Kruger National Park - The Big 5

Kruger National Park – A Visitor’s Guide
  The Big 5
Kruger National Park – A Visitor’s Guide
The Big 5

It’s a term that originally started out in the hunting arena in South Africa, singling out the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot - each one with its own strengths and incredibly intimidating features and skills.

However, it has since been ‘borrowed’ by the tourism industry and with great success. It’s now a term of endearment and guests come from all over the world to see these five unmistakable animals on a Kruger safari. It’s also evident how revered they are by South Africans based on the fact that you’ll see each of the Big Five on the local currency, namely the R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200 notes.

The Big 5 is made up of the fierce and formidable lion, elephants - the largest mammals on land, the stunning and elusive leopard, the mighty buffalo and the remarkable rhino.

While there are many other really special and significant animals, birds and flora that you will come across in the Kruger National Park, there’s no doubt that the Big 5 is often the most prized on a safari (especially if you’re hoping to see all of them in a single game drive!).

Here are a few fast facts for your next safari:
The King of Beasts

A forced to be reckoned with, lions (Panthera leo) are often seen in prides or coalitions - the latter is especially common with male lions that have been ousted from their pride by a dominant male. Having said this, while females, or lionesses, do most of the hunting, males are also perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and will hunt when necessary.

Due to their adaptability, lions are usually found in different types of habitats - from thick bush and shrub areas to open grassland - so be sure to keep your eyes peeled on your next game drive in the Kruger National Park. And, don’t forget to listen carefully for the unmistakable roar of a lion… it can actually be heard from up to 8km away!

  • Lions, like other big cats, spend a lot of time sleeping… sometimes between 15 and 20 hours a day;
  • Males can grow to a height of 1.2m (at the shoulders), while females grow to about 1.1.m;
  • The gestation period of a lioness is 3 to 4 months and between 2 and 6 cubs can be born at a time.
The Majestic Mammoth of the Big Five

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is a mighty and majestic animal indeed. Growing to a height of around 2.8m for females and 3.3m for males, they are a dream to come across on safari, with baby elephants often offering the most entertaining sightings - especially if you happen to see one or two of them playing together or rolling around in the mud… it’s the cutest thing!

You’ll often come across family groups on a Kruger Park safari - be sure to give them their space and to stop a safe distance away from them - you definitely don’t want to agitate or aggravate them. Also, be especially aware of male elephants showing signs of musth - a period in which there’s a rise in their reproductive hormones. They can become very aggressive and are best avoided on a game drive.

  • Male elephants, or bulls, can weigh up to a whopping 6,000kg while females can grow to weigh around 3,000kg;
  • Elephants eat up to 250kgs of food a day, usually consisting of grass, roots and bark, leaves and even fruit
  • Females have a gestation period of 22 months and tend to only produce 1 calf every 4 to 5 years.
Power and Prowess

When it comes to one of the most elusive yet sought-after animals in Kruger Park, a leopard (Panthera pardus) is often top of the list! This powerful and beautiful animal is most active at night or early in the morning - be sure to keep this in mind on your next game drive.

Leopards are solitary animals and will only partner up with another leopard when it’s time to mate or to raise cubs. If you do happen to come across one on safari, drive slowly towards them when you approach them, be as quiet as possible and always ensure that your windows are rolled up.

  • Male leopards weigh around 36 to 75kg on average while females weigh 21 to 60kg;
  • Leopards are incredibly strong and will often drag their kill up into a tree, to keep it away from other predators and scavengers;
  • The pattern on a leopard’s fur is actually made up of rosettes and not spots - spots are found on cheetahs.
Tough and Tenacious

Sometimes the most underestimated of the Big 5, the African or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is actually quite formidable. Trust us when we say that their stone-faced glare isn’t the only intimidating thing about them. Their horns are often used to devastating effect and the way they band together to protect the young or sick is truly impressive!

Buffalo travel in herds and are often found near water sources as they need to drink it daily… an important tip to remember when on a Kruger safari. Remember though that buffalo are also notorious for being short-tempered and unpredictable, so always maintain a safe distance and stay alert when you come across them.

  • Buffalo feed, primarily, on grass but will occasionally chomp on seed pods, shrubs and trees, should they need to;
  • On average, males can weigh between 650 and 900kg. Females, on the other hand, will only weigh around 550 and 700kg;
  • Based on data from South African National Parks (SANParks), it is estimated that there are over 37,000 buffalo in the Kruger National Park, so your chances of coming across them are very good!
The Priceless Horn of Africa

By far, the most endangered of the Big Five, black and white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) are disappearing rapidly, due to the demand for rhino horn. Their horns, which are made from keratin, are used by rhino to protect themselves, their young and their territory as well as to dig and forage for food.

In this ever-expanding digital age, it’s really important for guests of the park to be vigilant when it comes to sharing information. So if there’s one thing to remember at your next rhino sighting in Kruger Park (or even at an elephant one), it’s to not give away any location information and to ensure that geo-tagging is disabled on your phone.

  • White rhinos prefer flat grassland and savannah and, thus, are grazers - something that is made easier thanks to their wide, flat mouths;
  • A rhino’s horn is said to grow between 2 and 6cm per year and will never stop growing;
  • The gestation period for a rhino is 15 to 16 months and they tend to only produce a single calf at a time.
And that’s the Big 5 in a nutshell!

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