On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Africa’s Magnificent “Ugly Five”

Hyena and vultures. Image via Wikipedia.

Hyena and vultures. Image via Wikipedia.

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Big Five” tossed around in reference to African safaris. Originally coined to designate the five most difficult savannah animals to hunt, the Big Five are now considered by the African tourism industry to be the top five most popular animals that visitors yearn to see on safari. These are the lion, African elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. But what about the Ugly Five? That’s right – this alternate list attempts to enumerate the top five ugliest animals to see on safari. Who are these unfortunate five?

The wildebeest, spotted hyena, warthog, Marabou stork, and – you guessed it – the vulture.

As someone who’s worked up close and personal with both warthogs and spotted hyenas in a zoo setting, I have a lot to say about this list! Like all members of the pig family, warthogs are incredibly smart, and their mighty tusks make them highly formidable prey for any predator. They can also be quite gentle when they want to, as with raising piglets or eating grain out of a zookeeper’s hand (something I used to look forward to doing every morning!). Recent studies on spotted hyenas have shown that they are better cooperative problem-solvers than chimpanzees, not to mention statistically more successful at pack-hunting than lions (despite what Disney may tell you). Wildebeests are known for their mass migrations, and possess an uncanny “swarm intelligence,” whereby the animals systematically explore and overcome individual obstacles as one. The plumage of the Marabou stork has been used for centuries in the trimming of various clothing such as feather boas and hats – if we humans think they’re so ugly, why are we so eager to wear them?!? As for vultures, well, we’ve already discussed how beautiful and majestic they are. Plus, as previously stated, the savannah would be a much uglier place if it weren’t for their janitorial services.

In conclusion, check out these Flickr portraits of these five so-called “ugly” animals and see for yourself how beautiful they can be.

Portrait of Wildebeest (DSC_0102), by Schristia
Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), by Arno & Louise Wildlife
Self Portrait, by Envisage Photography
Marabou Stork, by Skylarkerette
Königsgeier / King Vulture, by klausdgrio

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