What are the Ugly Five and why do they get called that?

Ugly Five Wildebeest

What are the Ugly Five and why do they get called that?

You would imagine that the Ugly Five would be something from a horror movie. Instead, this is the expression used for a group of animals on safari. There are a few of these groupings, being: the Big Five, the Ugly Five, the Small Five, and the Shy Five.

What are the Ugly Five?

The Ugly Five in the wild in South Africa are known as:

  • hyena
  • marabou stork
  • vulture
  • warthog
  • wildebeest.

The wildlife defined by this grouping is each significant to the ecosystem, each playing its own part.

Why are they named the Ugly Five?

Put three scavengers and two vegetarians together and you get five animals. Paint them all with a brush of a slightly awkward appearance, and you get the Ugly Five. This group has been designated this rather unceremonious title due to their ungainly looks. They are, however, no less loved by people than other animals. The proof of this is if you call these creatures ‘ugly’ on any social media platform and watch masses of supporters rally behind them.

Ugly Five Characteristics:


The hyena family includes four species: the Striped, the Brown and the Spotted hyena, and the Aardwolf.

The hyena also has some peculiar proportions, with all the strength loaded in their forequarters (and jaw), and the weak-looking hindquarters seemingly added as something of an afterthought. The size of a hyena’s clan can dictate the size of a kill or scavenge. A hyena clan can range in size between 12 and 24 hyenas. Some clans are even larger than this.

These scavengers will hide food in watering holes and never waste anything. They will even feed on the hooves of their prey.

Brown hyena Ugly Five

Marabou Stork

Their unfortunate looks have earned them a spot in this classification, despite being fascinating birds. Marabous can eat anything, including termites, flamingos and small birds, mammals, and even human refuse and dead elephants. They often share carcasses with other scavengers like vultures or hyenas.

They have a bald, pink head and neck for easy cleaning. Being one of the largest birds in the world, they measure 1.5 metres in height and have a wingspan of 2.6 metres. A fascinating fact about marabou storks is that they have hollow legs and feet that ease their weight while in flight.

Ugly Five marabou stork


Africa supports 11 vulture species. Sadly, 7 of these 11 vulture species are endangered or critically endangered African animals.

Vultures are incredible scavengers. So much so that they are often referred to as ‘nature’s cleanup crew’. If there is a carcass in the wild, you will find them soaring above or gorging themselves until they have eaten as much as they can. They then sit in a half-sleep state to digest their food like people after a celebratory meal 🙂

You would imagine vultures smell horrible, but most vultures are meticulous about their hygiene. Up close, once they’ve cleaned up after feeding, Cape vultures (also called Cape griffons) smell similar to sweet, talcum-powder.

Lappet-faced vulture


Most people would agree that these animals are so ugly that they are considered cute. Warthogs are often found in family units, grazing or wallowing in mud. At night they enter their burrows backwards with their tail first.

There are 4 species of warthog, namely the Nolan, the Eritrean, the Central African, and the Southern warthog. The Southern warthog is found in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

It is an iconic creature to see running through the bush with its little ones in tow, all with tails sticking straight up in the air.

Ugly Five Warthog


The ungainly-looking Wildebeest is recognised by a long black mane and a beard of hair hanging from the throat and neck. They sport short curved horns, with males weighing up to 250kg.

Open grasslands are their preferred habitat, with their seasonal migration being an optimised survival strategy ensuring their access to fresh resources over wide ranges of areas.

Wildebeest are known to move constantly and don’t stay put for long. They love to move around during the day and night. Sometimes they enjoy taking naps, but some will stay on watch for any predators.


Come and visit a prime game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal where you can witness these animals in the wild, including more than 200 bird species and a massive variety of flora.

If this is the kind of experience you want, visit one of our 10 Game Lodges which offer everything from safari camps to 5-star accommodation, catering and game drives. At Nambiti Private Game Reserve, we pride ourselves on taking care of the flora and fauna in our reserve and providing a memorable safari experience that you will not easily forget. Make your booking now at nambiti.com/explore-lodges/.