You may have already heard of the Big Five African game: leopards, African elephants, Cape buffalos, rhinos and lions. With their massive size and strength, these animals are sure to capture the attention of anyone who encounters them.
But many smaller creatures are just as fascinating – you just have to know where to look. A fun, pun-filled list of must-see safari animals called “the Little Five” draws attention to sub-Saharan Africa’s more minute wildlife.
Read on to find out more about the astounding ant lion, beautiful buffalo weaver, extraordinary elephant shrew, lovely leopard tortoise and resplendent rhinoceros beetle.
What small creatures are on your safari “must-see” list?
Ant lion is the name given to the larvae from 2,000 species of related insects that look like dragonflys as adults. Ant lions hunt by digging holes in the sand and posing as ants that have become stuck in them. Insects hoping to eat the “ants” get eaten by the ant lion instead.
Sulaiman “Sula” Iga spent his early years growing up in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where both his parents worked for the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It came as no surprise when Sula decided to follow in his parents footsteps to become a wildlife expert, earning a diploma in tourism and safari tours before working for a research organization studying the flora and fauna of Queen Elizabeth National Park. He has been a guide for the past six years.
An avid birder, Sula is very passionate and knowledgeable about the many bird species found in Uganda. In his spare time, Sula loves to read and watch wildlife documentaries, comparing the wildlife of Uganda with other countries. He is married and has two children.
“Sula is an incredible man [with an] unfailing concern for our safety and comfort, and a great knowledge of his country’s geography, history, culture and of course wildlife. He found lions for us on both our game drives in Ishasha when no trackers had found any for several days!”
—Cheryl, January 2013
Born and raised in Uganda and later moving to Rwanda, Anderson has been a guide for four years. His all-around knowledge of flora, fauna, history and culture makes him a great guide for first-time and experienced safari-goers, including those with specialized interests such as bird watching, plant lore and gorilla tracking. Travelers in his groups describe him as knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.
“He was professional and intelligent. He understood that we liked to be kept busy and he got us involved in interesting & enjoyable activities. We were glad he was with us.”
– Bruce & Donna Aitken
“[He was] a good companion on our safari and he taught us a great deal about Rwanda – am glad my husband and I had him as our guide during this safari.”
– J. Hand
Visiting Uganda was an eye-opening experience for Cameron Hooyer, 18, a freshman at the University of Utah. An Ujuzi safari that he took with his family this June was his second voyage abroad and his first trip to Africa. Whether he was in a town or out in the bush, there was always something new and exciting to see. “I seriously spent half the time we were driving leaning out the van taking pictures,” he says.
Cameron had heard a lot about Uganda from his father and other family members who lived there in the 1980s. But seeing the wildlife and experiencing the culture firsthand was a much different experience.
The family started its trip with an overnight in Entebbe, then spent three days in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a vast reserve that has several different microclimates including desert, acacia-studded savannahs and forests. There, he took a morning chimpanzee trek in a tree-lined canyon, seeing primates in the wild for the first time. “They would move around and we would try to move around with them. It was really an experience to be standing with them all around, hollering to let each other know that we were there.” He also saw other primates on the trek, including colobus monkeys and baboons.
Another memorable adventure was taking a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. “We probably saw over 100 elephants right on the water. There was a little fishing village that we passed, and there were elephants right next to these fishing boats with little kids playing in them. That was amazing.”
From Queen Elizabeth National Park, the group went north to Murchison Falls, where they saw large game including giraffes, hippos and crocodiles. The park also proved to be a great place to see much of the country’s unique avian life. “My dad and I really like to bird, and throughout the trip that was a really great thing, because even if you’re not seeing animals, birds are everywhere, all the time. There are all these species, and the colors are just mindblowing.”
The family also stayed in the town of Arua, where they visited family friends and local schools and churches. A visit to a children’s Sunday school class of about 50 students made a big impression on Cameron.
“Before class started, everyone was talking, being very loud, and as soon as the teacher got up everyone was very quiet. She started teaching and everyone was interacting. I could immediately tell that all the kids really wanted to learn. Here in the United States it’s ‘Why do I have to go to school?’ and ‘I can’t believe the teacher talked for an hour.’ There, kids are just captivated and they want to learn. There were little 2-year-olds in there paying attention. That was a big culture shift for me.”
Cameron recommends that any traveler to Uganda be adventurous and try some of the local flavors, such as fresh pineapples; samosas, a savory pastry filled with chickpeas; groundnuts, a small peanut variety used in stews and for snacking; and ugali, a porridge made of millet or corn. Lodges also offer plenty of western foods; Cameron says he liked to fill up on waffles when he wanted a taste of home.“I did a food log where I took a photograph of every meal I ate. The stuff at the lodges was amazing – better than the food I’ve had in the States.”
Learning about Uganda made Cameron reflect on his own culture. “Obviously right off the bat it was very eye opening to realize how many physical possessions I have here in the U.S, and public utilities and services like decent buses, good roads, and drinking water,” he says. “But as I spent more time getting to know the people and their culture, I noticed that everyone there seems so much more happy than the people in the U.S., which seems backwards compared to the American way of thinking that possessions make you happier.”
Most of us go on safari in East Africa to see the big game. And that’s understandable – for on what other continent can one encounter such a variety of large mammals? It’s breathtaking to see a giraffe bend down to nibble on the top of an acacia tree.
But if you only pay attention to the big game, you’re missing half the fun! East Africa is also home to an incredible variety of birds. Songbirds dot the landscape like small, colorful jewels, and larger birds like ostriches, crested cranes and secretary birds are quite spectacular in their own right.
I recommend the book The Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe to anyone who’s going on safari. Another great resource is the Wild Birds of East Africa group on Flickr. It is free and has thousands of colorful photos, as well as an interactive map that allows you to view birds by location. If you’re a member of Flickr, you can join the group to share your own bird photos from safari.
Born in Eastern Uganda, Denis is of the Kumam Tribe and grew up in a rural village where his father is a local chief. After completing secondary school, Denis moved to Kampala and became a driver for an NGO delivering relief supplies to Southern Sudan.
After four years, Denis decided to revisit his childhood interest in wildlife and made a career change to the tourism industry. Through a combination of on-the-job and formal training with the Queen Elizabeth National Park Bird Observatory and BirdLife International, Denis has gained extensive knowledge as a general interest tour guide with a specialty in birding. He has worked as a driver and guide for the past 20 years and is a member of the Uganda Driver/Guide Association and the Uganda Bird Watching Society. In his spare time, Denis loves to read and watch wildlife documentaries. He lives in Kampala with his wife and four children.
“Denis is a wonderful person, very knowledgeable and accommodating. You have a real gem in him and I cannot speak highly enough about him as trip guide.”
— Bill, July 2011
“Denis is both a great guide and a great person. As much as the amenities and everything else were excellent, he was what made our trip truly unforgettable. I can’t say enough great things about how wonderful he was in every aspect.”
— David, July 2011