~ Nadia van Zyl
South Africa is known for its beautiful wildlife and more specifically the magnificent Big 5 Animals. Do you know which animals are Big 5 Animals? They are the lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and buffalo.
Do you know why it these animals are called South African Big 5 animals? Yes, the elephant, the rhino and buffalo are physically big animals but interestingly that is not why they are called the Big 5! These five animals are called the Big 5 because, in the early days, they were very difficult to hunt. They all have exceptional traits and are very dangerous to the human race. Nowadays, almost all five animals are on the vulnerable list of endangered species, and sadly, the rhino is endangered.
The rhino, or rhinoceros, are hunted for their horns because some Asian beliefs say the rhino horn has healing properties, making it very valuable on the black market. There are strategies in place to try and prevent illegal hunting (called poaching) of rhinos. One is the pink horn drive where rhino horns are dyed pink with the same dye as they use in bank notes so that the horns cannot be sold. The other is to remove the horns so that they are not valuable any more. Both strategies are very sad indeed, but to protect the animal it must be done.
Elephants are also hunted down, but for their tusks. The tusks are ivory and very valuable too. People see lions, buffalos and leopards as great trophy hunts, the lion for its mane, buffalo for its horns and the leopard for its skin. Hunters often preserve the heads and horns and hang them as trophies, using the hides (the skin) as carpets or covers. All sad, but unfortunately true.
Before we get to the facts, there is one myth I want to bust- wild animals do not roam free in the streets of South Africa. You will find most wildlife either in the Kruger National Park (a huge farm where animals roam free and people drive in their cars to see them), privately owned farms, rehabilitation centers or zoos.
Now let’s learn more about these beautiful animals. Here are 5 fun facts about each of the Big 5 Animals. Click here for handy cards to print and use in your studies of South African animals. There are many more you can add, but these are the most commonly known.
- Lions are carnivores.
- The females do the hunting and bring food to the male.
- The lion is considered the king of the animals.
- Babies are called cubs.
- Male cubs are not born with manes.
- Rhinos are herbivores.
- Rhino is short for rhinoceros which means nose horn.
- They can weigh up to 2500 kg.
- Males are called bulls and lives alone.
- Rhinos are extinct.
- Leopards are carnivores.
- They have black markings on their fur called rosettes.
- They are fast and can run up to 58km/h!
- Leopards are part of the big cat family.
- They are nocturnal, sleep in the day, hunt at night.
- Elephants are herbivores.
- They are the largest animals on land, can grow 3m tall!
- Elephants have large ears, tusks and trunks.
- They use their trunks as hands to eat.
- They are very clever and have good memories.
- Buffalos are herbivores.
- They live in herds in open fields.
- Both male(bulls) and females(cows) have horns.
- Buffalos have exceptional hearing and smell.
- They can live up to 20 years.
We’ve included questions in the (free) printables for your older kids. Find the answers on the cards, a comprehension activity of sorts. This can also be used as an assessing tool to see what information was retained and understood.
Your younger children enjoy playing “Charades” or “Animate the Animal.” How to play: a player picks a card and acts out that animal. The other players must guess which animal is being animated!
Fun ideas to extend learning about Big 5 animals.
- Pencil, charcoal sketch or paint the animals.
- Make your own fact cards by researching more facts and then designing cards with the facts like the ones available here.
- Watch videos/clips of the animals to learn even more!
- Younger kids will enjoy making animal puppets or masks.
- Dress up like animals and pretend you are animals.
- Sensory play with animal toys and a variety of sensory materials in a bin.
Let us all help to protect our planets animals by being informed of the right facts and to appreciate the beauty of the living animal rather than the trophy. Have fun learning about South African Big 5 animals using these fact cards and questionare printables!
Do you have more fun activities planned for a wild animals unit or theme? Please share with us in the comment section below!
A big thanks goes out to our references:
Nadia is a South African teacher turned mommy of two, educational resource designer and owner of Teach-Me-Mommy.com. She blogs about easy and fun activities for kids with the aim to teach. She loves creating hands-on and creative ways to teach students, keep memories alive with homemade keepsakes and sometimes gets time for grown-up crafts too!
If you’d like to learn more about South African culture, check out these children’s books from South Africa: