Meet the Little 5 of Wildlife in Southern African

Every traveller visiting Southern Africa has heard of the majestic Big 5, which include the African lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino. These big and beautiful animals may be very intimidating and impressive, but Southern Africa has so much more to offer, when it comes to wildlife. Wildlife enthusiasts have come up with another list of spectacular species and named it the “little 5”.

Meet Southern Africa’s Little 5

The Little 5 is a group of small mammals and insects that are related to the Big 5 by their names and physical characteristics.

1. The Elephant Shrew

Recent studies have indicated that elephant shrews are more closely related to African mammals than to shrews. They are in the family of elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks. The name “elephant shrew” is derived from their long, pointed heads and trunk-like noses.

The Elephant Shrew

Elephant shrews are oddly built, you may even describe their body structure as hunch-backed. They have tall legs, and hop around like rabbits, but they are small enough to fit in your hand. . On their tails are glands that produce scents used to mark territories.

Elephant shrews are rarely found in pairs, except for mating season, where the female will carry her young for a period of 45-60 days. Elephant shrews are mainly found in dense forests, open plains, or bush, and are insectivorous. These tiny mammals can live in the wild for 2-4 years, but they are very vulnerable to prey, especially snakes and birds.

Did you know?

  • Elephant shrews are monogamous but are seldom seen together in pairs, although they may occupy the same territory. However, they do check in on each other from time to time.
  • They despise strangers and always react violently whenever their territory is crossed.
  • Female shrews give birth four to five times a year. The female will hide her young for three to four weeks, and they will remain in her territory for another six weeks before leaving.

2. The Leopard Tortoise

The Leopard tortoise is native to Southern Africa, although it can be found in other African countries like Ethiopia and Somalia. The leopard tortoise is one of the largest tortoises. Adult leopard tortoises can reach 40 cm in height and weigh around 13 kg. Both the southern and northern African leopard tortoises are comparable in size. These species can weigh as much as 20 kg.

The Leopard Tortoise

The leopard tortoise gets its name from the dark patterns and spots on its shell, which resemble a leopard’s coat. These species can be found in semi-arid, thorny, or grassland, brushland, and savannas. From time to time, you may even find them in abandoned aardvark holes.

Like other species of tortoise, the leopard tortoise is herbivorous and feeds on grass, shrubs, and leaves. They do occasionally chew on bones or hyena feces, which provides calcium to their bodies, but they are still herbivores.The leopard tortoise will only dig holes to lay eggs. One hole can accommodate 5–30 eggs. Females usually lay eggs between May and October every year.

Did You Know?

  • Leopard tortoises live very long lives, some for up to 50 years.
  • They only reach puberty at the ages of 12–15 years old.
  • When mating season comes, the males often fight for the right to mate with the female. Female leopard tortoises are followed by male leopard tortoises for a long distance.
  • Leopard tortoises store water in their large anal sacs. These take up most of the space in their abdominal cavities.

3. The Buffalo Weaver

There are two variations of buffalo weavers, the white-headed buffalo weaver and the common black buffalo weaver. Both species grow to nine inches long. The birds get their name from stalking buffalo. They are often seen riding on the backs of buffalo and eating the insects on their coats and around their hooves. Buffalo weavers can be found in arid areas where there is an abundance of small grass seeds, insects, and fruits.


Buffalo weavers build large, communal nests of thorns and sticks, with several entrances and exits. Although these nests can accommodate a flock of birds, they’re not very durable and do not last very long. Buffalo weavers are rowdy birds, and their calls are easily identifiable.

Did You Know?

  • Buffalo weavers only have one mate at a time. They are social birds who prefer to operate in pairs.
  • Buffalo weavers only breed when there is rainfall. The local weather will determine when the breeding season will take place.
  • They are very messy birds. This is obvious when you look at the untidy structure of their nests.
  • They are very confrontational and aggressive when provoked or when there is an invasion of their territory.

4. The Ant Lion

The ant lion is the smallest of the little 5. It is often called the doodlebug, for the patterns it makes in the sand when wandering around. The ant lion thrives in sandy and arid areas in Southern Africa. This insect has a very weird shape; it has a wide body and large jaws.

ant lion

The ant lion derived its name from the predatory nature of its larva. It digs into the sand and creates a funnel sand trap, particularly on south facing slopes, where the sun is most prevalent. It then waits for its prey to land on its larva trap.

Its main source of food is ants, and other small insects.

Did You Know?

  • The ant lion is a type of insect of the Neuroptera order and belongs to the Myrmeleontidae superfamily.
  • There are more than 2000 species of ant lion that belong to the Myrmeleontidae. Their exact population is still unknown as they are quite understudied in terms of population.
  • Ant lion are harmless to humans, and flowers.

5. The Rhino Beetle

The rhino beetle is a small ferocious insect, and bears some resemblence to its bigger counterpart, the rhino. Many rhino beetles are either black, grey or greenish in color. Some are also covered with soft hairs. They are very strong insects, often referred to as Hercules beetles.

rhino beetle

All rhino beetles are herbivores. The adults eat nectar, fruit, and sap. The larvae consume decaying plant matter. About 50 eggs are laid by females, which then hatch into larvae. They eventually attain adult size and form after several molts. While longevity varies between species, the average lifespan is about one to two years. This time can be spent in the larval stage.

Did You Know?

  • Rhino beetles may make hissing squeaks when disturbed. These noises are not actually vocal; they are produced by the beetle rubbing its abdomen and wing cover together.
  • Rhino beetles are able to lift 850 times their own weight.
  • The male beetle’s horns are used during mating ritual combat to drive other males away.

Whethere you want to see the Big 5 or little 5, Southern Africa is the perfect place for you to experience your very first African safari. Whether you want to see the majestic Victoria falls or the wild Okavango Delta, we will make sure all your expectations is incorportaed into your trip.