Beyond the Big Five
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS AFRICA, t h e most e n d u r i n g l a n d mass o n E a r t h . Evolution’s clock started ticking here first and so the answers the continent has provided to the urgent questions of survival are diverse and distinctive. Ultimately, they include ourselves. It was here too that safari tourism was born, on the acacia-dotted savanna of East Africa. Curiosity about its distinctive species built an industry. It also sparked my longing to see the world: as an eight-year-old, borrowing library books from the adult section to learn about the plains and their animals. Today wildlife tourism is a crucial part of the economy for many eastern and southern African countries and the offering is diversifying. While more affordable national parks serve ever larger numbers, including more and more local tourists, conservancies – land leased from communities or private landowners for the purposes of conservation and tourism – are blossoming. They promise more exclusivity around sightings – a maximum of three jeeps is the norm – and more luxurious lodges. Jeeps are allowed to off-road for better access, unlike in most parks, and walking and riding safaris are easier with smaller numbers to look out for. Critics say some conservancies are a form of neo-colonialism, with private owners keeping the cream of wildlife tourism for themselves. The best of them, however, ensure local communities are involved through employment opportunities and the funding of schools, clinics and infrastructure. National parks and conservancies alike make a lot of fuss about the ‘Big Five’ – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino (white and black) and buffalo. This is a list compiled by game hunters of the hardest, most dangerous species to track on foot. The traditional game mammals are far from the only characters about.
• red- and yellow-billed hornbills – common but always entertaining • gerenuk – a giraffe-necked antelope • hyenas – hunchbacked opportunistic cats that act like dogs • painted wolves – the respectful rebadging for African wild dogs • secretary bird – clad in sober grey but with a flamboyant ruffle • warthogs – cute litters of piglets but beware of indignant mums
MY EYES HURT The endangered Grevy’s zebra is an interference pattern on legs.