From Born Free to the Lion King, TV documentaries to natural history museums, the wildlife of East Africa holds a certain iconic status in our modern world. Prides of regal lions, herds of majestic elephants, sightings of the more elusive leopard and rhino, herds of African buffalo – the ‘Big 5’ are some of the most impressive animals on planet earth.
Of the places to see these incredible creatures, the East African plains of Kenya and Tanzania have for decades held huge appeal. Their vast wild expanses, relatively accessible nature and stunning array of wildlife and scenery have made places like the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater the places to go for unforgettable wildlife and travel experiences.
Stretching across northern Tanzania and straying across the border into Kenya, the Serengeti (or Maasai Mara as it is known in Kenya) is one of the most well known of the region’s conservation areas. Home to the largest land-based mammal migration on the planet, each January and February hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra and African buffalo head north across the Serengeti in an 800km quest for more food, water and a place to give birth to their calves. It is an event that has to be seen to be believed.
For others, it is the lions that hold the appeal. Prides of these cats roam across the plains and national parks. The apex predator (save for ourselves), these fascinating beasts operate mainly at night and relative cool of the early morning, doing their hunting in the dark and leaving the daytime for relaxing in the limited amount of shade that can be found.
Rhinos and leopards are the hardest to spot – and are often the ones people looking for the ‘big five’ miss – these illusive creatures are by far the rarest. Both the endangered Black rhino and the leopard lead very private lives, with the leopards preferring to hunt in darkness and rhinos now so few that the distances between them can often be huge.
Most conspicuous of all of these though is the elephant. Their tight family bond keeps the group together as they walk slowly over the landscape – a majestic sight, especially with the young of the group trailing behind their mother.
What started originally as a term for colonial hunters in Victorian times, Safaris and the ‘big five’ now resides on many a traveller’s ‘must see’ list. Five of Africa’s – if not the world’s – most fascinating animals, residing in some of the continent’s most dramatic landscapes, playing out a dramatic daily battle for survival – it is no wonder so many of us are well and truly captivated by them.