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A thrilling safari in the heart of Africa is on the must-do list for many, an essential element being to tick off the Big Five - lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant. Grab your binoculars and let our experts guide you to the ultimate safari holiday…
Lion : South Africa
The Shamwari Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, works with the Born Free Foundation and maintains Big Cat Rescue and Education Centres. It’s the mission of Born Free, founded by actress and conservationist Virginia McKenna and late husband Bill Travers, to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild’.
Both Shamwari and Born Free protect big cats and many other species and have rescued animals from all over the world. On Shamwari's morning and evening game drives you'll see lions and the rest of the Big Five.
Accommodation is in a choice of individually styled luxury lodges, in glorious settings giving the opportunity to interact with nature in its purest form.
Leopard : Namibia
The Okonjima Nature Reserve, is halfway between the capital Windhoek and renowned Etosha National Park.
As they're nocturnal and well-camouflaged, leopards are the most elusive of the Big Five and you need an expert guide. At the family-run Okonjima, home of conservation charity The AfriCat Foundation, small groups go in rough-terrain vehicles and stay out for as long as it takes to snap your prey.
Staff use radios to share sightings. What looks like a patch of bare scrub can hide a gloriously languid leopard.
Accommodation is in luxury villas with vast picture windows. Guests can sponsor a leopard and receive updates once home.
Rhino : Botswana
Moremi Game Reserve is on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta, where black and white rhinoceros have been introduced under the Botswana Rhino Reintroduction Project. It has seen a zero-tolerance anti-poaching policy result in rhino once again inhabiting areas where they had been virtually extinct.
As well as the Big Five, on Moremi game drives you'll see a wealth of bird species by the lagoons, including the African Fish Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Crested Crane, Lilac-breasted Roller, Hammer-kop, Ostrich and Sacred Ibis.
Luxurious accommodation is in Belmond Khwai River Lodge, idyllically set at the forest edge with views over the floodplains.
Elephant : Kenya
Samburu Intrepids Lodge is a lush oasis on the banks of the great Uaso Nyiro River in Samburu Game Reserve. Elephants love to play in the water and guests have a front-row seat from their room - with several impromptu shows a day.
The tented luxury camp is at the edge of a forest and cooled by the river breeze. It sits on raised decks overlooking the river, where crocodiles also often lounge by the bank. The jagged peak of distant Mount Kenya is in the background.
On Samburu game drives you'll see the other members of the Big Five.
Buffalo : Kenya
The Porini Mara camp is in the Serengeti-Mara wilderness. Dubbed 'the widow-makers', buffaloes are probably the most deadly of the Big Five and reportedly kill 200 people a year.
Guides explain what to do if a buffalo charges: lie flat, face-down, so they can't gore and toss you on their horns. The ones we found were too busy rutting and sparring to charge. But the sense of danger makes it feel all the more real.
Accommodation is in tents, all with hot showers, flushing loos, comfortable beds and living areas with sofas.
Fine-tuning your trip
All of these wonderful safari options are just a starting point for your African holiday adventure, why not add on hotels before and after a safari or include any additional tours or excursions.
The Africa Bush offers many awe inspiring experiences, it is not all about the Big Five. Some reserves are expanding 'walking safaris', where you get close to nature on foot, such as on a mountain gorilla trek.
The great migration, the annual journey of two million wildebeest from the plains of the Serengeti to the grasslands of the Masai Mara, is an astonishing sight.
And a safari/beach combination is possible, for example, in Kenya or South Africa.
First published in the Mail on Sunday - February 2019
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