So, you’ve booked a holiday or safari to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. What should your expectations be in terms of the wild animals that you will encounter whilst on your South African safari?
Well firstly, congratulations on your choice as the Kruger National Park is, without a doubt, one of Africa’s gems when it comes to its abundance and variety of wildlife. Combine that with its accessibility and infrastructure and you have a safari destination ideally suited to serious wildlife photographers and enthusiasts, seasoned travellers and even families with small children.
Animals in the Kruger National Park are habituated to vehicles so, often, sightings occur very close to vehicles where animals continue with their daily lives, apparently completely undisturbed by your presence.
I suppose we should kick off with the famous Big 5. Can you see them all in Kruger? And, if so, where? The answer is undoubtedly yes, the Big 5 is found in the Kruger National Park. They are of course, lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo.
The Kruger National Park encompasses nearly two million hectares (five million acres), so you could be forgiven for thinking that in an area that large, there’s no chance of seeing the Big 5. But the fact is that these animals are regularly encountered whilst driving through Kruger Park and, as mentioned previously, often within very close proximity of vehicles.
The Big 5 is distributed throughout the Kruger National Park. The southern region from Satara Restcamp south to Crocodile Bridge Restcamp is generally better for sightings as there is more water in the southern regions of Kruger Park. Simply put, more water means more food for grazing animals. Riverine trees like Marula are enjoyed and used by many animals. And where you have larger concentrations of grazing animals, you have more predators.
The south is also more popular because of its proximity to Johannesburg and other major centres, so there is more traffic with lots of people vying for space to see the animals. And the Big 5 is on the wishlist of most visitors.
North of Satara Restcamp, the Kruger gets drier, vegetation changes to more open savannah and the Big 5 gets a little more difficult to spot. They are however most definitely present and you can often find yourself sitting with a pride of lions on a lonely dirt road, all to yourself. It's what makes northern Kruger so popular with seasoned visitors to the park.
You may also ask yourself, “What will I see besides the Big 5? Does the Kruger National Park have anything else to offer?” It most certainly does. With 148 mammal species, you can bet that most of the time, you will be kept busy spotting and seeing wild animals roaming freely in the park.
Predators that you may encounter include, of course, lions and leopards, but the Kruger National Park is also home to cheetah, wild dogs, hyenas, honey badgers, jackal, aardwolf, african wildcats, genet and civet. You would be extremely fortunate to see more than five of these predators as the smaller predators are usually very shy and are active at night. Keep your expectations a little lower when it comes to the Kruger’s predators and enjoy the sightings you do get.
Large mammals are also popular amongst visitors. They would include animals such as elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, and white and black rhino. Due to their size, they’re easier to spot than some of the smaller animals and, of course, predators that are designed to be stealthy and camouflaged.
Don’t be fooled though, you may very well be surprised at the proximity of an elephant to your vehicle, that you never saw until you were nearly on top of him! Keep your eyes open and drive slowly to avoid these potentially stressful situations.
Hippo are obviously found close to water which in the Kruger National Park would be dams and rivers. If you drive from your camp in the early mornings, you may be lucky to find a hippo still grazing on land, or on its way back to the river where it will spend the day. Hippos leave the water in the evening to graze on grass.
Elephants are found throughout the Kruger National Park. Approaching an elephant requires visitors to give them space and respect. If, as a visitor, you are unfamiliar with elephant behaviour, it would be wise to not let them get too close to your vehicle.
Black rhino are difficult to see in the Kruger - they prefer thick bush and are also not found in large numbers. Generally, the south of the Kruger National Park is better for black rhino, but not guaranteed. If you do see one, count yourself very lucky.
White rhino are more common and also more prolific in the south, than central and northern Kruger. Generally, they are relaxed animals and allow you to get really close before moving off into the bush. Always an exciting sighting, rhino in general are very popular for visitors to the Kruger National Park.
The Kruger National Park is home to many different antelope species, from the large eland to smaller species such as duiker and steenbok.
The region around Pretoriuskop Restcamp seems to be particularly active when it comes to the rare antelope species as it is possible, although unlikely, to see antelope such as the Lichtensteins hartebeest and sable antelope. It’s also one of the best places in the southern region of the Kruger to see eland.
Here at www.krugerwildlifesafaris.com/uk, we have found in the past that the north is better when it comes to more interesting and rare antelope species. The top of the list is the elusive roan antelope, which we see at times around the Shingwedzi, Babalala Picnic Site region.
Other rare antelope such tsessebe and hartebeest, along with eland and the occasional sable antelope are seen in the Mopani Restcamp region, in particular, the Tropic of Capricorn loop close to Mopani Restcamp.
Sable antelope are particularly impressive beasts, being a dark black and white on the head and body with long back curving horns. Seeing the animals walking through Kruger Park’s Mopani Bushveld is a highlight on any safari.
Knowing what to look and listen out for may also assist in spotting the more secretive animals such as a leopard lying in a massive leadwood tree. Baboons and kudu barking, impala snorting and vervet monkeys kicking up a fuss indicate that all is it not as it should be and you should slow down and take particular notice of what is causing their distress.
The Kruger National Parks birds usually play second fiddle to the mammals, which is, in some cases, a little disappointing as there truly are some impressive birds flying overhead.
Over 500 bird species have been recorded in the Kruger National Park and is a bird lover’s paradise. Everything from tiny batis’ to massive martial eagles and giant eagle owls are found in the Kruger National Park.
Birds that eat seeds, drink nectar, catch fish and hunt antelope and monkeys are all present and birding in the Kruger can, at times, be especially exciting, especially when sightings of mammals is a little sparse and you or the kids need some excitement.
The Pel’s fishing owl is usually sought after and is found in various locations in the Kruger. This is, picture it, an owl that sits in massive baobab trees and hunts and catches fish at night!
Birds will also often give away the presence of other animals, for example yellow and red billed oxpeckers that are usually found in the vicinity of large mammals such as buffalo, giraffe and zebra. Knowing what to look for and what to listen for can often reveal animals that would otherwise be invisible.
A francolin alarm calling may be done because of a leopard lying under a sickle bush too close to its nest. These kinds of experiences however, are most often encountered with more experienced guides, who know what to look out for. A Kruger Park safari, with a reputable company like Outlook Travel will provide the necessary expertise and equipment to make sure your safari is memorable.
So you may ask, are there areas where I am more likely to see specific kinds of animals? The honest answer is not really but our experience has taught us the following:
The area around Satara Restcamp and in fact the entire drive from Skukuza to Satara is a good route for seeing lions. Don’t miss the Tshokwane Picnic Spot on this route. It’s a well stocked picnic spot allowing you to stretch your legs and get a good cup of coffee before continuing. The S100 from Satara Restcamp to Gudzani waterhole is also good for seeing lions.
We have also often seen cheetahs on the road from Pretoriuskop Restcamp to Skukuza.
The big herds of animals, in particular buffalo and elephant, are more likely seen in the north, in areas near the Shingwedzi and Letaba Restcamps.
As mentioned though, animals are found throughout the Kruger National Park, the routes and areas mentioned above are guidelines based on our experiences doing safaris in the Kruger for the last 22 years.
We here at Outlook Travel, will on occasion come across particularly rare sightings of animals that are literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Often people in other vehicles that are visiting Kruger Park for the first time don’t always appreciate the truly special sightings and because the animal may be small or unimpressive, stop for a second and drive off wondering what the fuss was about. For this reason, we have made a short list of animals you need to become familiar with and if you see any of these, know, you’re in very good company!
We do however understand that not everyone will find the above list all that interesting. After all, you’re here on your first holiday in South Africa and you want to tick off the popular animals to make sure when you get home you’re the toast of the party with your safari skills! With that in mind, consider the list below:
Most of these animals are seen quite often and if you drive the right routes, a 5-6 day trip to the Kruger National Park should provide you with sightings of most of the top 10.
We hope the above article has shed some light on what you can expect on your visit to the Kruger National Park. Whether you’re coming on a pre-booked, organised safari, flying in or are self driving with family and friends, knowing what to look out for and knowing what to expect as well as understanding just how rare some animals are to see, should enhance your stay significantly, and ensure you have an absolutely awesome time on your safari.
The key is, drive slow, keep your eyes open and keep noise to a minimum. Early morning and late afternoon is better than midday due to the heat. Welcome to our beautiful country and have fun!
Share this article with a friend
Travel Company in South Africa, African Safari, Luxury Safari Company