Small Animals of Africa – ‘The Small 5’

After successful marketing the Big 5 as a tourist attraction rather than a hunting expedition, the conservationist felt there was a need to recognize the small animals of Africa Savannah. These animals are small, less noticed but are as baffling as their big counterparts.

They also share part of the English name with their counterparts the Big 5 making it easier for one to distinguish them from other small creatures. This gives a chance for people who have already seen the big animals come back and search for the smaller ones.

The Small 5 species include; ant lion, leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver, rhinoceros beetle and elephant shrew.

Ant Lion

This is an insect that has no resemblance to the mighty king of the jungle. They are mainly found in arid and sandy areas. They normally trap their prey, mainly ants by building small sand funnel-shaped holes. Once the prey falls in, they are not able to come out and forms meals for the ant lion.

Small Animals of Africa

Leopard Tortoise

This is a large attractive tortoise with distinctive spots that resemble those of the leopard. They are mainly found in East and Southern Africa and just like other tortoises, they hide their head, legs and tail in the shell when they sense danger. They dwell in abandoned fox, jackal or aardvark holes. As a herbivore, it feeds on mixed grasses, succulents and thistles.

Buffalo Weaver

This is the easiest to spot among the small five as it is very sociable. It dwells well in dry Savannah and woodlands and prefers areas disturbed by human and livestock. It feeds on insect, seeds and fruits. They are known to build a huge, untidy and unstructured communal nest from twigs and coarse grass.


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Rhinoceros Beetle

These are among the largest of beetles but are completely harmless to humans because they cannot bite or sting. They adorn two horns just like a rhino; one on the head and another pointing forward from the centre of the thorax. The horns are used for fighting other males during mating season as well as climbing and digging.Small Animals of Africa

These beetles are common pets in parts of Asia due to their cleanliness, easy to maintain stature and safe to handle. The male beetle is also used for gambling fights since they have the tendency of fighting each other for the attention of the female.

Elephant Shrew

Elephant shrew is also known as jumping shrew or sengis, they are insect-eating mammals found in arid lowlands, forests and Savannah grasslands. Their name come from the long nose that resembles the trunk of an elephant but their body resembles mice. They are seldom seen due to their shy nature and also their high speed of movement.

Small Animals of Africa

Other small animals to see while on safari


This is a small carnivoran belonging to the family of mongoose. They live in deserts and grasslands in the southern part of Africa. They can be located in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, the Namib Desert in Namibia, Southwest Angola and South Africa.

The meerkat lives in groups called ‘gangs’ or ‘mobs’ in burrows which they dig with their long, shallow claws. The burrows keep them safe from predators and the harsh African heat. They feed on insects like; beetles, caterpillar, scorpion, spiders, some reptiles, birds, eggs, fruits and plants.

Small Animals of Africa


The aardvark is found throughout Africa, South of the Sahara. It is an insectivore with a long pig-like snout which it uses to sniff out food. They feed in ants and termites which its digs out of their hills with its sharp claws and powerful legs. It also digs to create burrows to live in and rear its young ones.


This is a small insectivore’s mammal which is in the same family as a hyena. Unlike the carnivorous hyena, it feeds on insects and insect larvae. It can lap up as many as 250,000 termites in a single night using its long sticky tongue. It is a nocturnal shy animal hiding in burrows during the day and coming out at night to look for food.

Small Animals of Africa

Serval Cat

This is a wild cat with spots like a leopard and stripes like a tiger characterized by a small head, large ears and a short black-tipped tail. They are widespread in Sub-Saharan countries of Africa. They are active both day and night though have minimal social interaction. They prey on rodents, birds, frogs, insects and reptiles. They use their senses of hearing to locate the prey.

Small Animals of Africa


Also, known as bushbaby is a small nocturnal primate. They have large eyes providing them with good vision, strong hind limbs, acute hearing and a long tail that helps them balance. Their diet includes insects, small animals, fruits and tree gums. They communicate by calling each other or by marking paths with their urine. While it is not advisable to keep them as pets just like other non-human primates, this usually happens.

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10 Responses

  1. Thomas G says:

    Wow! I would love to see the meerkats in action. That must be an incredible experience! How big are the serval cats? Don’t people mistake them for something more dangerous with that coat pattern? I have never heard of a galago, but hey, you read and learn! where do they hide in the day as they are nocturnal?

    • Anita says:

      Hi Thomas, yes meerkats are interesting creatures. If you happen to visit Botswana or Namibia, you can take a safari drive to the Kalahari or Namib desert they are plenty there, a few in South Africa.

      The Serval Cat is the size of a fully grown domesticated cat, some people even keep them as pets hence are not considered dangerous as compared to the big cats.

      Galago is commonly referred to as bush baby, they hide in trees and spend most of the day sleeping, they come out at night to hunt. There small size helps them seem invisible above the trees.

  2. AV 2001 says:

    Hey Anita! How are you doing? I really enjoyed reading the blog post on “Small Animals of Africa” and this particular blog offers tonnes of valuable information on these beautiful living creatures. I’m planning to visit Kenya in the future and looking forward in seeing the Aardwolf if it’s there. Aardwolf is a brave carnivore and kills a lot as I’ve seen some videos of it on YouTube. Can you see Aardwolves in Kenya? If not, in which country can you see them in?

    • Anita says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article, I appreciate. Welcome to Kenya, you will definitely have a good time here that I can assure you. 

      Yes, Aardwolf are found in Kenya, though they are not easy to spot due to their size and nature. You can plan a visit to the Maasai Mara, there are several of them there.

  3. Nathalie says:

    Hello Anita,

    Very interesting post! I had no idea some of these cool small animals existed. I would LOVE to see a photo of each, not just a few. Could you maybe add extra photos for the ones that are not yet illustrated? I would particularly like to see a photo of an ‘ant lion’ without having to look for it myself on google… thanks!! 🙂

    Have you personally seen any of these? I am wondering how easy it is to come across an ant lion, for example… 



    • Anita says:

      Hello Nathalie, glad you liked my article.

      I am working on more photos for this small animals, most are not easy to spot more so take a photo but will try and get good photos of each. I have seen some which are available in my country like the serval cat, bushbaby and the aardwolf. Planning on travelling to Namibia to see the Meerkats.

  4. Abigail Pron says:

    Hi there! What a nice site to come across. It’s my first time to meet all those 5 small animals of Africa. So amazing creatures. You made a very informative and interesting article. It’s unique such a way you’re giving a great impression of the topic description and added more love to animals. You have imparted to your reader the essence of appreciating the animals no matter what it is. Everything is a wonderful creation so why not share it if you know and discovered some. Are there any animals in Africa that haven’t yet shared or introduced to the world? Congratulations, you made a good one! Keep it up and God bless!

  5. julienne murekatete says:

    Thank you for sharing with this great review on small animals of Africa.To tell you the truth I Was surprised by those small animals’ names ,when I saw Elephant Shrew I thought it is not a small animal while it is the smallest one. Africa has many miraculous animals and that what makes africa a beautiful continent.

    • Anita says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article. The tiny animals share names with the large animals but are so small. They serve a very important role in the animal kingdom so they deserve the recognition just like the large animals.

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