Aldershot Travel Burlington's Blog

5 Little-Known Facts about Africa's 'Big Five' Animals

'Safari'. It's a Swahili word simply meaning 'journey'. But for travel lovers, the word 'safari' ignites our imaginations of exploring vast Sub-Saharan landscapes and encountering majestic creatures in their natural environment .

Africa's 'Big Five' list dates from a time when human/animal encounters ended badly for the animal. The Big Five were the hardest to hunt on foot and therefore the most valued trophies.

Today, the Big Five remain essential African animal encounters on safari to capture through your camera lens. 

Here are some things you didn't know about Africa's Big Five:

Lions:

Possibly the most iconic of African large animals, this big cat is unmistakable. Lion sightings are even more impressive as lions are very social and live in groups called 'prides' so you may well see more than one at once. Although they are 'apex' predators – the top of the food chain! – they don't spend a lot of time hunting. Lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day! But when they are awake you'll know about it.  A lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles away! This helps communicate with the rest of the pride; calling for stray members back, declaring territory, and for females, communicating with cubs and calling for help when threatened.

Leopards: 

This famously spotted creature is the least seen of the Big Five as it's the most nocturnal. Unlike lions, leopards are not social and spend most of their lives alone. They are like the superhero of the big cats: they are sleekly graceful and almost perfectly camouflaged in the dappled shade of trees; they have excellent night vision and are incredibly powerful, able not only to regularly climb trees, but to drag prey 3 times their own weight 20 feet high into trees to protect their dinner… and they are even strong swimmers who sometimes fish! Even feline superheroes need a break, though. Leopards are known to take naps in the treetops.

 

African Elephants:

These vegetarians are the largest land animals… whose closest relatives are rodents! Elephants have shock-absorbing pads on their feet that allow them to walk much more quietly than you'd believe of such enormous creatures. They also have rather delicate skin than can sunburn and get irritated by even an insect! That's why you see elephants using their trunks to throw sand over themselves to protect against the sun and bugs. They are also avid swimmers and can swim long distances using their trunks as built-in snorkels. Those trunks also come in handy for drinking and grabbing food – even something as small as a single grain of rice. Elephants can communicate with each other across great distances by making sounds in frequencies lower than humans can hear. And these social creatures mourn dead members of their herd with rituals that can last days. 

Cape Buffalo:

Africa's Cape Buffalo has never been domesticated even though it's the only type of wild cattle in Africa. It's probably due to the danger factor. These unpredictable and aggressive animals are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other, and still kill over 200 people every year, earning them nicknames like 'Black Death' and 'Widow Maker'. Cape Buffalos use attack as their first line of defense, circling back at anything hunting them. That's a lot of rock-hard muscle and horn and surprisingly, brains coming at you. They have excellent memories, even ambushing creatures who have previously attacked them. Lions are their number one natural predator. But it will still take several lions to take down a Cape buffalo, risking the fury of the rest of the herd, which will ferociously defend and rescue fellow buffalo and kill lions who have attacked one of their own.

Rhinoceros:

The rhino is the most endangered species on the Big Five list. Poachers go to shocking lengths to kill protected rhinos, just for the horns that are said in Asian cultures to hold medicinal properties. Rhino horns are actually similar in composition to human fingernails or horses' hooves. Rhinos look fierce, almost armored, and like an immovable wall. In fact, they run much faster than you'd think – and they run on their toes! Rhinos have three hoofed toes on each foot, and they graze on leaves and twigs, just like their relatives: horses and zebras. Rhinos don't have any front teeth and use their lips to pick up their food. Much more dainty than they look.


Africa's Big Five are so much more than poster children for safari tours or wildlife conservation. They, and other unique African creatures like giraffes, cheetahs, gorillas and chimpanzees, zebras, hippopotami, birds and marine creatures, are complex, fascinating animals with beauty and characteristics incredibly evolved to this unique environment. 

Many reputable safaris and river or ocean cruise + land safaris in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia know the best places and times of the year for different wildlife experiences; some even guarantee you'll see the Big Five plus some of your other favorite African animals.

Encountering any of these creatures in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that transforms any traveler forever.

Start your Trip!


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You Can Do This At the Edge of the World's Largest Falls

This photo isn't playing tricks on your eye. People really do take a dip in the natural pool at the top of this world-famous, record-breaking falls.It's the largest falls in the world 1708 meters (5604 feet) across and 108 meters (354 feet) high. It's not the highest or the widest falls, but that combination results in a sheet of falling water unmatched in size by any other falls. It's still double the height of Niagara Falls.

Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Named Victoria Falls for the Queen by Scottish explorer David Livingstone when he first came across it in 1855, it's called Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders – in local Tonga dialect.

The First Gorge, Zambian Side. Photo Credit

Upstream from the falls, the Zambezi River flows across a wide, flat plateau with no hills or mountains to channel the flow of water. So the entire 5600-foot width of the river drops over the edge of a fracture in the landscape, falling into the gorge below, and flowing through the chasm in a zig-zag series of gorges that form the border between the two countries in southern Africa.

Photo Credit

Both issue visas to allow tourists to cross back and forth across the border to see the falls from both vantage points. A million international and local visitors a year come to see the falls and there are concerns about development and environmental management endangering the site.

The Second Gorge (with bridge) and Third Gorge. Photo Credit

And as for the top picture? Victoria Falls has a famous natural feature on the Zambian side, an 'armchair' called the 'Devil's Pool' near the edge. When the water is at a certain level, a rock barrier reduces the current in that spot to relative calm. Daredevil adventure-seekers risk death to swim only a few feet away from that 350-foot drop.

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MSC Cruises, UNICEF Partnership Feeds 67,000 Needy Children and Their Families

We're already pretty passionate about travel.  Then when the company we trust with our valuable vacation time and budget makes the effort to do good in our shared world, well, that makes us love travel even more.

European cruise line MSC Cruises has recently reached an incredible milestone for its partnership with UNICEF, raising €6.5 million (that's about $6.9 million USD) through guest donations onboard to support UNICEF.

Those funds have been put to good use.  More than 2 million sachets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) have been delivered to children in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Malawi. That translates into helping 67,000 malnourished children and their families since 2014.  In addition, MSC has recently delivered 22,000 essential supplies to relief efforts in Malawi.

Focus on Children and Families

MSC Cruises is a family-run company, so, according to executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, the UNICEF focus on the wellbeing of children and their families, and the ability to provide life-saving and life-changing food to children around the world where and when it's most needed, strikes a chord. 

If you've sailed on MSC Cruises, you may have seen their 'Get on Board for Children' fund-raising initiative. MSC Cruises and UNICEF have worked in partnership since 2009 and together established the global initiative to assist malnourished children in developing countries and those affected by crises.

Through encouraging MSC Cruises’ guests fleet wide to make contributions to UNICEF, more than 6,300 children have been treated in Somalia, over 9,400 in both South Sudan and Ethiopia and, most recently, over 41,500 in Malawi. With multiple challenges such as food shortages, flooding, stagnant economies and prolonged droughts, the need for food aid in these countries is enormous, especially for children.

Nutrition plus Supplies for Malawi's Crisis

In Malawi, 54,053 cases of severe acute malnutrition have been recorded this year. As the only corporate partner in the country, MSC Cruises has worked tirelessly to support the area, helping UNICEF to reach over 40% of Malawi’s severely malnourished children.

The generosity of MSC Cruises' guests has been magnified by an additional donation of more than 22,000 essential items delivered directly to Malawi, one of the poorest regions served by the relief effort. In recent years, the country has been devastated by drought, then flooding that has wiped out farms and homes. Over 6 million people, half of them children, are in grave danger of survival.

Executive chairman Vago visited Malawi earlier this year and says he returned even more committed to helping UNICEF's programs in the country.

An MSC cargo ship arrives in Malawi this month with essential goods including mattresses and bed sheets, bicycles, cooking pots, bowls and spoons, and farming tools as well as chalkboards, school pencils, drawing books, toys and puppets for the children.

Participate in the UNICEF Program on Board Ships

MSC Cruises’ guests onboard have the opportunity to learn about and participate in the MSC/ UNICEF program. There are “edutainment” activities for children and their parents. Each week, cruise ship programs include activities like a dedicated UNICEF Day with fun games and a children’s parade, where participating kids receive a leaflet to teach them about malnutrition around the world. They also receive a UNICEF World Citizen passport that is stamped after each educational activity is completed, making them an ambassador for the rights of children across the globe.

So thank you to all the guests and fans of MSC Cruises who have participated in the UNICEF programs, and to MSC for giving guests onboard such a meaningful way to spread their own commitment to families to other families in our shared world. 

Travel can do great things, and we love to share success stories like this.

  

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Top Vacation Destinations in Africa For many people around the world, a trip to Africa is the consummate dream vacation. But the sheer size and scope of the continent can make it challenging to decide where exactly to go when the time finally comes for planning a trip there. read more

 

To tour the entirety of Africa - the second biggest continent in the world - can quickly become an extensive adventure.

Nonetheless, as you can see in the above video, this certainly didn't derail five travelers from touring the continent. Starting in Johannesburg, the group took off on their 1200 and 800 BMW GS motorcycles, and experienced the natural wonders, beautiful civilizations and stunning landscapes that Africa has to offer.

Check out their journey in this short video by the Alpinestars USA, in which they described their Alpinestars Adventure in Africa as:


“ –mysterious and astoundingly vast with colorful surroundings that lead to the far reaching lands combined with roaming wildlife on all roads - there is always an abundance to see and keep you alert when on a journey throughout its lands.

The team rode the 800 and 1200 BMW GS machines straight into stormy weather as they rode to the summit of the wet Magoebaskloof Pass well into the cold night. The very next morning at the Zimbabwe border, bribes and lies briefly slowed the five down but soon after it was all smiles as the unpredictable roads of Zimbabwe and ever changing beautiful landscapes lead to many remote villages and happy faces.

Covering hundreds of miles each day the team rode from wide and well maintained roads to narrow broken up tracks and never ending potholes in Zimbabwe where unpredictable wildlife nonchalantly strolled across their paths, the five mad-keen motorcyclists stumbled upon a stunning beach setting and paradise in a remote part of Mozambique as they explored.

Ending this magnificent journey at the Kruger National Park where some of the world finest animals live, shows just one of many reasons why Africa will always be a traveler’s dream destination that leaves its participants with memories for a life time.”
 

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