Kruger National Park-a great South African Game Reserve-April 2017
Kruger National Park re-visited: April 2017
The evening is warm and a pleasant breeze flowing down the valley at Berg-en-Dal camp begins to cool down the air so that sleeping in my tent will be comfortable tonight. As I sit in my camp chair the wood fire burns in front of me and I identify several sounds in the quiet night. Nearby a Scops Owl calls to its mate who answers from a tree to the left. A Jackal shrill call in the nearby bush is answered by a Hyena who is patrolling the perimeter fence of the camp. In the distance I hear the roar of a pride of Lion who are probably on their hunt. The males calling and the females pulling down the prey as it runs away - a perfect killing team. Tomorrow the Vultures will indicate where the kill took place as they circle in the air before settling in nearby trees to wait their turn to feed. The Hyena and Jackal will wait patiently for their opportunity.
The Kruger National Park is undoubtedly one of the great game reserves in the world. Covering the NE part of South Africa it borders on Mozambique in the east and Zimbabwe to the north, with over 3000 km of roads and 23 rest camps plus a number of privately owned concessions. Over a million visitors arrive every year to appreciate the 520 bird, 119 reptile and 147 mammal species. It generates millions of rand of revenue for the country and supports a large amount of job opportunities for locals. It is very user friendly and can be visited by car or in the vehicles of one of the many tour operators who operate from outside the reserve or from the various camps. Accommodation varies from luxury air conditioned bungalows and chalets to campgrounds.
For me the camping alternative is the only choice as it takes me out into the African Wilderness with its beautiful night skies and sounds. For others the more expensive chalets and bungalows provide a more luxurious experience. Driving slowly on the roads and searching for the 'big five' or simply enjoying the variety of habitat types, many bird species and interesting interaction between animals is the magic of Kruger.
For our present visit we are camping in two of the most southern rest camps; Malelane for two nights and then Berg-en-Dal for three nights. While our visit co-incides with the South African School holidays the roads and full camps are not really a problem as the visitors are pleasant and co-operative. One of the plusses of camping is that you meet interesting people every day in the communal kitchens and bathroom areas and share sightings and experiences, and even the frustrations of animals just missed.
Every visit to Kruger brings new sightings and viewings that add to our increasing bank of memories and often to our collection of Kruger photos, some we will be sharing with you in this article. Two such experiences on this trip were ones we have not seen before. Firstly we watched two huge Elephants very near our car embracing each other with their trunks. In the past we have seen Elephants being aggressive toward other animals but this was something else. Apparently Elephants as highly social animals have this way of greeting each other that includes touching of trunks and even putting them into each other's mouths and sharing information in this way by touch and smell.
The second experience that we noticed was another huge Elephant Bull sleeping. Elephant sleep standing up but we have only seen them feeding and so were amazed to watch this big fellow standing absolutely still with his eyes closed. We stopped the car to watch for a while and then when I started the engine the sound of the starter motor woke him up with a start - no pun intended.
On this trip we had one of those very special Kruger moments when we followed a female Cheetah with four cubs walking up the road near Malelane one evening just before the camp gates closed. The animals were beautiful in the last light and while it was not a good time for photography the images are fixed in our minds as these graceful cats stopped to sharpen their nails on a tree and marked their territory against the same and nearby trees.
We were fortunate to see four of the big five on this trip with the Lions being heard but not seen. We however had some great sightings of birds including a usual very secretive Purple-crested Turaco who posed for a picture right next to the road as it drank water from a pool of rain water.
Watching a group of Impala full of the joys of life doing a Springbuck imitation of 'pronking' (jumping into the air with all feet off the ground), was another of the highlights of this trip.
Kruger National Park remains one of our favourite destinations even if it is over 1000 km from East London. So before we have another opportunity to visit we will have to be satisfied with the closer Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth, another great South African game reserve with its own character and magic, and is only 300km away.