27 Sep The Big Five’s Little Cousins
It’s hard to forget first encounters with the safari world’s Big Five, with individual lions and leopards etched into memories. I have entire movies in my mind that I can play back at will – showreels of elephants appearing from behind the tiniest shrubs, and rhinos with extraordinarily long horns. The other large animals are easy to recall, too: I remember watching a giraffe appear to be choking and realising, as I sat contemplating the technicalities of carrying out the Heimlich manoeuvre on my long-necked companion, that he was actually using his throat muscles to crush an apple. A few coughed swallows, a quick shake of the head, and he had happily choked down his main course and reached up for dessert.
It was in the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Park in Malawi that I was first introduced to the Little Five – the cousins, if you will, of their more famous counterparts. I had already started keeping an eagle eye out for firm favourites the dung beetle (with the female gripping the side of a perfectly rounded ball of dung clearly yelling frustrated directions to her male partner) and discovered I had also inadvertently been Little Five spotting every time I noted a Leopard Tortoise.
The bush can only function if it is left undisturbed by poaching, mass tourism, and the insistence the 21st century has of putting a layer of concrete over everything (a main road through a route of mass migration, you say? Oh why not…). It exists in an incredibly delicate balance of predators, plants, and tiny critters – and it’s these little guys you should keep an eye out for when waiting at a watering hole for something larger to rock up.