Kruger National Park


The largest national park in South Africa (7,700 square miles/20,000 km2, about the size of Wales or Massachusetts) with more mammal species than any other reserve on the continent. It has huge populations of elephants (over 8,000), buffalo (25,000), and Burchell’s zebras (25,000), along with a wide variety of other herbivores, including both black and white (wide-lipped) rhinos.

The range of fascinating wild creatures can only be suggested here—49 fish species, 33 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds, 300 trees, and altogether 147 species of mammals. The mammals include leopards, lions, and cheetahs among the predators, and Kruger also has the highest density of birds of prey in the world, including 15 eagle species.

Impressive statistics aside, it is beautiful, from the mixed vegetation and rolling terrain in the southern section, waving gold or green grassy plains of the south-central district, wooded mopane veld in the north-central, and the sandveld communities and lush riverine forests in the north. Each harbors its own network of species.

Elephants, roan antelopes, tsessebes (a topi subspecies), and elands are mainly in mopane woodland in the north. Burchell’s zebras, blue wildebeest, black rhinoceros, giraffes, and impala are mainly in central and southern areas as are lions which prey on the wildebeests and zebras.

Massive buffalo roam throughout the park. Other herbivores include kudus, with spectacular twisted horns, sable antelopes, waterbucks, warthogs, steenboks, duikers, and klipspringers, only antelopes able to live on steep cliffs and kopjes. There they escape less-agile predators by springing from foothold to precarious foothold on the tips of tiny hooves (but their young are vulnerable to eagles and baboons).

Cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs—Africa’s rarest, most endangered carnivores, each with their own unique spotted coats—and black-backed jackals may be spotted almost anywhere, though leopards are mainly nocturnal.

Kruger is a stronghold of striking, solitary martial eagles. Goliath herons standing 4.5 feet (1.4 m) tall wade serenely in shallows of all major rivers. Hammerkops may take six months to build huge dome-shaped nests with entrances at the bottom—but when they are through, few predators can disturb them.

Purple-crested loeries or turacos with extraordinary red, green, and glossy purple plumage feed on riverine tree fruits. Kingfishers of varied bright plumage dive for small fish along major rivers, beating their prey against a branch before swallowing it. Five species of exquisitely rainbow-hued rollers snatch insects on the ground to consume on overhead branches.

Masked yellow-and-black male weaver birds weave intricate nests which their mates usually reject on the first try, so they tear them apart and start all over. Usually it takes several tries before they get it right.

  

Butterflies flutter along riverbanks. Dung beetles, not the most beautiful of insects but arguably the most unusual, make balls of elephant dung in which they lay an egg, then roll along and bury for their offspring to eat later. In this way they also fertilize the soil. They are so highly regarded in the park that drivers are asked to be careful not to run over them on the road.

Kruger was one of the world’s first national parks. Paul Kruger, the country’s president, set aside land here for wildlife preservation in 1898 and successors have added to it. It is, more than almost any other great world wildlife refuge, a people’s park. No place has better facilities for getting around and seeing things. There are hard-surfaced roads throughout, numerous reasonably-priced accommodations ranging from modest to deluxe, and plenty of information available for self-guided tours. There are also guided walking tours on special wilderness trails. Wildlife-lovers on a modest budget can see a great variety of species in large numbers here without the cost of outfitters, private lodges, and Land Rovers. (The downside is that the park is heavily used—700,000 visitors a year. Reservations are a must.)

An alternative way to see Kruger’s wildlife is through high-priced luxury camps located along the park’s western border in private reserves. These offer the same species with much lower visitor density. They also offer open vehicles, off-road vehicles, and night drives, none of which are available in Kruger itself.

Best times are dry season May–September, when wildlife spends more time near remaining water and is more easily seen. But birding is best in the rainy southern hemisphere summer when northern migrants are present and local birds are breeding and nesting.

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KALAHARI GEMSBOK NATIONAL PARK

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK as well as...

Addo Elephant National Park

Augrabies Falls National Park

Bontebok National Park

Karoo National Park

Mountain Zebra National Park

Vaalbos National Park

Wilderness National Park

Zuurberg National Park

 Lilac-breasted rollers are named for their acrobatic courtship flights, in which loudly calling males climb swiftly and steeply, perhaps 150 feet (50 m), before tipping forward and diving with wings closed almost to the ground, then opening them and rising again. They may repeat this several times before diving at great speed, while rolling to left and right, finally landing near the female, who by then is often calling in response. Calls are less lovely than flights or plumage: a harsh ”zaaak” squawk. Common in open scrub and grasslands.

Lilac-breasted rollers are named for their acrobatic courtship flights, in which loudly calling males climb swiftly and steeply, perhaps 150 feet (50 m), before tipping forward and diving with wings closed almost to the ground, then opening them and rising again. They may repeat this several times before diving at great speed, while rolling to left and right, finally landing near the female, who by then is often calling in response. Calls are less lovely than flights or plumage: a harsh ”zaaak” squawk. Common in open scrub and grasslands.

Click on image for description.

ALSO OF INTEREST

Addo Elephant National Park protects Addo elephants, once nearly exterminated. Now they are seen at water holes, also on night drives along with bushpigs, aardvarks, kudus, rhinoceros, genets, others.

Augrabies Falls National Park was founded to conserve wildlife and scenery around these spectacular falls, now a center to preserve highly endangered Cape rhinoceros, a subspecies of black rhinoceros. Klipspringers are here, also springboks, pale-winged starlings, rosy-faced lovebirds, and others.

Bontebok National Park—bonteboks are rare, beautifully patterned antelopes, unique to the Cape Floral area, where they were brought back from near-extinction. Here also are clawless otters, Stanley’s bustards, numerous blue cranes (South Africa’s national bird).

Karoo National Park has a great wildlife array amid dramatic scenery—53 mammal species include aardwolves, endangered riverine rabbits; 66 species of reptiles and amphibians; 170 bird species include orange-throated longclaws and black eagles.

Mountain Zebra National Park—formerly endangered Cape mountain zebras were brought back from near-extinction here. There are also herds of elands, hartebeest, kudus, black wildebeest, and 200-plus bird species.

Vaalbos National Park—breeding populations of black and white rhinoceros are being established here, also gemsboks, giraffes, elands, others. Facilities under development.

Wilderness National Park is a key waterbird sanctuary, threatened by development, with 270 bird species including gatherings sometimes of 2,000 ducks of nine species, 100 great crested grebes, others.

Zuurberg National Park, with rugged mountainous beauty, visitor facilities being developed, with particularly diverse birdlife—crowned eagles, jackal buzzards, black and martial eagles, orange-breasted and malachite sunbirds.

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