Monday, October 21, 2013

The Big Five

On African safari holidays, your tour operator will tell you about, and sometimes promise sights of, the "Big Five" -  lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard and buffalo.

"Big Five" is a game hunting term, first used in Africa to describe the most prized animals for big game hunters.  These animals were chosen as the "big five" because of the element of danger and difficulty involved in hunting them on foot.

Today, four of these animals are now endangered - most critically, the black rhino - and only buffaloes now exist in sufficient numbers to be hunted.  Poaching remains a significant problem for many African animals throughout the native countries of the Big Five (including Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania).

Thankfully, most people wanting to see the Big Five shoot only with their cameras - and here are some fabulous photos of these amazing animals taken in Kruger National Park this July.  Copyright in these photographs is owned by Iain Seow (2013), reproduced here with permission of the copyright owner.

This enormous bull elephant was not happy having his photo taken.

Because we're all about books here at Reading for Australia, I've also listed some recommended books on these (mostly) magnificent animals - I'm still undecided about the majesty of buffaloes. They just look bad-tempered to me.

Thanks to Gill Murdoch and Marj Brown of Rodean School, Johannesburg for providing the book recommendations for readers wishing to read more about African animals, including the Big Five.

There are many African folk tales about each and every African animal, including those pictured here.  Here are some recommended collections of folk tales about African animals:

Madiba Magic (2002) Nelson Mandela’s favourite stories for children
Stories of Africa (2003) by Gcina Mhlope 
The Mantis and the Moon (1979) by Marguerite Poland
The Zebra's Stripes and other African Animals Tales (2004) by Dianne Stewart

Of all the endangered animals in Africa, the rhinoceros is most at risk of extinction and some subspecies such as the northern white rhino are thought to be already extinct in the wild.  There are only three remaining northern while rhinos in captivity.

The demand for rhinoceros horn in Asia, where some believe that it has properties which can cure cancer, has resulted in wide spread poaching throughout southern Africa.  The horn consists of keratin (a protein which is the main component of skin, hair and nails).  Keratin has no medicinal properties.

The Last Rhinos (2012) by Lawrence Anthony tells the true story of the author's involvement in trying to rescue the remaining northern white rhinos in the Democratic Republic of Congo and inadvertently becoming involved in a civil war.

Killing for Profit  (2012) is a serious book about rhino poaching by Julian Rademeyer.  See also the Killing for Profit website for more information about the illegal trade of rhino horns which threatens the extinction of these seemingly prehistoric animals.

Some more African animal stories:

African Animal Tales (2004) by Jay Heale.  A collection of true stories of animals around South Africa compiled by Jay Heale.
The White Giraffe Series (2006) by Lauren St John.  Adventure stories that take place in the African bush and deal with conservation.

Lawrence Anthony was a best selling author and conservationist who died in 2012, shortly after his book, The Last Rhinos was published.   Anthony also wrote the most amazing book called The Elephant Whisperer (2009) about his intervention to save a South African herd of elephants, considered to be dangerous, from being shot.

Jock of the Bushveld (2011) as written by Lesley Beake

This is "the book of the film" - not the original story by James Percy FitzPatrick, written about his true adventures with his dog, Jock, which was published in 1907.  Lesley Beake's story is told from Jock's point of view, with other talking animals in the action. No hunting for the pot and no death of Jock: instead an animal race, various human baddies and a brave doggie! Actually, quite fun.

Little Lion (2011) by Lesley Beake, illustrated by Erika Pal.

One day, Dad came home with a lion. "Brought you a dog," Dad said. After that start, the imagination of author and illustrator take over to create a delightful (and hilarious) picture book. Based on an old San story but set in modern Africa, two boys face the problems of having a lion as a pet that thinks it is a dog.

Bush Zone series (2010) by Kate Ter-Morshuizen.  Twelve African folk tales in small stapled booklets each containing a cheerily illustrated animal legend, plus some factual information.

1. How Zebra got its stripes
2. Why the Lion is honoured and respected
3. How Tortoise repaid Leopard for his kindness
4. Why leopards have special spots
5. How Buffalo taught the Leopards a lesson
6. Why Crocodile slithers on his stomach
7. Why Rhinoceros is called 'The mighty one'
8. How Leguaan was tricked by Hare
9. Why Warthog eats on its knees
10. How Elephant learned a lesson
11. Why Giraffe is 'The wise one of the plains'
12. Why Hippopotamus is grumpy

More Photos!

Way back in July, I promised to post photos of our African adventure and then discovered that Iain also had some amazing photos of his family's South African safari.  Thank you for sharing your photos with us, Iain.

Here are some more photos of the Big Five to be followed, in subsequent posts, by photos of other iconic African animals (zebras and giraffe, hippos and wild dogs, herds of wildebeest leaping majestically across the plain!) together with book suggestions for interested readers.

At this stage, it is looking like these posts will not be published until after our online literary festival starting on 1 November, when our guest authors will be writing on a range of interesting subjects.   I've already received some of the articles and they are great - lots to look forward to here at Reading for Australia very very soon!

We are also now preparing for the 2014 Kids' Lit Quiz competition in many countries, including Australia.  Have a look at the tabs under the header for information about the 2014 Kids' Lit Quiz Australia competition.  Schools around Ipswich, Orange, Canberra and Sydney should consider entering a team or two - it's great fun!



  1. Most kids are familiar with Simba, Mufasa and, my favourite, Scar - three of the lion characters from the animated film, The Lion King.

    But before these lions there were three other real life lion celebrities - Elsa, Christian and Boy. They were all lions raised in captivity who were returned to the wild.

    Joy Adamson was an author and conservationist who wrote a number of books about her life in Kenya, the most famous of which is "Born Free" (1960) about Elsa the lioness. The film from the book, made in 1966, featuring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers is suitable for children and is worth seeing. Boy was George Adamson's favourite lion.

    Joy and George Adamson also feature in the story of Christian the lion, bought from the London shop Harrods in the 1960s by two young Australian men, then living in London. Once Christian outgrew his surrounds he was taken to the Adamson's property in Kenya to be taught how to live in the wild. There is amazing footage of Christian's reunion with his human "parents" a year or so later. Have a look at the Christian site and the You Tube clip, if you haven't already seen this. It is incredibly moving.

  2. Another book recommended by Gill and Marj is Beverley Naidoo's "Aesop's Fables" (2011), which uses an African setting and, of course, African animals to retell these traditional stories.

    Have a look at the review of "Aesop's Fables" on Bookchat (see "Other Great Sites" on the left sidebar). Bookchat is a site dedicated to South African children's books - you'll find a lot of other reviews and publishing information about books listed here on Bookchat.