Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Little Five

As Michael wrote in an addendum to his last week's post, we were asked to rewrite our DEAD OF NIGHT manuscript in the third person. As you can imagine, that has consumed our time. So, I am forced to write a little blog this week.

Visitors to Southern Africa often have the goal of seeing the Big Five – Lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. From what I understand, this collection represents what early African hunters regarded as the most dangerous or difficult to bag.

Leopard with kill - unusual to see like this in the day - Ingwelala

Elephants love water - Okavango Delta, Botswana

Black rhino with pointed lips for browsing. White rhino has square cups for grazing.

Visually, the elephant, rhino, and buffalo are big also, so easy to spot. Lions are more difficult because, being inherently lazy and generally being nocturnal hunters, they usually are sleeping during the day often in long grass. Leopards are the most difficult of the Big Five to spot because they are largely nocturnal, extremely furtive, and usually solitary. Among my overseas visitors, another big mammal is often the most popular, namely the giraffe – an astonishing creature in every way. Then, of course, is one dear to my heart – Kubu, the hippopotamus.

Typically lazy lions - Ingwelala

Drinking is awkward - Ingwelala

For those of us lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the bush, other mammals are targets of our searches – small or smaller mammals, such as:

the genet, a small, gorgeous cat-like animal. You want to take one home.

the honey badger or ratel, a highly intelligent, fearless, and ferocious animal. This video is a must-watch to see how smart they are.

the klipspringer, a small antelope that we think has to have velcro on its feet - it is so agile on rocky terrain.

the dwarf mongoose is a highly social animal - often comes up to us in the bush when we're eating, looking for handouts. Will come up and lick our toes!

the caracal is a small and beautiful cat - the ears are diagnostic.

the bush baby or nagapie is rarely seen because it is nocturnal. It is very small (150 - 200 grams (5 - 7 ounces), has relatively huge eyes, and can jump about two meters from branch to branch.

the did-dik is a very small antelope that stands about 30 - 40 cms (12 - 15 inches) at the shoulder.

and plenty of others.

This search for smaller mammals has inevitably led to people compiling the list of the Little Five. Everyone I know has a different list, often including one or more of the ones listed above. However, the cleverest list is the one that includes the names of the Big Five within the names of the Little Five. Here are those Little Five:

The antlion builds a sand trap to catch its prey.

Antlion trap - insects slip down and can't climb out. Antlion live in the hole at the bottom.

The leopard tortoise

The elephant shrew - I don't remember ever seeing one.

The rhino beetle - weird!

The buffalo weaver - the easiest of the Little Five to spot.

So, when you next visit Africa, certainly seek out the Big Five, but add the Little Five to your list. You will find it much more difficult to check off.


  1. Oh, Stan, On Tuesday, I turned in my MS to my agent, and yesterday I bought a ticket to spend two weeks in Florence in June. I was feeling pretty good about all that. Now, this post has made me so homesick for Africa, can't curb that longing. Nothing compares to it!

  2. EVERYONE! Do not miss the film of the honey badger. they should have named him Houdini.

  3. Loved the honeybadger clip. Reminded me of the video I watched quite a few years ago of the team that build "a better mouse trap" in a back yard... to keep a squirrel out of the bird food. Every time the squirrel got to the food, they'd move the food and add another stage to the defense. In the end, the squirrel was running through this incredible Rube Goldberg series of devices intended to keep it out of the bird food. I *think* this video is a clip from it, but if not, it gives you the general idea:

  4. Can you apply to be a honey badger? I think I aspire to this.

  5. Caro, you can apply, but they'd check that you have a white hairy back.