The Big 5 Experience
The Elephant Coast is Big 5 country, with the Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve home to the entire Big 5 - Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo and Leopard.
Lion (Panthera Leo)
Lions are the largest of the African cats with males weighing in excess of 200kg. Males and females are distinctly different with male Lions being somewhat larger and carrying a shaggy mane of long hair extending from the face on to the neck and shoulders.
Lions once occurred widely in parts of Europe, Asia and the Middle East but now have a patchy distribution in Africa and are only found south of the Sahara.
The Lion is the most sociable member of the cat family, living in prides of 3 - 30 individuals. Most activity takes place at night and during the cooler daylight hours. The females are responsible for most of the hunting but, despite the males playing very little part, will feed only after the males.
Unless provoked, Lions rarely attack humans and are predominantly hunters of medium to large sized mammals.
Of the KwaZulu-Natal game reserves, only Hluhluwe-Imfolosi has Lions, though there are small populations on certain private properties. There are approximately 80 Lions in the Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve, originating from 6 that were introduced in the 1960s.
Leopard (Panthera Pardus)
An elegant cat with a beautiful spotted coat, the Leopard is categorised as "specially protected game" in KwaZulu-Natal and listed as "rare" in the South African Red Data Book.
Standing just under a metre, Leopards are large cats with males weighing up to 90kg. Body colour varies from almost white to orange with solid black spots on the legs, head and sides and rosette spots on the body. The Leopard can be clearly differentiated from the Cheetah as it is considerably larger, more heavily built, more heavily spotted and lacks the black face lines of the Cheetah.
The Leopard occurs widely throughout Southern Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Leopards are normally solitary except when a pair come together to mate, or a female is accompanied by cubs. Leopards are mainly active at night and, though mainly terrestrial, are good swimmers and climbers.
Trapped, wounded or threatened, the Leopard can be very dangerous but typically is very shy and withdraws from disturbances.
There are approximately 50 Leopards in the
Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve
and between 20 - 30 in
Mkhuze Game Reserve.
They also occur in the
Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
amongst other protected areas.
Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)
Elephants, apart from their vast size (they are the largest land mammal in the world), are characterised by their long trunks, ears and tusks. Standing up to 4 metres high, Elephants can weigh in excess of 6 tons.
The Elephant is registered as protected game in KwaZulu-Natal but is listed as "out of danger" in the South African Red Data Book.
Though still occurring widely in Africa, south of the Sahara, populations are becoming increasingly isolated and numbers reduced by poaching.
Elephants typically occur in small family groups consisting of a lead female (the matriarch), other females and their offspring. A number of family groups may come together to form large herds.
Although active by night and day, the Elephant usually rests in shade during the heat of the day. Normally a peaceful animal, it can be dangerous when wounded, sick or defending its young.
Only four populations of Elephant occur in protected areas in KwaZulu-Natal, including in Mkhuze Game Reserve and around 300 in the Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve.
Buffalo (Syncerus Caffer)
Buffalo are massive, heavily built animals. The horns are heavy and massive and the central horn base, or "boss", is well-developed in males. At around 1,4 metres high, Buffalo weigh between 500 and 700kg.
Though scheduled as "protected game" in KwaZulu-Natal, Buffalo are not listed in the South African Red Data Book.
Once widely distributed in Southern Africa, the Buffalo is now restricted to the northern and eastern parts of the region.
The Buffalo is a gregarious animal and large mixed herds occur, though bachelor males sometimes form small separate herds and old males are often solitary.
Buffalo drink in the morning and late afternoon and seek out shade during the heat of the day - most feeding takes place at night.
Buffalo occur in 5 populations in KwaZulu-Natal, with around 7 000 in the Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve and 200 on the Eastern Shores of Lake St Lucia.
There are two African Rhinoceros species: the Square-lipped or White Rhino and the Hook-lipped or Black Rhino.
The White Rhino is much larger than the Black Rhino, with males weighing around 2 tons and standing 1,8 metres high.
The White Rhino is categorised as "protected game" in KwaZulu-Natal and listed as "lower risk, conservation dependant" in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals.
Restricted at the beginning of the 20th century to the Imfolosi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, the White Rhino was strictly protected and spread into the Hluhluwe Game Reserve (Hluhluwe and Imfolosi are now one reserve). It has since been widely reintroduced to other reserves in the region.
The White Rhino is a grazer (as opposed to the Black Rhino which is a browser) and has a preference for short-grassed areas.
Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve now has a population of around 1 600 and there are approximately 100 in the Mkhuze Game Reserve.
The Black Rhino stands around 1,6 metres high and weighs around a ton. Categorised as "specially protected game" in KwaZulu-Natal, the Black Rhino is also listed as "critically endangered" in the 1996 IUCN Red List.
The Black Rhino is a browser, preferring areas with shrubs, trees and thickets. Typically solitary animals, Black Rhinos come together at water, while males and females only come together for mating.
The Hluhluwe-Imfolosi Game Reserve has a population of around 370 while Mkhuze has about 80. There is also a small population on the Eastern Shores of St Lucia.