5 Record-breaking Birds and Animals of Greater Kruger National Park
5 Kruger Record-breakers
Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa, is home to:
- a mammal that has killed more people than any other (no, it's not the lion)
- the world's tallest mammal
- the bird that builds the world's largest nest
- Africa's smallest carnivore
- Africa's heaviest flying bird.
Find out more, watch the video
Can't watch or haven't got time to watch videos? Read the transcript.
The hippo has killed more people than any other mammal, and the world's tallest mammal is the giraffe. The sociable weaver builds the world's largest nest. Africa's smallest carnivore is the dwarf mongoose, which is also the world's smallest mongoose. Africa's heaviest flying bird is the kori bustard.
Kruger also contains the largest and second largest mammals in the world: the African elephant and the white rhinoceros.
Which Record Would You Break?
If you could break a record, would it be the record for being:
The following birds and animals break all the records in the poll to some degree.
Let's find out why.
The Adaptable Giraffe Girafffa camelopardalis giraffa
- There are nine subspecies of giraffe. The subspecies found in Kruger is the Cape giraffe, which also lives in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
- Each subspecies has its own distinctive pattern. The Cape giraffe has roughly star-shaped blotches on a tan background.
- As herbivores, giraffes eat only vegetation that is rich in nutrients. Their efficient digestive system has a higher capacity for absorption than the stomachs of other even-toed hoofed mammals, and effectively breaks down and digests nutrients. This means giraffes eat less than half the amount of food needed by other grazing mammals, and can survive for longer in harsh conditions.
- Giraffes live in a range of habitats like savannahs, woodlands and seasonal floodplains with thickets. They graze on shrubs and trees with leaves over 2 metres (3 feet 3 inches) from the ground, to avoid competition with shorter herbivores.
- These versatile animals eat over 100 species of plant by day or night, and breed at any time of year.
- Three bony protrusions above their eyes prevent giraffes from seeing upwards, which does not matter as they have no aerial predators. Their heavily-reinforced heads are used like clubs when males fight for the right to mate with females. They swing their necks, and hit each other so hard they can break each other's jaws.
- Adult giraffes can run up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) an hour, easily outstripping most predators.
- Giraffes have very large home ranges of up to 80 square kilometres (31 square miles), but can travel 654 square kilometres (252 square miles) or more when searching for food or a mate.
- Often solitary, giraffes form temporary feeding herds. A female and her calf stay together for up to one year.
- Half to three-quarters of young giraffes are killed before they are one year of age by lions, hyenas, leopards, crocodiles and humans. Lions even attack adult giraffes.
Head and body: 3.5 to 5.2 m (11 ft 5 in to 17 ft 0 in); tail 76 to 110 cm (2 ft 6 in to 3 ft 7 in); weight 450 to 1400 kg (993 to 3080 lbs)
Although the South African or Cape giraffe is not considered threatened, its numbers have declined due to loss of habitat and poaching. Giraffes are still hunted in some countries for their beautiful fur.
The Giraffe Conservation Foundation appreciates donations and news about giraffe conservation efforts.
The Cooperative Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius
- Sociable weavers build huge communal nests of interlocking twigs in tree forks, or on telegraph poles to deter predators. Nests weigh up to 1,000 kg or 1 ton and are up to 6 metres (20 feet) wide. The roof is up to 7.5 metres (25 feet) wide and 1.5 metres (5 feet) high.
- Beneath the roof, there are 100 or more chambers made of sticks to which the birds add straw or grass each day. Most chambers are 10 to 15 centimetres (4 to 6 inches) wide. Some chambers contain a breeding pair. These birds make grassy cups for their eggs, with ridges to stop the eggs from falling out. Other chambers house up to five birds who huddle together for warmth.
- Scientists have found these communal nests cut energy consumption by 40%, meaning the birds do not have to spend as much time out in the open eating insects, and can protect their vulnerable chicks in the nest.
- Saving energy helps the birds save water. Sociable weavers need less water, ounce for ounce, than any other bird -- not even a teaspoon per day per bird. Most never drink at all, deriving their moisture from eating juicy harvester termites.
- Each chamber has an individual entrance with a tunnel made of spiky grass to deter predators. This tunnel is up to 25 centimetres (10 inches) long and 7 centimetres (2.7 inches) wide.
- Sociable weavers are preyed on by honey badgers, cobras and large-eyed tree snakes. Reptilian predators can go from chamber to chamber rapidly, feasting on eggs and young birds. The birds warn each other of a snake approach with a special 'tip tip tip' call.
- These birds welcome other species, like pygmy falcons, into their nesting chambers, and let raptors like vultures and eagles use the communal roof as a nesting site. Although these predators may occasionally eat a sociable weaver, they prevent more dangerous creatures, such as snakes, from entering nesting chambers.
- Because they are so vulnerable, sociable weavers breed all year round, laying between two and six eggs in one clutch.
- These cooperative birds can, if they survive infancy, live up to 10 years of age so have plenty of time to breed. When food is scarce, it is wiser to ensure living chicks survive rather than giving birth to vulnerable youngsters. As a result, the weavers will build nests for each other, including birds they are not related to, and provide food for other birds' families. Siblings will feed their younger brothers and sisters. The entire group will forage together for insects and seeds.
- Young birds that are not eaten by predators are spoilt. They spend their first winter in their parents' nest, however old they are, and are fed even when they have learnt to fly.
Length: 14 cm (5 inches); weight: 26 to 30 g (0.9 to 1 oz)
The Resourceful Hippopotamus (hippo) Hippopotamus amphibius
Safari guide, Eric, reveals interesting info
Can't watch or haven't got time to watch videos? Read the transcript
The hippo is the world's third largest mammal. Hippos live up to 40 years in the wild. They can hold their breath for seven minutes underwater. Although they spend a lot of time in the water, they cannot swim.
- Hippos kill more human beings than any other mammal because they live in populated areas as well as national parks, so regularly encounter people. They are not aggressive but will defend themselves and their young against perceived threats, especially on defined food paths (see below). At the same time, they are some of the most relaxed animals around, wallowing in rivers or swamps for most of the day.
- Hippos are the only cloven-hoofed mammal to protect themselves from predators by using water as a deterrent. They group together in schools of, generally, around 15 to 30 animals. They like shallow water so they can stand or kneel on the ground while keeping their heads above the surface.
- Hippos are adapted to spending lots of time in water. Young hippos suckle underwater by folding their tongues round their mothers' nipples, and enjoy wrestling with and splashing each other. Adults sleep and relax unless their watery refuges get overcrowded. Then they fight for space.
- When hippos are in the water, people can get quite close to them on riverbanks, but should not enter the water by swimming or approaching them on a boat.
- Because they have no fur, hippos easily dehydrate. Their bodies produce an oily substance that acts as both a sunscreen and a moisturiser.
- For large animals, hippos do not eat much for their size as they do not use a lot of energy. They wallow during the day and amble and graze at night. They only eat about 35 kilograms (80 pounds) of grass a night, and only need to be out of the water for a maximum of 5 hours.
- Each adult animal has an established food path, marked by piles of its dung, that it uses to get to a grazing area. This path can be up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) long. Most attacks occur when people unwittingly block this pathway.
- Male hippos continue to grow throughout their lives, meaning older heavier males monopolise mating.
- When hippos yawn, they are not tired, they are challenging dominant males for the right to mate. They broadcast their strength by tossing waterweeds around. Then they fight by clashing their lower jaws together and pushing each other.
- Hippos have a low birth rate, with females only givinge birth once every two years, but also have a long lifespan, living up to 50 years of age in captivity.
Head and body: 280 to 350 cm (9 ft 2 in to 11 ft 5 in); tail: 35 to 50 cm (1 ft 1 in to 1 ft 8 in); weight: 510 to 3,200 kg (1,124 to 7,055 lbs)
Hippo populations have declined drastically due to shrinking habitat and hunting. In some countries, due to the success of elephant conservation programs, hippos are poached for their teeth and tusks which contain ivory. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the hippo population has declined by 95% due to war and being hunted for food.
Hippos are classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List
- donating to World Conservation Society efforts to save hippos in Zambia
- adopting a hippo through the Turgwe Hippo Trust which conserves hippos in Zimbabwe
- becoming a member of the African Wildlife Foundation, which works with local communities on hippo protection.
The Strategic Dwarf Mongoose Helogale parvula parvula
- Because they are so tiny, dwarf mongooses have many predators including carnivorous mammals, reptiles and birds.
- To protect themselves, they live in groups of at least eight and sleep in dens which are often abandoned termite mounds, as the constant temperature in these keeps them cool in summer and warm in winter. Each den is guarded by one or more mongooses acting as sentries, and has a communal latrine.
- Living in savannahs, thickets and woodlands, dwarf mongooses are territorial, with home ranges of 30,000 to 60,000 square metres (322,917 to 645,834 square feet). Territories can overlap slightly with those of other groups, leading to skirmishes, which larger groups usually win.
- Each group is ruled by a monogamous breeding pair, with females higher in the hierarchy than males. At the beginning of each day, the dominant male marks each group member with a secretion from his anal gland to make sure no strangers try to enter the group.
- Only the dominant female breeds, having two to three litters of up to six babies a year. Young dwarf mongooses are looked after by other members of the group. They stay in the dens until they are about two or three weeks of age, then emerge. They are very playful, and wrestle and mock fight with their adult carers. Once the next litter arrives, former infants become sentries and care for their younger siblings, getting food for them, guarding them, and huddling up to them at night to keep them warm.
- Dwarf mongooses live up to 8 years of age. A group stays together until the dominant female dies. The remaining members then form other groups, with siblings not always staying together.
- When threatened, they will run but will fight to protect the young.
- Dwarf mongooses are largely carnivorous, eating insects, young rodents, lizards, snakes and birds, but also fruits and seeds. Groups hunt together, chasing and pouncing on their prey over a range of 50 to 60 metres (164 to 196 feet). They do not stalk their prey but will follow rodent species down burrows and are valuable in controlling rat populations.
- Groups are vocal, using chirps and cries to communicate, advise of danger and let others know they have found food. Scientists found these calls are not constant between groups, but that each group has its own 'dialect'.
- Dwarf mongooses cooperate with other species, to their mutual benefit. Hornbills will warn mongooses of the presence of predators and eat the insects mongooses dislodge while foraging. Giant plated lizards eat mongoose dung, gaining nutrients from it while keeping the mongooses' environment clean. Dwarf mongooses will travel with groups of larger animals such as baboons for protection.
- Because they are savvy animals good at protecting themselves, dwarf mongooses are not threatened.
The Striking Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori
- Because they are such large, heavy birds, kori bustards would rather walk than fly and will only fly when they are in danger. As a result, they stay in the same area as long as there is enough food for them.
- Despite their size, they are good fliers. They flap their wings quickly and frequently on take-off, but once in the air fly strongly and steadily.
- Kori bustards live on savannahs and grasslands, and are omnivores, eating berries, lizards and snakes, and the gum of acacia trees. They are opportunistic eaters, eating carrion and following herds of animals to consume disturbed insects. They also feed on new grass shoots in recently burnt areas.
- Unlike other birds, they do not scoop up water with their beaks but suck it up.
- Males, who are a lot larger than the females, have an elaborate courting ritual. They dance while inflating their throats to spread their white neck feathers outwards and lifting their tails to display the feathers underneath. They will even ruffle all their feathers to appear as a large fluffy ball, and make a loud booming sound.
- As kori bustards are mainly solitary birds, the male does not help the female raise the young. He will even, directly after briefly copulating, repeat the courtship display with another female.
- The female makes a thin nest on the ground, leaving this only to feed, and lays one or two eggs.
- Young birds hatch after 23 or 24 days and stay with their mothers for at least five weeks. They reach sexual maturity at the age of two.
- Due to their size, kori bustards are low-flying birds, so can be electrocuted when colliding with power lines. They are also hunted in some regions for their meat, or kept as pets. Fortunately, they prefer to live in conservation areas such as national parks where they are protected, so although their populations have diminished in most areas, they are not considered threatened.
- Kori bustards can live up to 20 years of age.
Vital statistics are based on the males.
Quiz: How Much Do You Know?view quiz statistics
For more information on the birds and animals on this hub page and other African birds and animals, order these books from Amazon:
- Sinclair I and Ryan P 2010, Birds of Africa south of the Sahara, second edition, Chamberlain
- Kingdon J 2012, The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals, Bloomsbury Publishing
- Branch B, Stuart C, Stuart T, Tarboton W 2007, Travellers' Wildlife Guides: Southern Africa, Interlink Publishing Group.
Want to go on safari in Greater Kruger National Park? See my hub page
Want to find out more about South Africa's Big 5? See my hub page, and do the quiz to find your inner Big 5 animal.