Stand back Big 5: Bring on the Small 5, the Shy 5 and the Ugly 5

While every person coming to Africa on safari has seeing the Big 5 – African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Black Rhino, and Leopard – in their sights, Africa has much more than just those majestic five animals to see.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that some clever people have put together various alternative lists of 5’s! These include the ‘Small 5’, whose names mimic the Big 5 of Africa, but size is total contrast; the ‘Shy 5’, who are hard to spot due to their introverted nature; and the ‘Ugly 5’ who can be loved only by their mothers.

We’re fans of all the creatures of Africa, and here we list (and show) you these fantastic little, ugly and shy animals, who call Africa ‘home’. They’re well worth adding to your ‘Things to Spot’ list when on safari.

The Ugly Five of Africa

So, they’re not the supermodels of the African wild, but these wildlife species make up for it by being interesting.

  • Warthog
  • Wildebeest
  • Vulture
  • Marabou stork
  • Hyena



With their sloped backs and distinctive laugh-like voices, hyenas tend to look slightly unkempt. Incorrectly thought to be pure scavengers, hyenas are actually also very good, nocturnal, hunters.

As brave as they are ugly, it’s not unheard of for a hyena to take big risks while trying to steal meat from the big predators like lions, often with fatal consequences.

Marabou stork

These dudes are huge, with wingspans reaching 2.6 m. They have faces that, well, are not-so-pretty, and it’s not surprising that they’re part of the Ugly 5 list. You see, they’re bald, with an enormous conical bill and red-spotted head.

Interestingly, marabou storks have hollow leg and toe bones: a clever way of making sure that, despite their size, they are light enough to fly.


Vultures really do get a bad rap, probably mainly because of their rather bloodthirsty scavenging habits. See a flock of vultures circling high up above the African bush and you can be sure there’s a kill below.

Despite there being numerous vulture species, these birds are at a real risk of becoming extinct due to humans invading their habitat with poisons in their hands. Birdlife have done wonderful campaigns to save these special creatures:


The most distinctive feature of wildebeest is their massive curled horns that start between their ears, grow backwards and then turn outward and forward, giving them a kind of halo. It’d work if they were angelic looking but, well, they’re not.


By no means are we denying that they’re majestic animals though, and if you’re lucky enough to see a migrating herd – which can run into the thousands – it’s a pretty spectacular sight.


Warthog, with bags under their eyes, double sets of tusks and coarse-haired bodies are found throughout Southern Africa and are often rootling around close to camps.

They’re delightful to watch as they trot about, tails straight up in the air, or kneeling on their front legs snuffling about for food. Don’t be fooled by their cutesiness, though, they can be vicious if challenged 

The Shy Five Animals

You’re a very lucky human if you get to see any of these African animals as they are notoriously bashful and will do their best not to meet you!

  • Porcupine
  • Bat-eared fox
  • Aardvark
  • Meerkat
  • Aardwolf


While this one is often questioned as a ‘shy’ creature, as there are troops of habituated meerkats who are curious and wonderful to watch, they have extraordinarily well-honed senses and, in their natural environment, will disappear way before a human can get anywhere near.


Slender-tailed and often striped, they are known for their standing pose – often whole troops together – to suss out their surroundings (and you, if you’re lucky enough to be in their presence).

Bat-eared fox

These sweet li’l creatures with their huge upright ears and narrow snouts ensure their privacy by being mainly nocturnal. They are masters of disguise and, if they feel in danger, they lie down in tall grass or thick bush and become perfectly camouflaged due to their colouring.


Porcupines are cute but prickly. And we mean that literally. A porcupine’s entire back is covered with sharp, black and white, quills that can reach up to 50 cm in length. If challenged, the porcupine will turn its back to the danger and raise its quills. Even if you’re a leopard:


These must be one of the cutest members of the Shy 5 animals, with their long noses and sweet upright ears. There’s something kangaroo-like about aardvarks. They have a long, tapered tail and arched back, and are covered in coarse grey-brown hair that protects them from being bitten by insects.


Aardwolves, too, are mostly nocturnal, and small, usually measuring only about 45 cm in height. They are, in fact, a species of hyena but, unlike their rather-less-handsome cousins, their diet consists of termites. They can eat up to 300 000 termites in a night!

The Small Five of Africa

While these five animals are not necessarily shy, they’re often as hard to see, just because they’re mostly small. Each one has one of the esteemed Big 5 animals in its name.

  • Elephant shrew
  • Leopard tortoise
  • Ant lion
  • Rhino beetle
  • Buffalo weaver

Elephant shrew

Arguably the cutest of the little five, the elephant shrew looks like a small mouse but with a very long nose/trunk. Measuring just over 25 cm, including its tail, which is longer than its head and body, you’re very lucky indeed to see one of these in the wild.

They’re quick as lightning and agile, living in areas with rocky outcrops that provide crevices in which they can find shelter.

Leopard tortoise

The leopard tortoise’s name conjures up images of feline stalking. Despite this, there’s nothing of the sort done by these slow-moving reptiles. The leopard part of their name comes from the characteristic black-spots-on-yellow-background of their shells.

They’re gentle creatures and snack on plants. Occasionally they’ll nibble a bone to get some ever-essential calcium.

Ant lion

Like the leopard tortoise, with a name like ‘ant lion’ you’d kind of expect these insects to be large and fierce. They’re not large at all, but in their larval form can certainly be fierce. But only if you’re an ant: the larvae build characteristic little conical traps into which ants fall.

Adult ant lions, who have undergone metamorphosis, are often mistaken for dragonflies, with their translucent wings and narrow bodies. They mostly fly at night.


Rhino beetle

Rhino beetles are tough little guys and strong contenders for joining the ugly 5 list, too! They’re fierce-looking but are totally harmless to humans being neither biters nor stingers. In fact, they’re not even terribly efficient flyers, due to their size.

The only time that rhino beetles tend to fight is over the attention of female rhino beetles. Sounds familiar.

Buffalo weaver

There are two main kinds of buffalo weavers: red-billed and white-billed, distinguished from each other by, surprise(!), the colour of their bills. They are sociable creatures and colony-type nests are built which house numerous birds in separate ‘compartments’. Buffalo weavers dine on insects like grasshoppers and ants, so can often be found hunting their prey on the ground.

Translate »
Scroll to Top