The phrase Big Five game was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The term is still used in most tourist and wildlife guides that discuss African wildlife safaris.
The collection consists of the lion, the African elephant, the Cape Buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros, either the black rhinoceros or the white rhinoceros. The members of the big five were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and not their size.
Safari Club International, an organization dedicated to trophy hunters, offers a trophy for hunting all five species, called the "African Big Five Grand Slam," along with 14 other Grand Slams for other species, and a total of more than 40 different awards.
The big five are among the most dangerous mammals:
- The Lion (Panthera leo) is a large carnivorous feline of Africa and northwest India, having a short tawny coat, a tufted tail, and, in the male, a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders.
- The African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) is a very large herbivore having thick, almost hairless skin, a long, flexible, prehensile trunk, upper incisors forming long curved tusks of ivory, and large, fan-shaped ears. There are two distinct species of African elephant: African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana).
- The African Buffalo or Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large horned bovid. It is the most dangerous of the Big Five, reportedly causing the most hunter deaths.
- The Leopard (Panthera pardus) is a large, carnivorous feline having either tawny fur with dark rosette-like markings or black fur. Leopards are the most difficult to acquire hunting licenses for and are often difficult to hunt due to their behavior and their nocturnal feeding habits. Leopard hunting usually overlaps several weeks of baiting.
- The Rhinoceros is a large, thick-skinned herbivore having one or two upright horns on the snout. In Africa, there are two distinct species of rhinoceros; the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum). Both of these species have two upright horns on the snout.
Countries where the big five can all be found include South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. According to recent studies it is difficult to spot the Rhinoceros in Botswana.