Early this year, Rwanda introduced 10 black rhinos from South Africa, making it the full ‘Big Five game animals’, a phrase coined to describe the five species of the African large size wild animals. These animals consist of the lion, the black rhinoceros, the elephant, the leopard, and the cape buffalo. However, the term ‘Big 5’ was actually coined by big game hunters who thought that these five African mammals were the most dangerous and most difficult to hunt. In other words, the five large African mammals were known to be dangerous and it was considered a feat by trophy hunters to bring them home. The members of the ‘Big 5’ were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and the degree of danger involved, rather than their size. The term is used in most tourist and wildlife guides that discuss African wildlife safaris. In fact, seeing the Big Five is one of the most amazing experience on a safari.
Fortunately, today, thanks to decades of worthwhile efforts in the conservation and preservation of the wildlife, where the Big Five are no longer seen as potentially important for hunting. Instead, they’re now seen as potential tourist creatures earning huge foreign exchange. Tourists come from far and near to observe the magnificent creatures frolicking in their own habitat.
Like a handful of other African parks, Rwandan national parks are the home of these African big mammals. Interestingly, to Rwanda, the list of ‘Big 5’ is now changing to the ‘Big 6’, where mountain gorillas have been added to the list. The distinction between the ‘Big 5’ and the ‘Big 6’ is that the former refers to African recognized term for the big-game hunters, as they dominantly live in Africa, while the latter refers to ‘Big 5’ + 1 [mountain gorilla] makes the ‘Big 6’, depicting Rwanda’s unique category. But, the common feature of both categories is that they’re endangered species worth protecting. Though, many years back in some African countries, these mammals were on the verge of dying out, fortunately, today, many countries, including Rwanda, have put in policy and legal frameworks to ensure their adequate conservation of their natural habitat. In this regard, I wouldn’t be naïve to salute my country, through Rwanda Development Board, to do all it could to conserve and preserve these precious mammals
But, why mountain gorillas, as opposed to lowland gorillas, are so special? As noted above, they are equally threatened, and Rwanda is one of few places where mountain gorillas are found in Africa. They live in Volcanoes National Park, located in the northwestern part of the country which borders Virunga National Park in the DRC and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The Albertine Great Rift Valley is widely known as a haven for the rare and endangered mountain gorilla. Today, it is estimated that 400 of these Mountain gorillas live within Rwandan territory. The renowned Big Five, aforementioned, live in the Akagera National Park, located in the Eastern part of the country. So, shifting from the ‘Big 5’ to the ‘Big 6’ reflects the beauty and uniqueness of Rwanda’s tourist attractions.
Like this column noted previously, the obligation to conserve the critically engendered Big Six, as well as other endangered animals, springs from the principle of the inter-generational equity. In particular, it relates to equity between species which comes from respect resulting from the intrinsic value of nature regardless of its usefulness for the benefit of humans.
These Big African mammals must be protected against poaching and other anthropogenic encroachment. Effective implementation of national laws and policy is critical to ensure that no trade in protected species. Laws empower relevant state agencies to take necessary measures to act, regulate human behavior in relation to conservation and trade in wildlife.
Aside from being an integral part of environmental conservation, presence of these mammals is hugely important for tourism industry. Importantly, tourism industry is one of the major revenue-earners, and, in turn, it supports the conservation of the national parks as well as local communities who live adjacent to the parks. So, integrated conservation and development projects for the benefit of communities living adjacent to the parks are critical to ensuring the proper conservation of parks.
It is noteworthy that a couple of studies have revealed that most tourists are prepared to pay, whatever the cost, to see the ‘Big 6’. This is reminiscent of my first safari to Akagera National Park in 2013. I was so eager to see the Big Five, unfortunately I was partly disappointed because by then the lions and rhinos weren’t there. I now wish to encourage anyone interested in seeing these awe-inspiring mammals to arrange for a wildlife safari.
It is believed that perhaps the Big Five, plus one, should not be the only species we use to promote the conservation of biodiversity, but, nevertheless, by raising the total economic value of these flagship species and the protected areas that support them, they protect the myriad of other species within these areas: insects, small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and hence South Africa’s biodiversity.