A quick scan of the types of posts on this blog site will reveal that I have a fascination for wildlife and natural ecosystems. I revel in watching animals living and surviving in their native habitat, regardless of where that may be. The adaptions and clever techniques used by different species to cope with different climates and conditions is mind boggling.
Whilst I enjoy fauna everywhere, I have to confess that it is the African species which have truly captured my heart. I think it is because these animals live perpetually on the edge – they must be alert at all times, or suffer the most severe of consequences. This makes them elusive and wary, and extremely cunning when it comes to avoiding danger.
There are a number of places on the African continent where it is possible to observe vast herds of grazers, be awed by primates and perhaps be lucky enough to glimpse the drama of a carnivore stalking its prey. Whilst I would love to go to the more remote of these destinations, my ventures have thus far been limited to the southern parts of Africa.
I have been on many bush and beach walks and visited many of the national parks along the coast, but my favourite place to watch wild animals remains Kruger National Park. This park was first dedicated over 100 years ago and remains one of the largest and justifiably most famous nature reserves in the world. I have visited it twice, the last occasion was for four weeks which gave adequate time to explore it from end to end – right to the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border.
Many things are done in reverse at Kruger. Animals have right of way, and vehicles are expected to move away if required. The maximum speed of travel is 40 or 50km/hr (ie very slowly!) Littering along the roadsides is unknown and all bins in the camps have strong catches on their lids (to keep wildlife out).
This is also one of the few places in the world where the people are ‘secured’ in camps while animals are left free to roam through the park at night! There are strict curfews in place when gates are closed and re-opened, and you earn a fine for not observing these times.
Except for a few well marked areas and the designated camps, people are forbidden from alighting or emerging from their vehicles at any time. This includes hanging out of the window to ‘get that great photo’. The reasons are both practical (you may well become dinner for something!) and to be fair to fellow park users (who may be trying to see something past or over your car).
The result is that most of the animals ignore the motor vehicles completely, as they do not perceive them to be a threat (which means that you get to see a lot more than you would otherwise). However, this acceptance of cars does not apply to smaller things like meerkats or mongooses of which I am particularly fond, but who are extremely wary of anything that moves. With these animals, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and be watching very carefully!
There are a number of ‘camps’ through the park. Some are quite small and have only a few places to stay, whilst others (eg Skukuza and Olifants) are very large and can accommodate many people. Each camp is special. The buildings are thatched rondawels, usually with a verandah where you can sit and soak up the atmosphere. Each also has a place to have an outdoor braai (BBQ) if this is your preferred way to enjoy your evening meal. Depending on the camp, some of the bungalows have views across the park and along the rivers, so that you can watch and appreciate the wildlife from your doorstep.
The ‘Big Five’
There are many hundreds of fauna and flora species in Kruger as it is a very complex environment. I think that the biggest attraction for most people is the big cats (leopards, cheetahs and lions). But the more common animals such as elephants, giraffe and impala really do make the park special. Elephants are enormous and while generally placid, have caused a few people some moments of extreme concern (you are given detailed instructions on driving around and near elephants when you enter the park!). On more than one occasion, I have found myself going back down a track rather rapidly in reverse when suddenly coming across an unexpected elephant or two as I rounded a corner!
The ‘Big Five’ are what the hunters tout as the most difficult animals to hunt while on foot – elephant, lion, rhinoceros, leopard and Cape buffalo. Whilst this term is still used for marketing in Kruger, no hunting occurs in the park. My personal ‘Big Five’ are what I have found to be the most elusive of the larger animals – cheetah, leopard, lion, sable antelope and rhinoceros. My most recent trip to Kruger resulted in some close up and most dramatic sights of the three big cat species – the subject of a future post or two!