“Not even Tanzania’s famed Serengeti Game Reserve or the awesome Ngorongoro Crater fills your camera viewfinder faster with Africa’s legendary Big Five – at MalaMala, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant appear magically, as if on cue,” says acclaimed wildlife photojournalist Geoff Dalglish in his Sunday Times review. “Nor could Hollywood script the wide-screen wildlife encounters any more dramatically or frequently than nature does routinely in the private game reserve that is arguably South Africa’s most famous internationally.”
Lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros are the most sought after and dangerous of the world’s big game. Folklore and legend are rich regarding the Big Five, encompassing beliefs such as: “The Great One put the animals here for us to use wisely and respect, even as we hunted them. But he knew that without fear we might lose our respect for these creatures, so he put the five here to help us remember. The lion and leopard taught us fear of the night, that only the daytime was ours. The buffalo, the elephant and the rhino taught us to fear their strength, that we might respect the strength of nature.”
The cheetah has a slender, long-legged body with blunt claws that are permanently extended and not protractile, as is the case with the rest of the cat family (cats are frequently but incorrectly described as having “retractable” claws – this would mean that the claws are normally extended and can be retracted at will.
Cape Hunting Dog
Cape hunting dogs hunt in packs. Their main prey varies among populations, but always focuses on medium-sized ungulates such as impala. Like most members of the dog family, they are cursorial hunters, meaning that they pursue their prey in a long, open chase, rather than relying on stealth as most members of the cat family do.
Buffalo are large, cattle-like animals. Once widely distributed in Southern Africa, their numbers have been greatly reduced by large-scale hunting and sickness such as rinderpest and foot-and-mouth disease.
The African elephant is the largest land mammal. An adult bull elephant can weigh between 5 000kg and 6 300kg (14 000lb), standing 3.2m to 4m (13ft) at the shoulder. A cow is slightly smaller, weighing 2 800kg to 3 500kg (7 700lb) and standing 2.5m to 3.4m at the shoulder. Bulls usually have larger tusks than cows and a more rounded forehead; the cow is more angled.
The leopard is by far the most successful large predator in Africa, and arguably the world. Solitary and secretive by nature, leopards are capable of surviving in and around areas of human habitation such as farmland and forestry areas.
Lions are the largest of the social carnivores and live in groups known as prides. A pride consists of between two and 30 related females and cubs residing in a territory. The males have territories of their own, and on average there will be three prides of females within their territory.