Safari Lingo: The Big Five

Posted by Emily on Thu May 23, 2024 in Safari Factfile and Wildlife.

Ever wondered about all that safari lingo? Don't get your trunk in a twist! From who are the Big Five (and why) to what they're called in the local language - here's our guide to naming the Big Five.

What are the Big Five? It’s a common question we get on safari. After all, they are often marketed as the ‘must-see’ animals on any trip to South Africa. The short answer is, the Big Five are composed of lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino.

Curiously, you might notice there are a few ‘big’ animals missing from this list. What about giraffes or hippos? They are certainly much larger than a leopard! The reasoning behind this comes from the origin of the phrase ‘Big Five’. Rather than being the five biggest animals in the African bush, the phrase was originally a hunting term and referred to the five most dangerous animals to encounter on foot.

Thankfully, the idea of hunting the Big Five nowadays is largely outdated. Instead, travellers and animal lovers the world over come to see and experience these animals in their natural habitat. The thrill of sitting next to a wild lion or enormous elephant in a safari vehicle as they go about their business is incomparable!

At Klaserie Drift, we are fortunate to be located in the Greater Kruger, where the Big Five roam freely amongst a myriad of other fascinating wildlife. When driving around on safari, you might hear our guides talking in the local language – usually Shangaans but sometimes a combination with zulu/slang – when referring to specific animals on the radio. There’s several reasons for this (which we won’t unpack here) but, for the dedicated safari lovers out there – here’s a helpful guide to our Big Five safari lingo:

·      Lion – Ngala
·      Leopard – Yingwe (usually pronounced ingwe)
·      Elephant – Ndlopfu
·      Buffalo – Nyarhi or Nyathi
·      Rhino (white) – Mkhumbi (usually spoken as mkhombe)
·      Male – madoda
·      Female – mfasi

So, next time you’re on safari, you can impress your guide with a little bit of insider knowledge!