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Beauties and beasts: the “Big Five” and “Ugly Five”


Who doesn’t know them, the glamorous Big Five of African wildlife: the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhinoceros? Unbeknownst to many (including me, before I went on this safari), a few “ugly ducklings” carve out an existence in their shadow. Humorously called the “Ugly Five“, just what are the creatures that make it onto that ignominious list?

The Big Five

The moniker “Big Five” dates back to the heyday of big game hunting: Far from intended to pick out Africa’s best wildlife specimens size wise, to the big game hunters they meant the most difficult and dangerous when hunted.

What follows is a quick recap of the trophy animals you’re advised to avoid entirely unless you’re an old, bold big game hunter or have stalked them in the bush with nothing but a bow and arrow or, better yet, armed only with a spear:

Lion relaxing in the sun

Lion: the “king” of animals

Der Leoparde

Leopard – the elegant big cat

Der Büffel

Buffalo – quick to attack, powerful

Der Elefant

Elephant – big, but subtle social intelligence

Das Nashorn

Rhinoceros – Reclusive, but reportedly likes to stomp out camp fires.

And that does it for the dangerous but celebrated Big Five.

The Ugly Five

Actually, the uglies can also be quite dangerous, but they were short-changed when it came to handing out gazelle-like elegance or even size — the textbook Ugly Five…

In Botswana, we learned that they designate as the Ugly Five all the African wildlife that nature equipped with legs lacking in length, or with legs that are too long… or with a mix of both.

Be that as it may, the bottom line is that any of them are unlikely to ever win a beauty contest. But then, as we know, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder: it just depends on how you look at things…still, for what it’s worth and in the interest of good safari reporting, here is the official “uglies” club:

Marabou stork

Ok, I’ll confess: I actually find the marabou stork fascinating in its own way… maybe because the big bird really does look like it did not come fully assembled. At least a neck seems to be missing? And the tail feather seem to have simply been cut off. That said, doesn’t the name still have an exotic ring to it though?


“Incomplete” marabou stork


Warthogs are not exactly the cutest things you’ve ever laid eyes on. With their bulgy eyes and their aggressive warthog tusks they do not make a good first impression. But when, despite their short legs, they still have drop to their knees to graze on the green stuff because of their even shorter necks, that’s where you draw the line! #gimmeabreak!

Add to it that they’re not particularly smart and make up for it by being quite forgetful. Good grief, what an unflattering combination!


Short legged, memory-challenged warthog

Blue wildebeest

Blue WildebeestWhen it comes to the proportions of the blue or brindled wildebeest, I’m not quite sure how to react: A solitary bull with his beard waving in the wind and curved horns actually looks kind of rakish. With his hide also supposed to sport a blue sheen, something I was not able to verify, however. Even when they are in full gallop, there is a certain elegance to their motion. But when blue wildebeest just kind of stand around, then their proportions with a lot up front and rather less behind does make them look sort of silly.

Galoppierendes Blaugnu

Blue wildebeest in full gallop


I don’t care for hyenas… That this dislike relates to the hungry hyenas Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed in Disney’s Lion King, I very much doubt. More likely, it has to do with their ungainly body shape and the excessively bared fangs

As it turned out, they used them and their strong jaws to maul the tail of our bush plane and its tires, so that we could not take off again and were stuck among the hyenas! Obviously, this present blog post witnesses to us escaping calamity and means we will be able to devote their own article to those bite-crazy hyenas

In any event, they really are so ugly that I did not bother photographing them. Purely from an optical angle, they actually somewhat resemble the no less predatory Cape hunting dog…

Ein der Hyäne ähnlichsehenden Wildhund

Cape hunting dog…a reasonable hyena facsimile


And last but by no means least, we have the vulture — esthetically, it almost seems “normal” — at least compared to its fellow Ugly Fives. But a closer look does make the vulture seem quite awful, the way it goes after its carrion meal and greedily tears at the hide of some accidentally killed creature.


Vultures – greedy carrion clean-up crew

I have no idea if the concept of the “Ugly Five” also has historical connections or if it was concocted as a marketing tool for curious tourists. I even tried googling it…no luck. Anyone?

In the final analysis, however it originated, the Ugly Five collection supplies lively conversational material on safari…


About Author

Walter Schaerer’s extensive background in the travel industry, passionate enthusiasm for photography and a firm belief that luxury destinations can also be affordable; were some of the main factors that motivated him to create the travel blog In his day job Walter is an online marketing manager based out of Zurich, Switzerland.

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