The Big 5's take on the past 25 Years

Checking in with conservation efforts across Limpopo to see how our majestic Big 5 are doing.

The last 25 years have been marked with many milestones for South Africa. While we always celebrate human achievements and remember social-political happenings, we often overlook one of our countries most precious assets: our animals.

South Africa boasts with the world's most majestic wildlife species and where better to start than with the Big 5 royals themselves. The lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo have become synonymous with the landscapes of SA and are in essence symbols of our country's natural pride. It was for this reason that the Big 5 have been front and centre on our banknotes since 1992.

However, besides the symbolic way we trade with our Big 5, these beauties have unfortunately also been poached for illegal trade. But the value of conservation has been realised across the continent and here are a few ways how efforts in Limpopo are helping save our Big 5:

1. The Lion

The term “Big Five” originally referred to the difficulty in hunting the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Although the term has fortunately gravitated away from hunting over the years, lions are still bred for trophy hunting.

While there are just 3 000 lions in the country’s national parks where hunting is prohibited, as many as 8 000 lions in captivity are being bred for hunting. There are approximately 200 of these farms and breeding facilities, according to Business Insider SA.

Films like Blood Lions have raised awareness about the issue of canned lion hunting and hopefully it's a fire that can be put out before it spreads.

2. The Leopard

Spotting a leopard on a game drive is often considered to be a golden moment on a safari as these majestic beings are generally solitary and difficulty to spot. But unfortunately out of sight, out of mind is often the case with leopards.

According to the IUCN, the leopard's 2019 conservation status is vulnerable giving us all the more reason to shine the spotlight on leopard conservation efforts across SA.

Organisations like PodVolunteer have Kruger Conservation projects that aim to protect leopard and other predators through research and conservation of the local ecosystem.

3. The Elephant

Elephants pose a tight dilemma for conservationists and policymakers a like. On the one hand, they have caused damage to the biodiversity of the Kruger National Park. But on the other hand, they are a vulnerable species themselves.

An Elephant Management Plan is currently in force in the Kruger National Park, and covers the period 2013 to 2022. Through this plan SANParks manages the Kruger elephant population by restoring or mimicking the spatial and temporal aspects of the ecosystem that impact on elephant spatial use.

4. The Rhino

South Africa holds nearly 80% of the world’s rhinos but has unfortunately also been the country that's been hit the hardest by poaching criminals. More than 1,000 rhinos have been killed each year between 2013 and 2017, according to Save the Rhino.

Luckily South Africa has strategic interventions to tackle rhino poaching in all its protected areas. The Kruger National Park has even deployed the South African National Defence Force in the park to assist anti-poaching efforts - and it's been paying off. Since 2015, there has been a decline in rhino poaching and the numbers are thankfully continuing to drop.

5. The Buffalo

Last, but not least, of our Big 5 is the African Buffalo. Unlike many of the other Big 5, the buffalo has had a fairly mellow time during the last 25 years - just doing their thing and enjoying the African sun.

Cape Buffalo, also known as African Buffalo, are not considered vulnerable as they are plentiful in nature.The buffalo is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN as the species remains widespread, with a global population estimated at nearly 900 000 animals, of which more than three-quarters are in protected areas.

Some of the best places to see the African buffalo in his full glory is in the Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg National Park, Mabalingwe Nature Reserve and Marakele National Park.

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