Similar to Cape Town, the Kruger area has been going through a pretty severe drought over the past two to three years. According to our safari guide, many animals, especially hippos and cape buffalo, have perished during this time. It’s one thing to have low rainfall for a single year; once this happens for multiple years the situation starts to compound and becomes increasingly dire. During periods with fresh water shortages, the animals do not necessarily die due to thirst, but rather because of lack of food. Less water equals less plants available for grazing; which can be devastating for the animals who eat heavily plant based diets (e.g., elephants, buffalo, giraffe, zebras, etc). When going on safari, most people are very focused on seeing ‘The Big Five’: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, and Rhinoceros. These animals are unfortunately also considered the most desirable species to hunt. I feel tempted to wax on about the injustice and destruction that poachers have heaped on the African Rhino population, but that’s another conversation for another time (for the record, it’s so heartbreaking). During our trip, we got to see four of the big five: lion, elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino.
Klaserie boasts plenty of cape buffalo that tend to congregate and move in herds, but sometimes chill out in isolation too. On our first morning drive, we saw this enormous fellow.
Depending on age, sex, and life experiences, a cape buffalo can weigh anywhere from 500 to 2,000lbs!! If a lion is lucky enough to take down a large buffalo, they will gorge on the food for days until the carcass is completely wiped clean. In fact, our lodge had the skull and bones of a Cape buffalo that was taken down by several lions; everything was wiped clean. I thought I could clean off some oxtail bones pretty well, but that has nothing on what these lions can do. Speaking of eating, our guide said that Buffalos will chew, swallow and regurgitate their food about nine times before their bodies will digest it. Sexy.
We also came across a whole herd of buffalo just relaxing by a small waterhole.
When they see the vehicles and humans, they stare so intently as if they are trying to figure out what kind of potential new predator it is. You definitely can’t get too close at all or they may charge. Once they drop their heads and come straight at you with their horns primed for attack, that’s pretty much a wrap.
I never thought I’d want to see a rhino, but when I got lucky enough to feast eyes on two of them….WHOA BABY! They are magnificent. We saw two white rhinos (the largest species of rhinoceros).
I was most intrigued by the their physical structure, from their horns to the side placement of their eyes, to the way that their noses are situated in relation to the rest of their face. The first rhino we saw was a little spooked by the truck; and immediately started running away. The amount of speed, relative to its size, that it was able to pick up in a short amount of time took my breath away.
You do not want to be in the path of an agitated rhino for sure. The other rhino, that we saw on our last morning drive, stopped in the middle of the path to pee. Everyone’s gotta go when they gotta go.
Impala, Zebras, Wildebeest
Whether you are in Greater Kruger or Kruger proper, you will come across innumerable impala (a type of antelope). They are everywhere.
We saw many males, females, and calves (so cute!). They are very fast and will run away at the slightest provocation.
We’d often see young males grouped together, as they are typically forced out of female heavy herds once they reach maturation.
If you have the chance to see a zebra up close, there is no way you won’t marvel at nature. Their stripes are literally symmetry in perfection. Like impalas, they are fast and tend to run at the sight of pretty much anything.
On our last drive, we came across a random wildebeest, which is another type of antelope.
Our guide described wildebeests as some of the most stupid animals he has come across, haha. Apparently they just aren’t very discerning when it comes to running from predators. If they sense danger they will just charge off in a particular direction and often run smack into the nearest tree. This can injure and render them completely helpless to any lion or other carnivore nearby. Poor things.
Misc: Warthog, Birds, Cobras
It’s fun to see the larger animals, but I also have to give a shout out to some of the unsung heroes of the bush. Kruger as a whole has an immense and diverse population of really beautiful birds, including hornbills, starlings, and eagles.
Random warthog (Pumbaa on the Lion King)
Final shout out to the black mamba cobra that jutted out from under our truck and stood at almost 4 feet tall before slithering onto a tree. Cue heart attack.
Throughout this part of the trip, I’d been musing about the effect of human behavior on the animal population and diversity. Our guide shared a compelling perspective: nature already accounts for humans’ destructive nature; we are, in essence, already part of the grand ‘plan’. It was an interesting take on things. This is not to say that I am no longer concerned about climate change and the insane rate of our global population growth (which results in loss of habitat), but it’s interesting to think about this notion that nature has allowed for the propensity for human destruction, given our extreme intelligence as a species. Or maybe we think that just to make ourselves feel better? This is more philosophical that I typically get, but this time in the bushes of Africa definitely leaves me with a lot to reflect on regarding our place in this circle of life (sorry couldn’t help it; my corniness is deep rooted!)
Quick Tips for Going on Safari
- Book your safari excursion as early as possible. I would recommend that you start planning it at least 9 months in advance. We started looking to book stuff about 5 months out and many of the safari resorts were sold out. Even the self-camping options that you can book directly through South Africa’s National Park system, had severely depleted options for our dates. March/April is a popular time because the Kruger Area is just coming off its rainy season, but it’s not too hot yet.
- If you want to see the greatest concentration of animals, you’ll want to stay in Kruger National Park. We stayed in Greater Kruger Area, which, although is not fenced off from the actual park, does have less animals in certain areas. One of our lodge mates spent a few days self-camping in Kruger proper, and said she saw animals in the range of hundreds. We didn’t see nearly as many.
- If you are set on seeing a lion like I was, keep in mind that they tend to prefer large, expansive, open savannahs, as opposed to areas with thick trees and vegetation. This is why folks will tend to see more animals in the lower Kruger area (Sabi Sands is said to be particularly good for this).
- Leopards are harder to see because they are nocturnal.
That’s it for our time on safari! I can’t wait until I go again (crosses finger)! Stay tuned for our adventures in Johannesburg and a tour of all the food (i.e., meat) that we inhaled.