THE small FIVE

The most sought after safari animals, aka, the Big Five include the elephant, the buffalo, the leopard, the lion and the rhino. Read my previous article. These are the pantheons, but little is known about their counterparts, the Little Five or the Small Five.

After the marketing success of the Big Five for tourist safaris in Southern Africa, This term was introduced and brought to life by conservationists who wanted to draw attention to the smaller creatures of the bush, many of whom are just as captivating. They include: The Elephant Shrew, the Buffalo Weaver Bird, the Rhinoceros Beetle, the Leopard Tortoise and the Antlion. Hilariously, the names of the Little Five correspond to those of the Big Five superstars; the elephant shrew becomes the elephant, the buffalo weaver bird becomes the buffalo, the rhinoceros beetle becomes the rhino and the leopard tortoise becomes the leopard. 

The Antlion

Found throughout the world, mainly in dry, sandy regions. It has a habit of preying on small crawling insects, e.g. ants, hence the name antlion.

The larvae of an antlion

The adult antlion superficially resembles the unrelated damselfly. But has a longer, clubbed antennae and nocturnal life style.

The adult of an antlion

The Buffalo weaver

Three species of the buffalo weaver exist. They include the white-headed buffalo weaver, the white-billed buffalo weaver and the red-billed buffalo weaver. All are found in East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania; In South Africa, one can only spot the red-billed buffalo weaver.  

The three species look different (the red and white-billed varieties have dark bodies, while the white-headed is white and brown). They reside in dry areas where they forage omnivorously on the ground in small noisy flocks, usually after buffalo herds.

The red-billed buffalo weaver
The white-headed buffalo weaver

Many of their nests may occupy the same tree and are usually made of a heap of thorny twigs. They contain compartments for two or more pairs.

The Elephant Shrew

Elephant Shrew

Elephant shrews are said to be closely related to a group of African mammals that include to elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks. The animals are also called sengis due to their long pointed head and very long, mobile, trunk-like nose (as above). They have long legs for their size, which move in a hopping fashion like rabbits. They have a hunchbacked posture and a long, scaly tail. A gland on the underside of the tail produces a strong scent used to mark territories. This musky smell serves as a deterrent against many carnivores.

The elephant shrew eats “leaf litter invertebrates” such as ants, termites, beetles, spiders, millipedes, and earthworms. They feed during daylight, unlike many other small mammals. They are critical in maintaining insect populations.

They form monogamous pairs that live in common territory of several acres, but they are seldom together. They do, however, keep track of each other’s locations through scent markings.

They are intolerant of close neighbors, and should one trespass into the territory it will be violently evicted, through aggressive encounters involving screaming, sparring, snapping, and kicking, all of which can happen so rapidly that it appears to be a blur of animals tumbling on the jungle base.

Elephant shrews give birth four or five times a year. The fully haired newborn remains hidden for the first three weeks and then follows the mother for about a week. After weaning and becoming independent, the offspring remain in the parent’s territory for another six weeks. By that time, it is almost adult size and leaves to establish its territory.

Rhinoceros Beetle

Also called the elephant beetle, Hercules beetle, or Atlas beetle, for the impressive hornlike edifices on the anterior of males.

The rhinoceros beetle

They are the smallest members of the Little Five club. These beetles have rounded, convex backs, and their coloration varies from black to spotted greenish gray. Some are shiny, almost metallic. Others may have with short, thin hairs, giving them a velveret look.

Species like the Hercules beetle can grow to more than 18 cm long, with the horn representing 10 cm (4 inches). The Hercules beetle and rhinoceros beetle are outstanding, resembling an enormous pair of pincers.

They reside in American tropical forests, and have double vertical horns. The horns of the males are used for fighting— over foods on tree logs or crops, as well as over the females. They may portray a brutal look, but are quite harmless and feed only on plant material.

The larvae spends three to four years between egg and adult, developing in large rotting logs. Like many species of rhinoceros beetles, they are threatened by the trade in exotic insects, and deforestation contributes to their increasing rarity. Rhinoceros beetles belong to many genera in the subfamily Dynastinae of the scarab beetle family, a very large family that also includes the dung beetles.

The Leopard Tortoise

Is a big beautiful tortoise and is the fourth largest out of the tortoise family. Their shell pattern is attractive and also provides perfect camouflage in its home range. They are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, in semi-arid areas of scrubland and savannah. They are named for their unique gold-and-black markings, which roughly resemble the rosette spots of a leopard. These animals are shy and they withdraw into the comfort of their shell when they sense any form of disturbance or danger.

Leopard Tortoise

This species is not particularly social. Males will determine dominance through fighting, however, such dominance does not decide much more than access to a certain female. A leopard tortoise’s day is mostly taken up with eating and resting. Their back legs are trunk-like and their front legs are paddle shaped and they have “pigeon-toes” with a row of little “nails”. These legs enable them to move very fast and maneuver easily over rocky terrain. Typically slow movers, they can sprint when startled or scared. They can also climb and can float and swim slowly due to the sizeable lung space in their large, domed shell that allows buoyancy. They have well-developed and good eyesight. A tortoise will hiss when it is scared, but the sound isn’t always from its mouth. When it quickly pulls it head and limbs into its shell, this forces all the air from their lungs, which may cause a hiss.

Strict herbivores (folivores),these animals will eat grass, but prefer to graze on succulents, flowers,fungi, berries, and a range of other fruit. They will sometimes eat ash or old bones, possibly to supplement their levels of calcium.

MATING BEHAVIOR – Monogamy. One partner per year during the mating season. Males and females both exhibit an aggressive behavior when looking for a mate, fighting by butting and ramming their rivals. The female digs a hole from 100 to 300 mm deep in the ground, where she will lay her frail, white, spherical eggs.


INCUBATION PERIOD – 9 to 12 months, varying according to the location, temperature and precipitation.

INDEPENDENT AGE – at birth but mature at 5 years of age.

LIFESPAN – Can live up to 100 years

FEMALE NAME – female

MALE NAME – male

BABY NAME – hatchling

BABY CARRYING – 5 to 7 clutches may be produced in one breeding season, around 3 to 4 weeks apart, with 5 to 30 eggs per clutch.


Leopard tortoises are often faced by many threats. Their eggs are stolen by several species of birds and small mammals, and they are eaten by indigenous people throughout their range, as staple food as well as in retaliatory attacks, as they are commonly regarded as pests. However, they are exceptionally resilient, with incredibly hard shells.

Ecological niche

Leopard tortoise is important seed predator and disperses seeds throughout its environment.

Ref: Animalia, 2018; Wikipedia (

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