In Africa, seeing the Big Five – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino – is the traditional measure of a successful safari. But what about the rest of the world? We asked the team at Imagine Travel to nominate their New Big Five.
Best place to spot: Pantanal, Brazil
The powerful and agile jaguar is the largest feline in the Americas. It roams remote regions of Central and South America and whilst most cats avoid the water, jaguars often chose to live near rivers and swamps. They are particularly prominent in the Amazon Basin and are even known for their ability as strong swimmers. Although similar in appearance to leopards, jaguars are heavier and more muscular. The pattern on the jaguar’s fur, known as rosetting, is unique to each animal (like fingerprints in humans) and the demand for these beautiful pelts has made them a target for hunters throughout the ages, although they now a protected species.
Best place to spot: Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Geladas look like baboons, but are in fact the last survivors of a species of grass grazing primates and are now only found in the rocky, high mountain meadows of Ethiopia. They live in huge groups of up to 600 members with a distinct hierarchy and social structure. They communicate with one another through a complex repertoire of visual signals, facial expressions and movement in body postures along with a diverse range of vocal sounds that has often been compared to human speech. They share a similar appearance to a baboon with pale eyelids, darker face and a bald patch on their chest. They are sometimes referred to as ‘Bleeding Heart Baboons’ because of the bright red colour that forms on the bald patch of females when they are in season.
Best place to spot: British Columbia, Canada
Grizzly bears – so called because the hairs on their backs and shoulders frequently have white tips, thus giving them a grizzled appearance – are the real heavyweights of the wild. Typically brown in colour with a distinctive pronounced hump on their shoulders, the males can tip the scales at anything up to 360kg. They are most commonly found in Canada, especially in British Columbia, and in lesser numbers in Alaska and the Northwestern United States. Apart from females with cubs, grizzly bears tend to spend most of their time alone. Just before the winter begins to bite is one of the rare occasions when you will see them in groups – and it is quite a spectacle. They gather around rivers when the salmon run upstream for summer spawning to feast in preparation for the long cold months ahead.
Best place to spot: Chengdu, China
The giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family and an iconic symbol for animal conservationists all over the world. Cuddly and cute in appearance (although looks can be deceptive), its distinctive thick black and white fur equips the panda for life in the cool forests and mountain ranges of South Central China. Black fur covers the ears, surrounds each eye, the muzzle, legs and shoulders whilst the rest of the coat is white. They spend their days wandering around the forest floors and eat bamboo almost exclusively. They are about 75cm in height and 1.5m in length and can weigh up to 150kg.
Best place to spot: Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
Orang-utans can only be found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. They are highly intelligent animals and very close relatives of humans. Unlike other primates, orang-utans are loners by nature and spend much of their time by themselves – howling as they travel through the forests to make sure that they don’t cross paths with one another. A typical male will grow to a height of 1.5m with an arm span of nearly 2m, so when they stand, their arms nearly touch the ground. These physical characteristics are, however, ideally suited to their lifestyle because they spend up to 90 per cent of their time high up in the trees of the rainforest and only rarely touch the ground. After mating, the males soon disappear but females can spend up to seven years with their young ensuring that they have all the skills required to survive on their own.