The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s oldest and largest national park. The size of a small country, it covers an area of 19,000 km2, making it one of the largest national parks in the world. Areas of the park were first protected by the Government in 1898 in order to preserve what little was left of southern Africa’s wildlife. Stretching from the Crocodile River in the South to the Limpopo River in the North, it is a biologically important savanna, consisting of a remarkable variety of landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife. All the ‘Big Five’ game animals are found in Kruger and it has more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve. Highlights include elephants, wild dogs, buffalos, caracals, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, leopards, lions, rhinos, servals, hyenas, wildcats, and zebras.
A comprehensive road network that is fine for 2WD cars means Kruger is one of the best parks for self-drive safaris. The Park also offers a number of guided walking trails. Some are overnight and last several days in areas of wilderness virtually untouched by humans. There are no set trails in the wilderness areas; visitors walk along paths made by animals or seek out new routes through the bush!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: $25 per day without accommodation which can vary in price. A two night stay with one night in a chalet and one in a tent can set you back around $130.
Best time to visit: the dry winter months from May to September. At this time, skies are clear, the bush thins out, and animals congregate around waterholes and rivers. Conditions get better as winter progresses, and September is particularly lovely since the mornings are less chilly. The best wildlife viewing coincides with the low season, making it even more attractive. If birding is your interest, consider a trip during the wet season (October to April) when the migrant birds arrive. During this season it’s advisable to take anti-malarial medication. The southern sections of the Park can be exceptionally busy over the holiday periods (Easter, July, and December-January) so you need to book months in advance to secure accommodation. There’s a maximum number of vehicles that can enter the park daily. If this threshold is reached only visitors with pre-booked overnight accommodation will be permitted access.
How to get there: most visitors to the park choose to self-drive. The drive from Johannesburg to the closest gate (Numbi) is around 4 hours (~400km). If travelling via the N4, have a comfort stop at the Alzu Petroport just past Middelburg where you can fill up your vehicle and use the facilities while watching rhino, ostriches, and impala! You can also fly to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (MQP), which lies 40km from southern Kruger’s Numbi Gate. Alternatively, fly to Hoedspruit (for the central and northern sections) or Phalaborwa (for the northern section).
Typical activities: 4×4 trails, birdwatching, game drives, guided short walks, mountain biking, multi-day trails
Number of reports: 1
WILDLIFE IN Kruger
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
African elephant – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With an estimated 17,000 African bush elephants in Kruger, it’s almost impossible to miss these giants. They roam across the length of the park meaning you can see one almost anywhere. Elephants have been an incredible success story in Kruger. In the 1960s there were around 6,000 elephants in the park and by 2015 this had reached 17,000 – despite years of culling to keep numbers down. Concerns have been raised over the years about how many elephants the park can or should support. These concerns arise from the elephants’ ability to strip vegetation bare and outcompete other grazers for food resources. Whatever the outcome of these complex discussions – Kruger is an incredible place to see elephants.
African wild dog – 0% OF VISITORS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
African wild dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores in the world. Kruger National Park supports the only viable South African population and they have been studied by the Endangered Wildlife Trust since 1989. Numbers have fluctuated significantly over this time from less than 200 animals to over 400. In 2017 eight new dogs were introduced to the northern region to support the population. You can read about the project here. Seeing the wild dogs of Kruger usually requires a good guide and a little luck. They roam over long distances and can travel over 50 km in a single day looking for food! Reports suggest they are most commonly seen in Chobe, Moremi, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and the Kgalagadi.
CAPE BUFFALO – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With an estimated population of 48,000, Cape buffalo are one of the most common species in the park. They’re mostly found grazing in big open grassland areas where they eat grass and shrubs. In Kruger, they can be found just about anywhere, but are more frequently spotted grazing in the open grasslands near the Satara and Orpen. They are also often seen in the savanna areas with more trees and wild bushes such as the neighbouring regions of Sabi Sands and Timbavati.
CARACAL – 0% OF VISITORS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Caracals are a beautiful but elusive cat. While they can be seen in Kruger they are notoriously difficult to spot. They can be found in open, dry country from semi-desert to savanna. They hide and sleep in crevices among rocks and fallen trees. Caracals are nocturnal creatures so try to get out on as many night or sunset game drives as possible if you want to look for one. There is an online guide about where they can be found in Kruger here. And a good discussion about looking for caracals and some of the other more secretive species of Kruger here. Good luck and let us know if you have any success!
CHEETAH – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Kruger National Park is an important refuge for cheetahs in South Africa and your chances of seeing one are reasonably good. A survey of the population in 2005 estimated there were around 100 cheetahs in the park. Most of the studies of cheetahs have been undertaken in open savanna areas such as the Serengeti. By contrast, Kruger is much more densely wooded. The cheetahs here have helped to show that they can successfully hunt in wooded areas, not just open grassland plains. If you want to spot one of these athletic cats there is a great guide to Kruger’s cheetahs here.
GIRAFFE – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Kruger is home to the South African or Cape giraffe. Across Africa, the majority of giraffe populations are in decline but the South African giraffe is widespread and increasing. In Kruger, the number of giraffes increased by 150% from 1979 to 2013. Recent estimates put the population at over 7,000 – so chances of seeing one are high! The best sightings are probably around the Sabi Sands region as the area is well watered thanks to the Sabi River. There’s a specific discussion about spotting giraffes in Kruger here.
HIPPO – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With a population of over 7,000 hippos, you have a good chance of seeing these giants in Kruger. The population is so large that the park has started a controversial culling operation. This has involved reducing the number of hippos following a severe drought to increase the amount of food available for other grazing species. If you are looking for hippos head for the Lower Sabie river – with Sunset dam being a good spot. Or try Crocodile river and the aptly named hippo pool. There’s an online discussion about where to see hippos in Kruger here.
Leopard – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The leopard population in Kruger is estimated to be around 1,000 individuals. With so many leopards in the park, they are much easier to spot than more elusive predators such as cheetah, wild dog, or caracal. There is an excellent guide to spotting the leopards of Kruger here. Tips include heading to the southern region of Kruger and sticking to roads that run close to or next to riverbeds. Heading out early in the morning or late afternoon when they are most active. And listening out for the warning calls from their prey such as impala, vervet monkeys, and guinea fowl. If you still haven’t had any luck the Sabi Sands Game Reserve adjoining the park has one of the highest leopard densities on the continent. Rave reviews on TripAdvisor suggest the Elephant Plains Game Lodge in Sabi Sands is the place to see leopards up close.
LION – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Kruger National Park is estimated to support a population of around 1,500 lions. The large number of lions in the park means sightings are highly likely! The distribution of lions is largely determined by where their prey is – which in turn depends on the soil type. Clay soils support more vegetation which supports more prey – and where there’s food there are lions! In Kruger, this means densities are highest in the South East and South West areas of the park. Reports suggest that the Skukuza-Satara tar road (H1-2, H1-3) which climbs out of the Sabie River basin into the central grasslands is a good spot for lion sightings. As well as the grasslands around Satara.
RHINO – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Kruger has one of the largest concentrations of rhinos on the planet. The park supports a population of between 9,000 and 12,000 white rhinos – more than all half of the total South African population. As well as around 580 to 650 of the country’s 1,670 black rhinos.
Unfortunately, rhino poaching is an ongoing problem. Across South Africa, rhino poaching saw an exponential increase from 2007-2014 growing by over 9,000%. Most of this was in the Kruger area. In better news, more recent data suggests that poaching has begun to fall in Kruger thanks to greater investment in anti-poaching efforts. Generally, white rhinos are more likely to be found in the south of the park around Berg En Dal, Pretoriuskop towards Skukuza, and the plains between lower Sabi and Crocodile Bridge. Black rhinos are also more common in the south but are more difficult to see as they prefer to browse for food in bushy thickets.
SERVAL – 0% OF VISITORS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Alongside caracals, there is another shy and elusive can that can be found in Kruger. Servals – smaller and spotted like a cheetah – are nocturnal cats that hunt by sight and sound. Chances of seeing one of these beautiful cats are low. Their preferred habitat is moist, tall grasslands, near to wetland areas. Reports online suggest that a good spot to find servals in Kruger is the main road between Malelane and Skukuza. Or around the Transport dam and Orpen gate. There’s a good discussion about looking for servals and some of the other more secretive species of Kruger here.
Spotted hyena – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
There are more than 5,000 spotted hyenas in Kruger so your chances of running into one are high! One of the most characteristic predators of the African savannah, they were once thought to be scavengers but are actually highly effective predators. They are found throughout the park with the best places to spot them being the south-west Okavango, Savuti, and Linyanti. Spotted hyenas hunt at night and there is nothing quite like hearing their haunting cries and cackles during a night in the bush!
WILDCAT – 0% OF VISITORS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Another of the smaller, more secretive animals of Kruger, the park is also home to African wild cats. Similar in size and appearance to domestic cats, these are shy, nocturnal animals which are rarely seen. They mainly hunt at night, using their excellent eyesight to track down prey such as rats and hares. Wildcats can be found across a range of different habitats but they require some sort of shelter to hide in during the day. So rocky outcrops, bush, tall grasses, and abandoned burrows can be good places to look. They are actually quite a common species in Kruger although sightings are rare and usually restricted to night drives. There is a beautiful photo guide to the wildcats of Kruger here.
Zebra – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With a population of between 20,000 and 30,000, Burchell’s or plains zebras are hard to miss in Kruger! They are grazing animals which have a preference for red grass and buffle grass – and can easily be found browsing open areas of grassland. In Kruger, zebras are often spotted in the southern and central parts of the park, where there are fewer trees and more open grass patches. Hotspots include anywhere from north of the Sabi River to the Olifants River, on the plains or under cicada trees.
Photo credit: flowcomm under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr