THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

We do not go there nearly often enough, yet the Kruger National Park remains one of my favourite holiday destinations in South Africa. From where we live now, it requires a two or three day drive to get there, depending on the state of the roads at the time. Given the ever-increasing price of fuel, it is also an expensive trip to undertake. This means that when we do go, we try to spend close on three weeks there at a time.

I grew up within such easy reach of the Kruger National Park that we could go in for day trips. Sometimes we would visit as a family or I would accompany friends. The primary school I attended was good about taking us there too – usually to play softball or tennis matches against pupils from the primary school in Skukuza. Such trips would include an overnight stay in dormitories, when we would routinely be frightened by Spotted Hyenas knocking the lids off the metal dustbins outside.

Spotted Hyena

There is such a wide variety of game, interesting insects, and birds to see in the Kruger Park that visitors have no reason to be bored. Nonetheless, many visitors tend to feel dissatisfied unless they have seen at least one lion (preferably at a kill), cheetah and a leopard (particularly elusive creatures).

Lion

Leopard

Of course they are interesting to see, although I do not think it is worth sitting in a traffic jam for hours in the hope of glimpsing part of one through the tangle of vehicles. There is so much more to explore like the scenery of open veld, riverine trees, the rivers and rocky outcrops that are not only lovely to look at, but which might harbour all sorts of surprises – such as a Pearl-spotted Owlet!

Pearlspotted owlet

A sense of peace descends on me as I become attuned to the natural surroundings in which we can admire the simple beauty of an Impala:

Impala

The grace and elegance of Giraffe:

Giraffe

The majesty of Elephants:

Elephant

Or be taken aback by the Golden Orb Spiders along a path:

Goldenorbspider

One might even be fortunate enough to come across the endangered Ground Hornbills picking their way through the veld.

Ground Hornbill

I associate the Kruger National Park with diversity, contrasts and constant surprises. It is good to take a break from driving every now and then to spend the best part of a day parked at a waterhole, sitting in a bird hide, or exploring the rest camp. From the dawn chorus of birds to the roar of lions at night, there is always something interesting happening in the Kruger Park. It is a place I always leave with a heavy heart and a vow to return as soon as I can!

sunset

THERE WERE BIRDS TOO

How can I end a round-up of our trip to the Kruger National Park without mentioning birds? I will only illustrate ten, although the list at the end shows that there were many more to see.

Crested Francolins welcomed us at our first campsite and pecked their cryptically coloured way throughout the park.

crested francolin

The beautiful colours of the White-fronted Bee-eaters were such a contrast to their drab surroundings.

white-fronted bee-eater

This Wattled Plover has a wise look in its eye.

wattled plover

As does the Cape Glossy Starling.

Cape glossy starling

It was such a pleasant surprise to see a Scarlet-chested Sunbird in the middle of what looked like barren land.

scarlet-chested sunbird

I simply have to show off the Bataleur again!

Bataleur

To see a Red-breasted Swallow perched right next to me was a real privilege.

red-breasted swallow

African Mourning Doves began and ended each day with a song in Satara.

African mourning dove

This colourful Crested Barbet almost climbed in through the window of our vehicle.

crested barbet

I was delighted to see a Brown-headed Parrot in the same tree that I had seen them in at Satara in April last year!

brown-headed parrot

My list of birds seen in the Kruger National Park is:

African Fish Eagle
African Green Pigeon
African Grey Hornbill
African Jacana
African Mourning Dove
African Openbill
African Pied Wagtail
Arrow-marked Babbler
Bataleur
Black-backed Puffback
Black-bellied Bustard
Black-collared Barbet
Black Crake
Black Cuckoo
Black Heron
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Heron
Black-headed Oriole
Blacksmith Plover
Blackwinged Stilt
Blue Waxbill
Boubou
Brown-headed Parrot
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Buffalo Weaver
Burchell’s Starling
Cape Bunting
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cattle Egret
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
Comb Duck
Crested Barbet
Crested Francolin
Crowned Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Darter
Double-banded Sandgrouse
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
European Bee-eater
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Giant Kingfisher
Goliath Heron
Great Egret
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Grey-headed Sparrow
Grey Heron
Grey Lourie
Ground Hornbill
Hadeda Ibis
Hamerkop
Helmeted Guineafowl
Hooded Vulture
Hoopoe
House Sparrow
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Kori Bustard
Kurrichane Thrush
Lappet-faced Vulture
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Lilac-breasted Roller
Little Egret
Magpie Shrike
Marabou Stork
Martial Eagle
Natal Spurfowl
Ostrich
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Purple Turaco
Red-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-breasted Swallow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Saddle-billed Stork
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Speckled Mousebird
Spoonbill
Square-tailed Drongo
Streaky-headed Canary
Tawny Eagle
Three-banded Plover
Variable Sunbird
Water Thick-knee
Wattled Plover
White-backed Vulture
White-bellied Sunbird
White-fronted Bee-eater
White-rumped Swift
Woolly-necked Stork
Yellow-billed Kite
Yellow-billed Stork
Yellow-fronted Canary

SOME ANIMALS OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

Looking back on the past entries relating to our visit to the Kruger National Park, I realise that I have painted a rather bleak picture of it under the current drought conditions. It was not all doom and gloom: we thoroughly enjoyed our time there and had some wonderful experiences seeing a variety of animals. Here is a sample of them:

I have mentioned elsewhere that vervet monkeys can become a nuisance in the camping sites. This was especially so at Berg-en-Dal and to a lesser extent at Satara. One simply needs to be careful not to leave food out and to keep one’s tent / trailer / caravan closed. Having said that, it is a delight to watch these creatures as they move through the camp searching out berries, seeds and other titbits to eat. They are playful and caring with each other.

vervet monkey

In the Eastern Cape we are used to seeing black wildebeest and so enjoyed the blue wildebeest (or brindled gnu) in their natural habitat.

blue wildebeest

We also saw several bushbuck.

bushbuck

Waterbuck were plentiful – some in herds in the veld, others in the dry river beds and we would occasionally see single ones at waterholes, such as this one at Transport Dam:

waterbuck

For some reason there seemed to be fewer epauletted fruit bats roosting under the eaves of the shop at Skukuza than I have seen before.

epauletted fruit bats

Leopards were a great attraction for tourists. We kept missing them until we reached the area around Satara. Even then we really only saw them because someone else had ‘spotted’ them first!

leopard

Spotted hyena were a drawcard too.

spotted hyena

Late afternoons were the best time to see steenbok.

steenbok

We were fortunate to come across a small herd of nyala.

nyala

And then there were the lions – animals on everyone’s wish list.

lion

 

SWENI HIDE

The Sweni Hide in the Kruger National Park must rank as one of the best places to spend time in for it is spacious, airy, and commands a wonderful view of the Sweni River.

Sweni Hide

Sweni Hide

With resident hippos, crocodiles, Egyptian Geese, Black Crakes, African Pied Wagtails, a Grey Heron, Blacksmith Plovers, Water Thick-knees, and a Yellow-billed Stork, there was always something to watch.

yellow-billed stork

yellow-billed stork

We watched a herd of over forty elephants fan around the water to drink, wallow and spray themselves with mud.

elephants

elephants

A troop of chacma baboons spent time working their way from one end of the waterhole to well beyond the hide: eating, chasing each other, grooming one another, and drinking.

chacma baboons

One crocodile spent several hours catching fish while others basked in the sun on the rocks or lay quietly in the water.

crocodile

crocodile

A pod of hippos, which had been lying on the sandy bank, entered the water en masse when an elephant came down the slope.

elephantandhippos

Impala, kudu, and waterbuck also came down to drink. As at Transport Dam, we were never out of sight of something to watch. The difference was that here we could move around and enjoy a cool breeze.

IN THE GRIP OF A DROUGHT

The most severe drought in over thirty years has bitten hard in the Kruger National Park, where the lack of grass is striking – even though this is the end of winter. I have already illustrated this with the contrasting images of Transport Dam from April last year to September this year. Another stark contrast is evident when crossing the N’wanestsi River. In April last year we were confronted by this magnificent scene:

N'wanetsi2015

Now it looks like this:

N'wanetsi2016

That many animals have succumbed to the drought or have been culled has been widely reported in the press. Along some of the roads one can occasionally be overwhelmed by the stench of rotting flesh and elsewhere bones are clearly visible.

bones

bones

bones

As the drought continues, sufficient nutritious food must be increasingly difficult to find. At some places one is left wondering what the animals are finding to ward off hunger.

barren veld

Browsers are, perhaps, more fortunate.

browsers

We happened upon a leopard gnawing at a long-dead carcass of a blue wildebeest.

leopard

Another leopard had clearly had an altercation with a porcupine.

Note the porcupine quill below the eye

Note the porcupine quill below the eye

At the N’wanetsi viewpoint we looked down on crocodiles eating a dead hippo.

crocodilesandhippo

Bear in mind that dead animals provide food for others.

vulture

lion

Pundits predict that rains are not expected until November. As bleak as the immediate future might seem to be, the hardy species survive. Even the most battered of trees know it is spring and are sprouting tender leaves.

springleaves

Even though these will be nibbled at by anything from a kudu to a Grey Lourie.

Grey Lourie

TRANSPORT DAM

Open any outdoor/travel-related magazine in South Africa and you are bound to come across photographic evidence of wonderful sightings of wildlife seen at Transport Dam, some 24 km from Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. It is a waterhole worth spending time at and this year was no exception – we happily parked there for five hours. Okay, there were no dramatic happenings, but there was always something to watch.

Before I get onto what we saw, this is what Transport Dam looked like in April 2015

And the shock that awaited us in September 2016, where the devastating effect of the drought is blatantly obvious.

Transport Dam

Patience is required when watching nature reveal itself. The kudu were diffident, cautious about approaching the water, and left as soon as they had slaked their thirst. Impala, on the other hand, came and went in large herds – one of close to a hundred – carefully skirting the section of the bank where a crocodile basked in the sun.

impala

At first one elephant made its way to the dam, sprayed itself with muddy water, drank deeply, and then walked further into the dam to submerge itself completely before leaving in a determined manner.

elephant

Later, another young bull arrived in a feisty mood, striding forward, scattering impala in its wake and sending the resident Egyptian Goose flying across to the opposite bank. He trumpeted loudly, chased after a few impala standing nearby, and then splashed himself with water, drank his fill and seemed reluctant to leave. I got the impression that it is no fun for a young bull elephant to drink by himself. Too true. He stood to one side and watched as, a while later, two other young bulls waded into the water. Greetings over and the fun began. The three elephants soon submerged themselves, climbed on top of each other, and were clearly having fun until – at some signal only they recognised – they broke away from each other and left abruptly.

A lone giraffe took a long time to make its elegant way through the sparse vegetation to the edge of the water. Caution meant that a good 45 minutes passed before it finally bent down to drink.

giraffe

Several herds of Burchell’s zebra came to drink at one time or another, often with foals in tow.

zebra

Warthogs wallowed in the mud and two hippos submerged in the water would occasionally show only their noses or a fraction of their heads. It was the arrival of a white rhinoceros that caused a stir of excitement. Covered with up to twenty Red-billed Oxpeckers, it lumbered towards the dam, stopping short for a good mud wallow before slaking its thirst.

white rhinoceros

white rhinoceros

Blue wildebeest, vervet monkeys and waterbuck arrived and left during the time we spent at Transport Dam. For me, however, the most exciting event of all was when a Bataleur alighted right next to our vehicle. It returned there more than once and at one stage was joined on the ground by its mate.