On a continent blessed with an incredible wealth of biodiversity, it is often the large, charismatic wildlife species that get most of the attention. In Africa, this is the “Big Five” and people visit from all over the world to get a glimpse of these majestic beasts in their natural habitat.

However the African continent has so much more to offer when it comes to its animal attractions, and no shortage of ‘Top Five’ lists to group them in either. Aside from the Big Five, the next most popular list is made up by a handful of species unfortunate enough to be known as the “Ugly Five” – these are; the wildebeest, marabou stork, warthog, hyena and vulture.

The Little Five Animals

Ever heard of the Little Five? No, it’s not a boy band from the savannah, but a playful nod to their more famous counterparts, the Big Five. This ensemble includes the Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Antlion, Rhino Beetle, and Buffalo Weaver.

Each member brings its unique flair to the African wildlife scene, thriving in the shadows of their larger namesakes. They’re the proof that good things—nay, incredible things—come in small packages. Let’s get up close and personal with these mini marvels.


Now, let’s shift our focus to a creature straight out of a sci-fi movie: the Antlion. Forget about brute strength; the Antlion is all about cunning and strategy. During its larval stage, this insect is the master of the ambush, digging conical pits in the sandy soil to trap unsuspecting prey, primarily ants. Watching an Antlion work is like witnessing a live-action thriller in the insect world.

These pits are marvels of natural engineering, designed to ensure that once an ant or other small insect slips in, escape becomes a near-impossible feat.

The Antlion, hidden at the bottom, waits patiently for its meal to tumble down before seizing it with its formidable jaws. This lifecycle stage can last for months, even years, before the Antlion transforms into a somewhat nondescript flying insect, leaving behind its predatory lifestyle.

The Antlion isn’t just a cool feature of the African landscape; it plays a significant role in controlling pest populations. By feasting on ants and other insects, it helps maintain a balance within its habitat. It’s a reminder of the complexity and interconnectivity of ecosystems, where even the smallest creatures have a pivotal role.

The Little Five Animals Of Africa
The Antlion – The Little Five Animals of Africa

Watch the video below to see these hunters in action.

Elephant Shrew

Picture something that looks like it hit the evolutionary jackpot: part elephant, part mouse, and all speed. The Elephant Shrew is not your garden-variety shrew.

With a snout that would make Pinocchio jealous and legs built for the sprint, this little critter zips through the underbrush of Southern Africa like it’s on a racetrack. It’s a diet of insects and a lifestyle of dodging predators that keeps it on its tiny toes.

Elephant Shrews are loners, the introverts of the animal kingdom, preferring the solitary life with just their speed for company. They’re found from the dense forests to the arid deserts, proving versatility is just another one of their skills. But it’s not all high-speed chases; these creatures are vital to their ecosystems, controlling insect populations and aerating the soil with their foraging habits.

Surprisingly they are not actually shrews, but more closely related to a group of mammals that includes elephants, dugongs and aardvarks, according to recent evidence.

The Little Five Animals Of Africa
The Elephant Shrew – The Little Five Animals of Africa

Leopard Tortoise

If the Elephant Shrew is the sprinter, the Leopard Tortoise is the marathoner—steady, determined, and surprisingly adaptable. Don’t let its leisurely pace fool you; this tortoise is a survival expert, living upwards of 100 years in the right conditions.

Its shell, a mosaic of patterns reminiscent of its namesake, is not just for show; it’s a fortress against predators and the harsh African sun.

Roaming the savannahs and scrublands of Eastern and Southern Africa, the Leopard Tortoise is a vegetarian, munching on grasses, fruits, and the occasional flower.

This tortoise plays a crucial role in its habitat, spreading seeds and contributing to the health of the vegetation. Yet, it faces challenges from habitat loss to being coveted in the illegal pet trade. Conservation efforts are vital to ensure these slow and steady giants continue to grace the African landscape.

The Leopard Tortoise – The Little Five Animals of Africa

Rhinoceros beetle

If there were an award for the strongest creature in Africa relative to its size, the Rhino Beetle would lift it high above its head, no sweat. These beetles are the strongmen of the insect world, capable of lifting objects up to 850 times their own weight. Imagine bench pressing a fully loaded school bus, and you’re getting close to understanding the Rhino Beetle’s might.

Named for the distinctive horn on its head, which is used in battles over territory and mates rather than for burrowing or digging, the Rhino Beetle is a sight to behold.

Despite their fearsome appearance and Herculean strength, these beetles are harmless to humans, feeding primarily on decaying plant material and playing a vital role in nutrient recycling.

Found across Africa in a variety of habitats, from forest to farmland, Rhino Beetles are a testament to the diversity and adaptability of the continent’s insect life. Their incredible strength and unique lifestyle continue to intrigue scientists and nature enthusiasts alike. Conservation efforts are essential to protect these powerful beetles, ensuring they continue to thrive and contribute to the health of their ecosystems.

The Rhinoceros Beetle – The Little Five Animals of Africa

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

Let’s pivot our gaze upwards, where the Buffalo Weaver crafts its kingdom in the treetops. Far from your average nest, these birds construct complex, communal structures that could give any human architect a run for their money. Think of them as the condo developers of the avian world, with each nest housing multiple families under one roof. These nests are a bustling hub of activity, a testament to the weavers’ social nature.

The Buffalo Weaver is divided into two main types: the Red-billed and the White-billed, each with its unique nesting style and habitat preferences, but both share the propensity for building large, somewhat messy, communal nests. These structures are not just homes but fortresses, strategically designed with thorny branches to ward off predators. Within these thorny citadels, life thrives, underscoring the weavers’ role in maintaining avian communities.

Their diet is as varied as their real estate ventures, comprising seeds, insects, and occasionally small reptiles, contributing to the control of insect populations and the dispersal of seeds, thus aiding in vegetation growth. Observing these birds offers insights into the complexities of social behavior and ecosystem interdependence, illustrating the critical roles even the smallest species play in the grand tapestry of life.

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver colony – The Little Five Animals of Africa

Discovering Africa’s Little Five: Safari Guide

Now that we’re acquainted with the illustrious members of the Little Five, you might be itching to pack your bags and embark on a safari with a twist. Spotting the Little Five is a game of patience, keen observation, and a deep appreciation for nature’s nuances. Here’s how to turn your African adventure into a treasure hunt for the continent’s most elusive celebrities:

  • Best Places to Spot the Little Five: Your quest will take you across varied landscapes, from the Namib Desert’s sands where the Elephant Shrew scurries, to the Serengeti’s plains where Buffalo Weavers construct their aerial fortresses. Each member of the Little Five thrives in specific habitats, making certain areas hotspots for those in the know.
  • When to Go: Timing is everything. Early mornings or late afternoons are prime times for wildlife watching, as many animals are most active during the cooler parts of the day. Plus, the golden light provides the perfect backdrop for those Instagram-worthy shots.
  • Eco-friendly Safari Practices: Embrace the spirit of conservation by choosing operators committed to sustainable practices. Minimize your footprint by staying on designated paths, respecting wildlife distances, and supporting local conservation efforts.
  • Pack Your Patience (and Binoculars): Remember, you’re on their turf now, and sightings are never guaranteed. The Little Five are masters of camouflage and subtlety, so bring along binoculars, and perhaps most importantly, patience.

Embarking on a Little Five safari isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s a journey into the heart of Africa’s biodiversity, offering a profound connection with the natural world. It’s an adventure that challenges you to look beyond the obvious, to find the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary.

Conservation Efforts: Protecting Africa’s Lesser-Known Animals

The narrative of wildlife conservation often centers around the more charismatic megafauna — elephants, rhinos, lions. However, the survival of the Little Five is equally significant in the ecological tapestry of Africa. These creatures face threats from habitat destruction, climate change, and human encroachment, making conservation efforts vital for their continued existence.

  • Habitat Preservation: Protecting the natural habitats of the Little Five is crucial. Initiatives that focus on reforestation, anti-desertification, and the establishment of protected areas ensure these species have a home for generations to come.
  • Sustainable Tourism: Opting for eco-friendly safari experiences not only enhances your adventure but contributes to the conservation of wildlife. By choosing operators that invest in local communities and practice responsible wildlife viewing, tourists can have a positive impact.
  • Education and Awareness: Spreading the word about the Little Five and their importance to Africa’s ecosystems can inspire both locals and visitors to take action. Education programs that focus on the ecological roles of these animals encourage conservation from the ground up.
  • Supporting Research and Conservation Projects: Many organizations are dedicated to the study and protection of Africa’s wildlife, including its smaller inhabitants. Donating to these causes or participating in citizen science projects can make a big difference.


Embarking on a quest to discover Africa’s Little Five is more than a safari; it’s a journey into the heart of what makes the natural world so endlessly fascinating. These creatures remind us that beauty and intrigue don’t solely belong to the large and the loud. In the quiet corners and the overlooked nooks of the wilderness, the Little Five continue their daily dramas, integral to the biodiversity that makes Africa so captivating.

This adventure is a call to action — a reminder that every creature, no matter how small, plays a role in the health and vibrancy of our planet. As explorers, conservationists, or simply as individuals moved by the wonders of the natural world, we have a part to play in preserving these stories. So, let the Little Five inspire you to look closer, to tread lightly, and to cherish the wild spaces and their inhabitants.