Who says the ‘Big Five’ is the real deal? Check out the amazing ‘Little Five’

One of the first things coming to mind when heading out on a game drive is the iconic ‘Big Five’ – the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino.

This ‘nickname’ originated from big game hunters, as these particular mammals were famed for the challenge they posed to hunters back in the days of big game hunting.

However, there’s another equally fascinating, though less known, group to cross off your game drive check list – the “Little Five”  – elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, and leopard tortoise. Each of these creatures is a smaller namesake of their “Big Five” counterparts.

The “Small Five” represent an essential aspect of an ecosystem. A spotlight on these smaller species, conservationists hope to raise awareness about all facets of wildlife conservation, not just the more charismatic large animals. Looking at the Small Five in more detail offers a unique glimpse into the intricacies of the Animal Kingdom.

1. Elephant Shrew1

Despite its name, the elephant shrew isn’t really a shrew and has more in common genetically with elephants! These tiny mammals are known for their elongated noses, which resemble that of an elephant and are used to sniff out insects on the forest floor. They are surprisingly quick and can dart around the underbrush with agility, making them a delightful spectacle for those patient enough to spot them in the wild. Sokoke Arabuko Forest on the Kenya coast has the Golden Rumped Elephant Shrew – the size of a cat;  and the Four Toed Elephant Shrew, the size of  a hedgehog.

2. Ant Lion

The ant lion, a strange name for a mighty insect. These insects are best known for the deadly traps they set. The larvae dig conical pits in sandy soil, lying in wait at the bottom for unsuspecting ants to slip and fall in, where they become the ant lion’s meal. Witnessing this spectacle takes a keen eye and patience, but it’s fascinating to watch nature’s small-scale drama unfold. Seen mainly in drier sandy areas

3. Rhinoceros Beetle

Rhinoceros beetles are among the largest beetles in the world, and like their namesake, they are known for their impressive ‘horns’, which the males use to fight rivals or impress females. These beetles are immensely strong for their size, capable of lifting objects up to 850 times their weight, stunning beetles they are. Can be seen all over Kenya.

4. Buffalo Weaver

The only bird in the “Small Five”, the buffalo weaver shares a social nature with its large namesake. Buffalo weavers build complex, communal nests, which are often a mess of twigs and leaves and can be found hanging from acacia trees. These nests are fascinating structures and highlight the birds’ cooperative spirit and engineering skills. Mainly resident in Northern Kenya e.g. Samburu, Meru and Laikipia.

5. Leopard Tortoise

Last but not least is the leopard tortoise, named for its shell, which sports a pattern similar to that of a leopard’s coat. These tortoises are among the largest on the continent and can live for up to 100 years. They are solitary creatures, slowly traversing the savannah and browsing on a variety of vegetation. Watching a leopard tortoise go about its day can be a lesson in patience and longevity. Often seen in the Maasai Mara.

The “Small Five” offer a different kind of safari experience—one that requires more patience and attention to detail but is rewarding in its intimacy and the unique insight into the smaller workings of the natural world.
Whether you’re a seasoned safari-goer or a nature lover looking for a new adventure, take the time to appreciate the smaller wonders of the wild. Let us take you there.