October 14

Do You Know What Animals Make Up the Ugly 5?

By Melanie Du Toit on October 14, 2023

You've undoubtedly heard of the Big 5. The Little 5 may be on your radar. You may have even heard of the Marine Big 5 – but have you heard of the Ugly 5? This band of miscreants aren't named after their less-than-pleasant personalities but rather their unfortunate appearances. While travelling through East Africa on a Great Wildebeest Migration safari, I sighted this merry band of misfits, and my knowledgeable Maasai guide taught me their collective name, which I can now I can relay to you!

Seeing the Ugly 5 in action is definitely one for the books, Image Credit: andBeyond

1. Wildebeest: The Mascot of the Ugly 5

After being informed that the wildebeest is a member of the Ugly 5, Gwandu, our tracker while staying at Klein's Camp in the northern Serengeti, told me, "We call them the spare parts animal." And I can see why! 

Well-known for their stampedes in Disney movies, these herd creatures look curious up close with their skinny legs and long faces that might as well be the butt of dad jokes.

However, these misgivings aside, their sheer numbers are truly impressive to witness, especially on the annual Great Wildebeest Migration.

A wildebeest in the savannah plains

The wildebeest is the mascot of the Ugly 5

2. Marabou Stork: The Undertaker Bird

For the second member of the Ugly 5, we've got the marabou stork. One look at these creatures would be enough for anyone to understand why they're referred to as the "undertaker bird". Surprisingly tall for its stooped posture, these storks are actually majestic in flight, with an impressive wingspan of about 2.6 metres.

They're often spotted alongside vultures at feeding time, with their diet consisting of insects, baby crocodiles, small mammals, fish, and, unsurprisingly, carrion.

The marabou stork

The marbou stork is an honorary member of the ugly 5, Image Credit: Lip Kee Yap

3. Vulture: Nature’s Garbage Disposal

A regular companion of our other Ugly 5 contender, the marabou stork, the vulture weighs in, bald and armed with sharp talons and beaks. These poor misunderstood birds always seem to get the short end of the stick.

Don't be perturbed by their intimidating features – vultures play a crucial role in ecological systems, feeding exclusively on carrion and equipped with the ability to eat meat so far past its sell-by-date that it's harmful to other animals. In this way, vultures actually prevent the spread of disease by disposing of rotting corpses.

A vulture mid-flight

Vultures are responsible for cleaning up to 70% of Africa's carrion, Image Credit Мартин Тасев

4. Hyena: Jokester of the Ugly 5

Carnivorous members of the Ugly 5, hyenas are famous for their ghoulish "laughter" and savage stalking. But The Lion King gave this poor bunch a bad rap – that and their awkward gait.

However, say what you will about hyenas, but this group of predators have fascinating and complex social structures and are incredibly smart. Many scientists believe them to actually be more intelligent than chimpanzees, with better problem-solving skills to boot!


Hyenas are the most misunderstood members of the Ugly 5 and a personal favourite of mine!

5. Warthog: Hakuna Matata

"Not Pumbaa!" I said, horrified. I couldn't believe that these sweet hogs with robust mini tusks and aloft tails (earning them another nickname, "the satellites of the bush") could possibly form part of the Ugly 5. But, it's true.

Perhaps this has something to do with their wiry hair or warts – which aren't warts at all, actually, but protective bumps best used when fighting. Ugly or not, their upbeat trot and bushy tail spied through tall grass will no doubt bring a smile to any observer.

Warthogkneeling on the ground

Phumba is twice the pig anyone will ever be!

So, The Ugly 5 Aren’t Ugly… They’re Just Special! 

Did you know all of the members of the Ugly 5? Or do you have some of your own that should have made the list? Let us know in the comments section below!

Contact one of our African Safari Experts to embark on a journey of a lifetime. The Ugly 5 is waiting for you!

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About the author 

Melanie Du Toit

Jozi-born, Knysna local, and recovering yachtie, Melanie decided that she missed being land-based after 18 months sailing the seas. Now that she lives in the most beautiful city in Africa (she is adamant about this fact), you will find her trying out new things around Cape Town, dreaming about her next holiday, and using Wikipedia to enhance her skills as an encyclopaedia of useless information.

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