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.

THE RHINO TRAIL

One does not need a cicerone to enjoy the Rhino Trail that circumnavigates the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park, for one can join it from anywhere within the camp. We opted to start off at the reception area and to walk along it in an anti-clockwise direction. The path basically follows the perimeter fence which, for the most part, is defined by the Matjulu River. Although written signs point to the trail, one periodically comes across large cement markers sporting a rhino footprint.

Rhino Trail marker

At first the trail was broad and well-defined with several benches conveniently placed so that visitors can enjoy viewing the river in comfort or simply rest in the shade of the riverine trees. Even though the river is bone dry in this current drought, we saw impala, a reedbuck, bushbuck, two buffalo and even some elephants in the riverbed.

impala

buffalo

bushbuck

The trail narrows as one approaches the camping area so that it is best to walk single-file and to watch one’s footing over the rough ground. Unfortunately at this point some campers had appropriated the loose garden benches for their own use and had set up camp right next to the fence. This meant having to walk around the tents and caravans. Do watch out for the signs near the entrance gate – we missed them – for the continuation of the trail, leading to the bricked path towards the reception area.

A walk along the Rhino Trail is easy and worthwhile for it is mostly treed. Among the more interesting trees are the Apple-leaf, Huilboerboon, and the Kigelia africana. The latter is in bloom and its deep red flowers attract several birds.

vine

Flowers of Kigelia africana

Flowers of Kigelia africana

There are a variety of birds too, from the African Fish Eagle calling from the opposite bank of the river and the Yellow-billed Kite swooping overhead, to a Brownhooded Kingfisher, Red-billed Hornbills, Blue Waxbills, Speckled Mousebirds, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and Red-winged Starlings close to the fence.

Blue waxbill

Blue waxbill

Signs along the perimeter fence warn visitors not to feed wild animals. While these are mostly aimed at hyenas, vervet monkeys and chacma baboons, we were astounded to see a young foreign tourist try to feed grass to a bull elephant feeding on shrubs on the outside of the fence late one afternoon. I think the presence of the fence had lulled him into a false sense of security, as if he were watching elephants in a zoo.

warning sign

I can imagine that the Rhino Trail would yield many treasured sightings of animals, birds, insects and interesting plants when the river is flowing. Even in the drought it provides an opportunity for exercise and contemplation.