Last year I went on my first South African safari in Kruger National Park.  Not only did I get to experience one of the largest game reserves in Africa and one of the most incredible national parks in the world, but I'm proud to report that I spotted the "Big Five" a holy grail in safari treks.

What is the Big 5?

The Big Five is a phrase coined by big game hunters that refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot and consists of the following animals:

  • African Elephant
  • Rhinoceros
  • Leopard
  • Cape Buffalo
  • Lion

Is it uncommon to spot the entire Big Five on a safari?

According to our ranger, Brian, we were extremely fortunate in seeing all of the Big Five on a single safari. I confirmed this achievement by speaking to both professionals and visitors who were all seriously impressed. Some of the travelers who had been on multiple safaris said they had yet to witness all five animals in one trip.

Brian also told us that the leopard is usually one of the hardest animals to spot because they are such elusive creatures. Apparently, there are people that have been cruising around Kruger on safaris for the last 10-20 years waiting to see a leopard in the wild.

Game Drives

During our stay, we were scheduled to go on four game drives. For those who are not familiar with the terminology, a game drive is another word for a trip into the bush to see wildlife. Game drives can last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, sometimes longer. 

Since it is so hot at Kruger around midday, the animals usually get out from underneath the blistering sun and hide out in the shade for most of the afternoon. Our game drives were strategically scheduled for the early morning and late evening in order to maximize our chances of spotting wildlife.

Here’s more about how we spotted each animal.

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park
Getting ready for our first game drive!

African Elephants

First we spotted some African elephants, which are one of my favorite animals, so it was really cool to see a herd of elephants grazing in a field just twenty five feet away from our truck.

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park
A baby African elephant

Fun Fact: Elephants can be right or left handed and they will favor one tusk or another.

White Rhino

Seeing a White Rhino in the wild for the first time was really cool. I didn't realize how humongous these beasts were until I saw one up close and personal. Can you believe poachers kill these beautiful animals for their horn?

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Fun Fact: Rhinos communicate with each other through a variety of noises such as snarls, grunts, growls, snorts, and squeaks.


Hands down, the most incredible part of our first game drive was when our crew spotted a leopard up in a tree that hung over a river bed.

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

We pulled our jeep up as far as we could to the edge of the river bed so that we could get a closer look. Once we got close we realized that the leopard had just killed a baby waterbuck and dragged it up into the tree with him. It was time for a feast!

This photo of the leopard shown above is one of the only photos I was able to shoot of him that wasn't extremely graphic.

Fun Fact: Leopards are not very social as males and females only spend a moment together and then go their own ways.

Cape Buffalo

Our guide spotted a whole bunch of cape buffalo in the brush ahead of us and insisted that we head their way. Brian took our jeep off-road and brought us straight to the hungry buffalo.

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

This photo was taken from about 20 feet away. These angry looking animals always seem to be so calm and relaxed even though they can be the exact opposite when necessary.

Fun Fact: A buffalo has four times the strength of an ox.


The only reason we were able to see lions during our trip to Kruger was due to the insane tracking skills of our guide, Exon. Exon was sitting on the front of the vehicle scanning the ground ahead looking for lion paw prints. At one point he told Brian to stop the vehicle so he could jump out and follow the lion tracks into the bush.

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

We spun off and left Exon there to do his dirty work and within 15 minutes he was on the radio calling for Brian to come back. Exon had found the pride of lions. Nine of them to be exact!

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

According to Brian, the lions had eaten about three days prior so they were due to eat again sometime within the next 24 hours.

The photo below shows one of the lions yawning. Although it's quite a scary yawn!

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Later on in the evening we swung back by to see what the lions were up to and if they had started to wake up and prepare for their hunt. By the time we arrived a few of the lions were up and walking around.

Once they gathered their pride they headed straight into the thick bush. Brian really wanted to follow them so that we could see them hunt, but they went in a direction where our vehicle just couldn't go.

We called it a night and everyone was more than satisfied with our day considering we had officially witnessed all of the Big Five in one day!

Fun Fact: When lions yawn repeatedly, it usually means that they are just about ready to wake up and start preparing to spend the evening hunting.

Poaching Problems

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

During our drives, Brian shared a lot of insights about the animals found in Kruger National Park. He told us  about the rapidly growing problem of poaching rhinos for their horns and that nearly one rhino is killed per day.

Rhino horns are used widely as an aphrodisiac in the East and used to treat breast cancer in Thailand. Because of this, the demand for rhino horn is high. Rhino horn has never been proven to cure cancer or work as an aphrodisiac although some people believe it does.

Poachers receive about $65,000 USD per 2.2lbs (1kg) of Rhino horn. The average weight of a Rhino horn is around 7.71 lbs. Do the math and you'll realize that these poachers are pulling in over $200,000 USD.

The saddest part about rhino poaching is that rhinos don't need to be killed to have their horns removed.. Removing the horn from a rhino does not hurt them and the horn will actually grow back over time. However, it’s easier for poachers to kill a rhino and then cut the horn off rather than tranquilize them and cut it off. They go in fast, and get out fast.

The government of South Africa is currently trying to figure out a solution to the poaching but it's incredibly hard to police since Kruger National Park is about the same size as the state of New Jersey.

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Spotting the Big 5 in Kruger National Park

Ryan Gargiulo

Ryan Gargiulo is the guy behind the popular adventure travel blog called Pause the Moment. He's a world traveler, adventurer, blogger, vlogger and travel coach who has traveled to more than 35 countries across the globe since he left his job back in 2010.