10 Places to Find Big Game
African hunters called them the Big Five: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—the five trophy animals that were hardest to find, most dangerous to stalk, and toughest to kill. Today, safari tours offer a different kind of shooting—with cameras, not guns—but the rare and elusive Big Five are still a thrill to spot. Except for Cape buffaloes, these species are all threatened or endangered in the wild. If you’re heading for Asia instead, focus on the even more endangered Bengal tiger, Asiatic lion, Asiatic elephant, and Indian rhinoceros.
Botswana’s oldest national park specializes in elephants—some 120,000 are drawn by Chobe’s baobab trees, a vital water source in this semi-arid Kalahari Desert region. During the dry season the river is a vital watering spot for thousands of animals, including spectacular zebra migrations, large groups of giraffes, and plentiful wildebeest.
The African lion has it easy compared to his Asiatic cousin. Somewhere around 300 Asiatic lions are left, and all live in this verdant region of Gujarat, part of Gir National Park. Other species in the park include king vultures, hyenas, leopards, nilgai, chinkara gazelles, and chousinghas.
Near Victoria Falls and along the edge of the Kalahari Desert, Hwange offers a mix of teak forests and arid savanna, where man-made water holes have been placed to attract the grazing hordes: giraffes, sable antelope, buffaloes, and so many elephants that there’s been talk of culling the herd, especially after recent droughts. Hwange has rare brown hyenas and one of the last populations of African wild dogs.
Huge Kruger National Park has more mammal species than any other African game park, 147 in all. The large Sabi Sands Game Reserve, which includes the well-known bush camp Mala Mala, is one of the best places to view leopards in the wild.
Elephants are the chief draw in this relatively undeveloped park across from Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools. Canoeing along the Zambezi through a flood plain rich in acacia, winterthorn, and baobab trees, you’ll see large herds of elephants, as well as buffaloes, waterbucks, kudus, zebras, lions, and leopards. Swarms of hippos populate the river pools, and more than 300 bird species roost along its banks.
The Masai Mara is the northern end of the Greater Serengeti migration corridor, a land of lush grasses where Kenya’s richest concentration of wildlife gathers. More than a million wildebeest pass through here, along with zebras and gazelles, and predators like lions, cheetahs, and hyenas lurk in the acacia trees.
This ancient collapsed volcanic caldera in Tanzania is like a great fertile 19km-deep (12-mile) bowl, a self-contained 264-sq.-km (102-sq.-mile) wilderness that’s home to some 30,000 animals. Lions, black rhinos, and elephants can be easily spotted in the relatively short grass.
Camel-back expeditions into this private conservation area in the remote and rocky red hills of Damaraland focus on the last remaining free-ranging black rhinos, as well as desert-adapted Namibian elephants. Along the way you’ll also view Hartman’s mountain zebra, giraffe, oryx, springbok, kudu, and possibly lions, hyenas, and leopards.
This is one of Kenya’s lesser known big-game parks, but it definitely deserves a visit. Its location along the Ewaso Nyiro River attracts such stars as lions, leopards, and cheetahs and it’s home to more than 900 elephants. Adding to this embarrassment of riches are rare species like the reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, ostrich, and beisa oryx. You can stay on-site and the park offers game drives, as well as bird-watching and nature walks.
If you don’t sight a Bengal tiger at Corbett, Panna, or Sundarbans National Parks, you will at Ranthambore National Park or Bandhavgarh National Park, where the tiger population is even denser. Elephants and one-horned rhinos are the main attraction at Kaziranga National Park.