Elephant, black rhino, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard: difficult for hunters to capture and easy for safari tourists to admire Entry to the -˜Big Five' game club is not - despite the phrase - granted merely according to the size of an animal. The term -˜Big Five' was phrased during the pioneering years of the traditional safari when it was used by hunting parties to refer to those species which were considered the most dangerous to hunt. Today, it represents the priority viewing of most tourists, and the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is perhaps the best place to see the -˜Big Five' at the end of a camera lens. Safari Consultants can organise a Masai Mara safari for you - taking you to the place where the Big Five, plus animals like cheetah, zebra and giraffe, roam the beautiful grassland plains. Below are some profiles of the Big Five animals, detailing just why they are so resilient to being hunted - the last two animals on the list are considered to be the hardiest of the Big Five. African elephant The African elephant attained its Big Five status thanks to its willingness to charge to defend itself. It is also adept at hiding amongst vegetation - a surprising quality to have for the world's largest living terrestrial animal. In Masai Mara you will find the African Savannah Elephant, which is bigger and has larger tusks than the other sub-species of African elephant, the forest elephant. In adult life, elephant have no natural predator but the calves can be a target for lion and crocodile. Opportunist leopard and hyaena have also been known to attack infants. Elephant are very protective of their young - the elephant gestation period of 22 months is the longest in the mammal kingdom and perhaps contributes to the strong bond between mother and calf. Nature reserves have helped protect elephant - not against other animals but against the threat posed by ivory poachers. Scientists had estimated that if interventionist protective measures weren't taken then the wild elephant would have become extinct by the mid-1990s. The IUCN Red List still classifies African elephant as a vulnerable species. Black rhinoceros,/b> Black rhino has a canny sense of knowing where lurking danger might be but it's not their eyes which alert them to risk. The animal has very weak eyesight but this is more than compensated for by its excellent sense of smell and hearing. In the absence of any genuine natural predator, aside from poaching, one of the black rhino's biggest threats comes from itself. Its predisposition to charge at any perceived threat shows an aggression which scares off other animals but, according to a 2008 report by Berger and Cunningham, half of all adult males die as a result of combat-related incidents involving other rhino. This self-destructive behaviour is at odds with its natural survival instincts - it can survive up to five days without water during times of drought. Despite, or maybe because of its aggressive bent, Black rhino have an average life expectancy of 35 to 50 years. Leopard The saying states that a leopard can't change its spots but in fact this big cat is extremely adaptable to different environments and found throughout Africa including on the savannah grasslands of the Masai Mara. However, when I wrote -˜found' perhaps I should have written -˜located'; leopard are very difficult for humans to find because of their nocturnal and secretive habits. Unlike the Black Rhino their instinct is more flight than fight when confronted with danger - they can clamber up trees when quick shelter is needed. Their powerful jaws also mean that they can haul prey weighing as much as three times their bodyweight up trees with them. The leopard's stealth means they often get blamed when a farmer cannot identify who has killed their livestock. Retribution for livestock loss, together with habitat conversion, means that leopard is classified as a near-threatened species by the IUCN. Lion Male lions rarely live longer than a decade in the wild; injuries sustained from fighting other males severely reduces the average lifespan. Lions are not as well-suited to hunting as lionesses are - their manes can lead to over-heating during bouts of exertion. However, their intimidation factor is enough to deter most animals from encroaching on their territory. It is thought that, bar the Nile crocodile, there is no single animal of another species that can threaten the lion of Masai Mara in a one-to-one encounter. However, due to habitat loss and conflict with humans, the lion's status is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. Cape buffalo This buffalo is said to be the cause of more hunter deaths than any other animal in the world - no wonder that in Africa it has acquired the nickname of the -˜widow-maker'. Buffalo are a vital part of the food chain in Masai Mara - reducing grass level to the height that is ideal for other grazers. However, they are not so accommodating when attacked or when under threat of attack. As a herd, they are capable of repelling attack from, and killing, lion and can more than hold its own against cheetah, leopard and hyena. And for the -˜old boys' who have been ejected from the herd, the hunter had to be very aware of their grumpy disposition. Their physical resilience is honed through play as buffalo bulls often lock horns to -˜spar' - sessions which only very rarely develop into full-blown acts of aggression. Arguably the most-dangerous of the Big Five, the Cape buffalo is classified as -˜Least Concern' on most conservation guides. As three-quarters of its population inhabit protected areas such as Masai Mara, the future looks optimistic for the African -˜widow-maker'. Related Articles - travel, holidays, tourism, travel tips, destinations, news, current affairs, wildlife, Email this Article to a Friend! Receive Articles like this one direct to your email box!Subscribe for free today!
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