What are the LITTLE 5 animals in Africa? 

Thanda Team

The African Little Five are the five smallest animals that you can spot on safari in South Africa and are a treat to see while looking for the Big Five (African lion, African elephant, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo). The Little Five are the antlion, rhino beetle, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise and buffalo-weaver.

  1. The smallest is the antlion, which is the larva of this insect species. It lives underground and is a ferocious killer, waiting for its prey (ants and other insects) to fall into the funnel-like trap it makes in the sand.
  2. An incredibly strong member of the Little Five is the rhino beetle, also known as hercules beetle. The adults can lift objects 30 to 100 times their own weight, which would be the equivalent to a human carrying a rhino.
  3. Distantly related to the elephant is the small elephant shrew with its trunk-like nose.
  4. The leopard tortoise is the fourth-largest species of tortoise in the world and can live to 80 years and more. They are herbivorous but sometimes gnaw on bones or even hyena faeces to obtain calcium.
  5. The buffalo weaver, or more precisely, the red-billed buffalo weaver, is the largest weaver in South Africa at about 23cm. They live in large untidy colonies made from twigs and built in trees.


They are called the African Little Five Africa because each one of the Big Five (African lion, African elephant, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo) is mentioned in their name. Like the Big Five they can be spotted on safari in South Africa.

The leopard tortoise is so-named because it has leopard-like spots on its shell. The rhino beetle male has a big horn-like projection on its head like a rhino horn. The elephant shrew gets its name from its long pointed head and long, mobile, trunk-like nose. The antlion is a ferocious killer like the lion. The antlion is the larva stage of this insect and lives underground where it creates funnel-shaped traps in the sand to ensnare ants and other insects which are then snapped up by the antlion’s sickle-like jaws. The red-billed buffalo weaver derives its name from following Cape buffalo herds, and feeding on the insects the buffalo disturb as they move.


On safari, the Big Five are the main attraction but the Small Five safari animals (antlion, rhino beetle, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise and buffalo-weaver) that get their names from the Big Five are well worth seeking out as they are interesting to see and learn about.

On Thanda Safari, a celebrated Big Five private game reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, learning about the Small Five is part of the game drive experience. The field guides point out the red-billed buffalo weaver’s twig-made colony in a tree or the male rhino beetle whose horn looks like a miniature version of the Big Five rhino, or the antlion’s clever funnel-shaped trap in the sand. If you wiggle a piece of grass in it, the antlion thinks it’s a tasty ant and will grab it.

Learning about the African Little Five also helps you to understand the language of the bush. If you see a leopard tortoise walking to higher ground and you hear the rainbird or Burchell’s coucal calling, then you know there’s going to be a downpour.

Just for fun, Thanda Safari also has what they affectionately call the Ugly Five safari animals: the hyaena, warthog, wildebeest, vulture and marabou stork. They’re actually beautiful in their own way, and a lot of guests protest at the name as they really like them.