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Mabalingwe takes pride in having the Big Five roam on the reserve, but who is the Big Five? The term “Big Five” was first used by big-game hunters as they are the most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa. The Big Five can be found in various countries across Africa including Angola, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and of course, South Africa.

The species that make up the Big Five are:

Perhaps the most famous member of the big five, the lion, is the largest of the big cat family in Africa. Lions are Vulnerable on the IUCN list due to habitat loss and poaching. Unlike most cats, lions form social groups called prides. Prides consist primarily of females, and depending on the size of the pride, there may be more than one male present. Groups of males are called coalitions. Lions tend to have specific roles within their own pride, with the males usually responsible for fighting off intruders.


It is one of the most successful grazer species due to the vast variety of habitats it can inhabit, from swamplands right through to dry savannah plains. Due to the size of an adult’s body and horns, buffalos have very few predators. It takes a considerable amount of effort for lions to take down a buffalo, although there are cases of lion prides that exclusively hunt buffalo. Buffalos tend to form large herds comprised primarily of cows, their calves, and a dominant bull, with sub-herds that form around them comprising of sick and invalid animals.

There are two subspecies of African elephant namely the African bush (savannah) elephant which is found on Mabalingwe and the African forest elephant. The bush elephant is vulnerable and the forest elephant critically endangered due to deforestation, poaching, and the ivory trade. The elephant is an herbivore, and their diet consists of vegetation including leaves, roots, fruit, and bark. They can consume up to 160kg of vegetation daily. Elephants are highly intelligent and have a well-structured social order. The herd, consisting of cows and calves (bulls and cows), are led by the oldest and largest female called the matriarch. When bulls reach adolescence, they will start breaking away from the herd until eventually a permanent break occurs.


Although the Southern-white rhinoceros is near threatened, the black rhinoceros is critically endangered. The black rhinoceros can be identified by the triangular/hooked shape of its upper lip, smaller size, and higher positioning of the head compared to the white rhinoceros, as it is a browser, while the white rhinoceros is a grazer. Generally solitary, one might often encounter a cow with her calf, small units of young adults that move together, or male and female pairings during mating. The horn of a rhinoceros is comprised of keratin, the same material that makes up human nails and hair.

The African leopard is often the most elusive member of the Big Five, as it is an incredibly stealthy animal. The leopard is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN list due to habitat loss and hunting by farmers who are worried about their livestock. Leopards are among the most widespread species of all big cats across the African continent and has the widest dietary range. They tend to be solitary animals, coming together only for mating. They are mostly active between sunset and sunrise, which is also when they hunt for food. A leopard can haul a carcass up to 2 – 3 times its own body weight up a tree to protect their food from other predators and scavengers.

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