The white-billed buffalo weaver is a dark little bird with a light-colored beak. The red-billed buffalo weaver has, not surprisingly, a red beak. Buffalo weavers are known for their rather messy communal nests that appear to be nothing more than a mishmash of grasses and twigs.

The buffalo weaver is the easiest among The Little Five to find and observe.


3. Elephant Shrew

This tiny insect eating mammal gets its name from its elongated snout. It sniffs out ants, termites, crickets, beetles and caterpillars, and uses its tongue to catch its dinner. With its long legs, it hops in search of small bites to eat. 

The elephant shrew is food for snakes and birds of prey, so this little rodent has learned to be extremely cautious. It’s very shy and very speedy! It’s been seen running up to 17 miles/hr.

They are listed as vulnerable.


4. Leopard Tortoise

Leopard tortoise, one of Africa's little five animals

The leopard tortoise has beautiful leopard-like markings on their shells with perfect symmetrical black and yellow patterns.  As they mature, their tortoise shell color changes from dark brown to yellow. 

The largest ones can grow up to 18 inches in length and weigh up to 40 lbs. They can easily live for 80 – 100 years.
In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes.
Leopard tortoises graze extensively on mixed grasses, succulents and thistles.

Although most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive breeding programs, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease that could impact the livestock industry.


5. Rhinoceros Beetle

Entomologists estimate there are over 300 species of beetles worldwide that are considered rhinoceros beetles.

Rhino beetles are one of eastern Africa’s largest beetles.  The male beetle sports a large horn atop its head. This horn is used to dig and burrow for food. and to fight during mating season. They don’t kill their rivals, but lift them up with their horn and toss them off the branch instead.
Pound for pound they are said to be the strongest creatures on earth, with the ability to lift 850 times their own weight.  

Female rhinoceros beetles don’t have the prominent horns that the males do.

These insects are nocturnal, which makes them difficult to spot.
As fierce as they look, they are safe to pick up and examine, as they do not bite or sting.