For some reason, I seem to have missed the issuing of these really beautiful stamps, so to put matters right I am putting this up now, they were issued on the 12th July 2012.

For many visitors to Africa’s game parks, seeing the so called Big Five is a high priority. They just don’t feel their trip is complete without having seen buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. And if the Big Five is your stamp collecting passion, your thematic collection will not be complete without this set of five stamps depicting the Big Five babies.

The traditional grouping of big five animals were so called by hunters in the past because they were considered the most dangerous animals to hunt mainly because they fought back!

Africa’s big five were characterised as lethal adversaries, and their reputation as crafty animals, with strong instincts for survival, has become legendary. They had few natural enemies, were difficult to track and very dangerous if wounded or cornered.

Visitors to our national parks today, have inherited these ideas about the Big Five and sightings of them are very exciting, even more so if they include baby animals. Infancy is a fascinating time for all species and the young of the Big Five have now been commemorated on a beautiful new edition of stamps.

Lion cubs

The gestation period of the female lion lasts 110 days. She gives a birth to one to five cubs with yellow red spotted fur. The lioness suckles her young until they are seven or eight months old. She is a very affectionate and patient mother who doesn’t mind when the cubs play with her tail or ears.

A lion pride is a family unit that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young. All of a pride’s lionesses are related, and female cubs typically stay with the group as they age. Young males eventually leave and establish their own prides by taking over a group headed by another male.

Elephant calves

The bond between an elephant mother and her calf is the closest bond there is between any animal with its offspring. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months and a female elephant has a calf every four years. The newborn enters this world at an incredible mass of 77 113 kg, with a height of about 91 cm at the shoulder, and may consume 11.4 litres of milk a day!

The young calves are tended not only by their mothers, but also by other females of the herd. There are many eyewitness accounts of the females in the herd gathering around to welcome the newborn. During these initial minutes the mother also attempts to help the newborn rise to its feet. This is a matter of survival since the newborn must stand to drink from its mother.

Buffalo calves

Buffalo mate and give birth strictly during the rainy seasons. Cows first calve at five years of age, after a gestation period of 11,5 months. Newly born calves remain hidden in vegetation for the first few weeks while being nursed occasionally by the mother before joining the main herd. Calves are held in the centre of the herd for safety. Calves also drink milk from behind which means that both mother and calf can run very quickly when danger lurks.

The maternal bond between mother and calf lasts longer than in most bovids. However, when a new calf is born the bonding ends and the mother will keep her previous offspring out of the way with horn jabs. Nevertheless the yearling will still tag along for another year or so. Males leave their mothers when they are two years old and join the bachelor groups.

Leopard cubs

Depending on the region, leopards may mate all year round. Gestation lasts for 90 to 105 days. Cubs are usually born in a litter of two to four cubs and mortality of cubs is estimated at 41% 50% during the first year.

Before giving birth, females prepare a den in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth. The fur of the young tends to be longer and thicker than that of adults. Their pelage is also greyer in colour with less defined spots. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18 to 24 months.

Rhinoceros calves

The origin of the black and white African rhinos can be traced back to the late Miocene species. They remain so closely related that they can still mate and successfully produce offspring.

Each three years on average, after an 18 month gestation period the female rhinoceros gives birth to only one calve. It weighs about 30 40 kg and only 10 minutes after birth it can already stand upright; about two hours later it begins to suckle. It sucks from its mother for about 18 months, but it also starts grazing during this time.

Since the young calf has no horn, it is unprotected and depends entirely on its mother. Sometimes the young rhino stays with its mother even after the birth of a sibling, although at the age of three years the young rhinoceros is able to take care of itself.

Artwork

Well known wildlife artist, Alan Ainslie, illustrated the Big Five baby animals. Alan also illustrated the 2001 Big Five stamps. Alan’s illustration is superb and he is among my favourite artists.