The Big Five: Africa’s Most Sought-After Trophy Animals

Africa’s ‘Big Five’


Hunters and most conservationists say that legal trophy hunting in Africa helps raise funds for maintaining wildlife and its habitat. Opponents of the practice contend that there are problems with how conservation is carried out, and animal rights advocates argue that it is unethical to conserve populations by killing animals. Here is a list of the so-called Big Five animals hunted for sport; their conservation status, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List; and the market rates their trophies demand in South Africa, which has the biggest hunting industry on the continent.

  1. Lion

Status: Vulnerable; Trophy: $8,500 to $50,000

Cecil, who was lured out of the safety of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe and shot by US dentist Walter Palmer.


Lions live on the grassy, open savannahs of Africa, not in the jungle. But the regal cat still sits atop the list of big-game trophies. Conservationists say that Lion hunting is one of the most lucrative trophy hunts, with each outing bringing in up to $71,000 on average, which includes the trophy fee, a professional guide, transportation and lodging.

Dr. Walter J. Palmer, the American dentist who killed Cecil, a beloved Lion, in Zimbabwe last month, reportedly paid around $54,000.

Overhunting has caused a decrease in the number of Lions in some areas, especially Tanzania, according to a 2012 study, and hunting has been restricted there. But the researchers behind that study concluded that hunting was less of a risk than an outright ban.

Without the trophy hunt money, locals would increasingly poison Lions, which are considered dangerous to humans and livestock, said Vernon Booth, a Zimbabwe-based ecologist.

  1. Elephant

Status: Vulnerable; Trophy: $25,000 to $60,000

A German trophy hunter and his guide pose with their ‘trophy’, an Elephant described as the ‘biggest in living memory’ with tusks so large they dragged along the ground!


A big animal makes a big trophy, and elephants are among the most sought-after in Africa. But the biggest threat they face is not from hunters, it is from poachers.

Elephants are slaughtered by highly organized, armed, commercial poachers who sell ivory and organs, mostly to Chinese markets.

During President Obama’s recent visit to Africa, the administration announced a rule change to conservation laws that would amount to a near total ban on the commercial trade of African elephant ivory in the United States.

  1. White Rhinoceros

Status: Near threatened; Trophy: $125,000 and up

A Southern White Rhino


In southern Africa, the emergence of a regulated trophy hunting industry on private game ranches in the 1960s helped restore vast stretches of degraded habitats and even revive certain species, like the Southern White Rhinoceros, which had been hunted almost to extinction, conservationists say.

There are around 20,000 Southern White Rhinos remaining, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They are different from the endangered Northern White Rhino, of which there are only four left in the world after Nabire, a 31-year-old female Rhino, died at a zoo in the Czech Republic. Her death occurred less than a year after Angalifu, a 44-year-old White Rhino died at the San Diego Zoo.

  1. Leopard

Status: Near threatened; Trophy: $15,000 to $35,000

Leopards High Rise Dinner
Leopards have incredible agility and strength and will carry their prey up a tree.


The Leopard is the smallest of the Big Five trophy animals. It is often hunted with bait, a controversial practice in which a freshly dead animal like an Impala is hung to lure a Leopard within range of a hunter concealed in a hunting blind.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which listed the Leopard as “near threatened,” said in 2008 that the animal’s shrinking habitat, pest control efforts by farmers and others, and the threat of commercial hunting could make the species “vulnerable.”

But in Zambia, the government recently announced that it was lifting a ban on hunting Leopards in place since 2013, and said it would do the same for Lions next year.

The ban was put in place because the government estimated that the population of big cats was too low to support a sustainable hunting industry. By May, when the country’s tourism minister announced the end of the ban, aerial surveys estimated that the once-threatened Leopard population was now more than 8,000.

  1. Buffalo

Status: Least concern; Trophy: $12,500 to $17,000

A Buffalo and friends in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.


The Big 5 are the most prized because they are considered the most dangerous to hunt, and therefore the most expensive. A trophy Impala could cost a hunter $400 and a Kudu, a type of antelope, might go for $2,500, while a Cape Buffalo can cost around $15,000 in South Africa.

It is legal to hunt most big game animals, including the big five, on private game reserves in South Africa, home to the biggest hunting industry on the continent.

The Buffalo is sometimes considered the most dangerous of the big five, and it is the most popular with hunters. It is also the most plentiful, with its population under the least pressure, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, though the union noted that the number of Buffalo is declining.


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