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. It’s also bordered by the Sabi Sands and Timbavati Game Reserves which extend this range even further. 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, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, leopards, lions, rhinos, and hyenas.
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. The nearby private game reserves are more expensive, costing upwards of $1,000 for a three-night stay.
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: 2
Last updated: 2021
WILDLIFE IN Kruger
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the top ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 African wild dog – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/2) 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.
#2 African elephant – 100% OF WildSide Users (2/2) 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.
#3 CAPE BUFFALO – 100% OF WildSide Users (2/2) 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.
#4 CHEETAH – 50% OF wildside users (1/2) 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.
#5 GIRAFFE – 100% OF wildside users (2/2) 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.
#6 HIPPO – 100% OF wildside users (2/2) 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 Sabi 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.
#7 Leopard – 100% OF wildside users (2/2) 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.
#8 LION – 100% OF WildSide Users (2/2) 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 Sabi River basin into the central grasslands is a good spot for lion sightings. As well as the grasslands around Satara.
#9 RHINO – 100% OF WildSide users (2/2) 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 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.
#10 Spotted hyena – 100% OF WildSide users (2/2) 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!
In addition to the top ten, Kruger is also home to a range of other species including: caracal (0% of WildSide users reported sightings), honey badger (50% ), impala (100%), jackal (100%), kudu (100%), Nile crocodile (100%), serval (0%), wildcat (0%), wildebeest (50%), and zebra (50%).
Photo credit: flowcomm under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr