Kruger National Park

by - July 14, 2018

I am aware I have neglected my blog for the past year - I have had my final year of university and the rumours were true - it's hard and it's difficult. I was also my favourite year at uni and I can't believe how much I am going to miss it. 

Anyway - August 2017: I visited Kruger National Park. It took me four trips to South Africa to make it to this world renowned park but I finally did it. I went for 4 days with a company called Kurt Safaris (would recommend: was very efficient). It was me and one other person and we had an incredible experience. 

We saw the Big5 - always a bonus, especially for my friend as it was his first time in Africa. Our trip consisted of one night drive, two full days in the park, and a morning safari before flying home! I was very keen to see spotted hyena and wild dog, as they are two species I have never seen before. Wild dog are incredibly rare (keep an eye out for an EndangeredSpecies post) and even in Kruger, they are only seen on average once a month. So I knew this was a big ask, but I also knew Kruger was my best chance to see both these animals. 

Well, Kruger delievered.

On our night drive we saw a pack of wild dog and a couple of spotted hyena. I'd been there about 3 hours and already was over the moon. We also saw elephants, white rhino, black-backed jackal, and countless other species on this night drive and I was left so excited for the next day. 

We ended up seeing wild dog everyday and I can't believe our luck. Lion proved challenging to find. In the end we saw two lioness, and even saw then charge some buffalo - it was suspected they had cubs nearby we couldn't see and so weren't hunting the buffalo but merely moving them on. We also saw a male lion basking in the sun. He was quite a distance away, but with a good pair of binoculars he was very clear and magnificent. 

Leopard was also a challenge, as they also are. They are solitary, elusive, and spend a lot of time in trees. In the end we saw one, just one hour before we had to leave on our last day. This leopard was only found because she was seen stealing a kill from a pack of wild dogs and hiding it up a tree near the road. By the time we saw her, she had abandoned the kill due to vehicles and was hiding in the bushes. We didn't stay long at all as it was clear she was anxious to return to her meal. 

I was anxious to see white rhino, as some believe the numbers of poaching incidents and rhino population reported in Kruger are false, and the situation is actually worse than is reported. Some believe there are much fewer rhinos in the park than they say, and to see them now is rare. I actually saw white rhino everyday (no black but that was always going to be the case as they are again rare, solitary, and elusive and there are only around 400 in the park, which is the size of Wales). I was extremely relieved to see white rhino so much and looking healthy. 

It was strange for me to see them with their full horns. Having spent most of my time in Africa on private game reserves, where de-horning has become common practise, to see these animals with their full horns was a bit of a shock. They really are magnificent beasts. Although it's beautiful to see them like this, it does make me nervous. Their horns are so iconic but so dangerous. 

Kruger presents excellent bird watching and photographic opportunities. I definitely recommend the park for that! You also get to see rare antelope species or animals you only find on really big reserves that can cater for them spatially and have high carnivore populations.

Top: Yellow billed hornbill; middle: lilac breasted roller; Bottom: fish eagle pair. 

Overall I had a great time in Kruger and am so glad I went. The wild dog sightings really were incredible and made it worth the trip. 

However, I do much prefer private reserves, and would recommend them to anyone over national parks I think if you want a more authentic experience. The national parks are great for guaranteeing more sightings and getting you close, but it'll be you alongside 20 other vehicles. For me, there were way too many other cars. 

I was baffled to learn how easy it is to drive your own car in the park. In fact, anyone can do it. I do not recommend this regardless of the obvious danger because:
  • in a game viewer you are higher off the ground which makes it easier to see animals 
  • with a trained guide you are more likely to find the animals 
  • guides provide you with information so you learn at the animals you are seeing 
  • safari companies are allowed in earlier
It's also insanely dangerous to drive around some of these animals if you don't know what you're doing. Tourists die doing this every year because they do not know the warning signs of danger, or respect the animals. There are rules, such as not leaning out of you car, that I witnessed being broken on countless occasions. I was pleased to see my guide, and others, telling these tourists when they were breaking the rules and asking them to stop. 

I want to say, this is not true of all national parks in Africa or even South Africa. I am not criticising SANParks as I know of the wonderful work they do. My visits to Pilanesberg, and the Masai Mara (where they implement strict fining rules), prove that car congestion is not a universal problem.

Overall, I had a positive experience and probably would go back, but I much prefer smaller reserves. There, you get a more intimate experience. It might take you longer to see the animals, but there will be very few/no other cars, you learn more about the reserves and the work that goes into running them and keeping the animals safe, and there are often more options than driving, such as bush walks, on offer for you to enjoy.  

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