The big 5 is a tool that safari operators continue to use. It does not make much sense as this term is a hunting term. The big 5 are the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.It is not impossible to encounter the big 5 on a single drive in the bush. I have done this on a few occasions. However, when you are in the bush it is worth taking your time.
Given the big 5 is to do with hunting on foot, I have been more interested in encounters on foot. Before my recent trip, I had encountered Rhino Buffalo and Lion on foot (I do not consider it as an encounter unless I am within about 10m of the animal).
My first few on foot encounters with elephants occurred this year. In the middle of our trip, I went on a walking safari. There are a variety of trails within the park – usually on the edge of the park. You visit these, with just a handful of people, and being far smaller the animals come very close. These also have far lower fences (waist height) which means animals are far more capable of coming in. We were informed that these were to keep us in, not the animals out, and as if to make the point, there was a pile of elephant droppings in the middle of the camp. The gate was also left wide open. On one afternoon, an elephant came to eat a bush close to the camp gate, and I spent a happy half an hour watching it eat, and enjoying its company. Despite there just being 10m between us, he was very relaxed and it was an enjoyable time
Although we saw elephants a few more times on this walking trip, it was from a distance every time.
My only other close elephant encounter was when I visited one of the hides in the kruger. These, like a few other places must be taken quite seriously. There is a sign saying it is safe to alight here, but next to it is a sign showing you the big 5 and warning you that you might encounter them. On this occasion, we had encountered a herd of elephants on the approach to the hide, and when we got out (carefully) they were walking into the nearby woods – they were unconcerned by us, but were very close.
The Kruger is good place for many of these animals.
Admittedly, a close walking encounter with with rhino has become very unlikely: this is because poaching has reduced their population over the last 15 years, by around 80% or more. Quite understandably, this means that finding white rhino is no longer easy, and those found are generally skittish and not safe to approach. However, when we did our training, rhino was a common sighting, and we encountered them on foot on more than one occasion.
Buffalo are often the easiest species to encounter on foot (at least in the south of the Kruger) and can also be the most exciting. One of our encounters, when walking in quite a big group, got too close and they called for a vehicle to come and pick us up – with just 3-4 people we could have found our way out but with 10 it was not possible.
Elephants are far taller than us, have better hearing, and are taller, These may be some of the reasons that on foot encounters are not that common, They are usually aware of us long before we notice them, and as such can move away if they wish. It is incredible how silently a large elephant herd can disappear into the bush when they wish to.