When people visit Africa on safari, they want to see the Big Five. The Big Five were initially singled out because they were the five hardest big game animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Times have changed, and most people who go to Africa are armed with a camera rather than a gun. However, seeing these animals still resonates with visitors. For reference, the African Big Five are: elephant, lion, Cape buffalo, rhino, and leopard.

When I visited Alaska in 2015, I certainly had my own Big Five in mind: moose, killer whale, brown bear, caribou, and Dall sheep. Arizona, especially Southern Arizona, isn’t filled with huge dynamic wild animals, and the big animals we do have are either common outside of Arizona (deer, antelope and bighorn sheep) or they are so fleeting that the odds of seeing one are almost zero (jaguar and mountain lion).

That doesn’t mean that people don’t arrive in Southern Arizona with a list of ‘must see’ critters. I am certain every 15 Rattlerone’s list differs, but there are five that likely stand out for many folks visiting from cooler climes.

The most obvious is not very big, and is a pretty common sight for us during much of the year: the rattlesnake. For many people, seeing a rattler on their trip to Arizona would be a pretty special thrill. Luckily any hiker who gets up early during the summer months is likely to see one coiled in the middle of the trail sleeping.

15 JavalinaJavelina may be common garbage raiders in the suburbs, but our peculiar peccary is a novel creature to visitors from out of town. Not a pig, but pig-like, these small hoofed creatures are completely foreign to most visitors. Many people actually think that these critters are dangerous, but of course we know that as long as we don’t startle them or attack them like a dog they prefer to mind their own business.

Gila monsters are a fairly rare find even for locals. I have recently gone two years without seeing one, but seeing this amazing, venomous, beaded orange and black lizard is a 15 Gila Monsterthrill every time. For a visitor, it is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Gila Monsters are the only venomous lizards in the US.

15 RoadrunnerRoadrunners are everywhere; they are so common that many locals hardly take note of them any more, but these prehistoric-looking birds are a as iconic to the old West as is it’s cartoon nemesis, the coyote. They are on the list for first time visitors, even if they aren’t blue!
Horny toads are also not a super common sight for locals. Unless you spend a lot of time on the trails or your yard is native desert, you could go years without seeing this small shy lizard. fdsImposing looking though they may look, they are, of course, completely harmless. Many visitors will think that they really are toads, and wait until you tell them that they sometimes squirt blood out of their eyes! They are often seen in the mornings and evenings eating at anthills.

Our “big five” may not be that big, but they are, by and large, desert dwellers with limited range outside of the Desert Southwest. For many visitors, seeing a rattler or a Gila monster is an unspoken desire. If you are expecting visitors who love nature try to give them a thrill by hiking trails in the early morning and allowing them to experience some of our unique wildlife in the wild.

About author View all posts

Guest Author