Big 5, Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park and South Africa in general, have spent a considerable amount of money on anti-poaching activities, with a special army-trained squad going after ivory and rhino poachers.
Having said this, South Africa has been pushing hard for a lifting of the ivory ban. This is mostly so they can unload the huge stocks of ivory that the National Parks hold, and use the revenue for the parks.
The "Big Five" animals (lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and buffalo,) are all very well represented within this park.
Anne and I experienced excellent viewing of all of the big 5, except for the leopard which is referred to as "notoriously difficult to find."
More than 15,000 buffaloes live in the Kruger National Park and often large herds of a hundred animals can be observed. To avoid the heat, they prefer to graze in the cool hours of the morning or evening and even at night. They very much like to wallow in the mud and so build up a protective layer against mosquitoes and other insects on their skin.
The big five got their name from the era when we were killing animals for "sport" (fun) and paying big bucks for the experience. The "big 5" were the 5 most sought after trophies by these hunters.
Personally I do not agree with this and I feel the name that these magnificent creatures are refered to should be changed to reflect a tourism view point.
On our first full day in Kruger, we had a very interesting sighting at just after 1 PM, not long since we had left our lunchtime stopover at Oliphants Camp. As we continued our drive north, we noticed a lion and two females sleeping in the bush at the side of the road. We pulled the car over and switched the engine off to see what, if anything, would happen. We were totally surprised when, a few minutes later, the lion roused himself up and approached one of the lioness' with amorous intentions! As soon as he stirred, I clicked the video camera on to catch this possibly award-winning sequence! Alas, the battery immediately conked out - the photo that you see of the lion staring after her is all that we have. He was rejected and the lioness strolled off into the bush!
Big game hunters in Africa are always after one of the 'Big Five' - Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Rhino or Leopard. Although I am always shooting only with a camera, it was a great thrill to come across a herd of Cape Buffalo north of Mopani, on our last hot afternoon in the Park. Here, the herd is not bothered at all as they forage beside the road. We were so close to these ones that we did not need a telephoto lens!
The African Elephant is easily distinguished from Asian Elephants as they have larger ears. The fact that you are in Africa is also a give away. They guys are massive. They are the largest land animal in the world, eat 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of food a day and drink 30-50 gallons (113-189 litres) of water. Females are pregnant for 22 months! They roam around constantly looking for food and are amazingly clumsy. I watched them happily knocking down trees when they could have easily avoided them. Because of the damage they do, they are sometimes culled here in Kruger.
If you are driving yourself here in Kruger, do not get too close. In fact move away slowly with your car. In addition to accidentally knocking down trees they can knock into your vehicle and damage will definitely occur. Worse case scenario is that a bull may just decide to destroy you car and they would probably have fun doing it. Even ‘small’ cut ones can inflict damage and I have been charged by an angry mother elephant. With their huge size you can still get great pictures at a respectable distance.
There is an estimated 1500 lion in the Kruger Park. Lion can be found all over the park, however the highest density are around Satara which is flat basalt plains with very shallow soils that grows knob thorn savannah with some mixed bush willow and woodlands.
Lions have a wide range and are very social maintaining large prides up to 40 animals. Although they have a reputation for being boring to watch as they sleep all day, it is interesting to watch the lions interact with each other. Members of prides or relations rub their heads and sides together when greeting. They raise their tails high and make low groaning sounds.
Mothers tend to stay on the same territory their whole lives where males will have to leave as they mature to find their own territories.
It is very difficult for males to maintain a territory independently and therefore are forced to make coalitions with other male lions. These coalitions tend to be brothers up to three or four but are occasionally other nomadic lions that are unrelated.
Lions eat everything but tend to hunt zebra, wildebeest and giraffe. Some lions and prides specialize in hunting large animals like buffalo or elephant.
If you are lucky you may find these lions mating as I did in Kruger and Kgalagadi many times. They mate about every 20 to 30 minutes all day. It is quite a fascinating ritual.
The Big Five are the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and cape buffalo. They were named the Big Five not because of their size alone, but because they were the most challenging of South Africa's large animal species to hunt. Tourists who come to Kruger tend to get fixated on the Big Five, often to the point of missing out on sightings of other, smaller, but still interesting species, such as impala, warthogs, and birds.
Of the Big Five, leopards are by far the hardest to find, becasue they are nocturnal and are usually sleeping during the day, often up in trees. Lions are the second-hardest to find. Usually the easiest way to find the Big Five in Kruger is to look for stopped cars. Where two or more cars are stopped, there is usually a Big Five animal nearby that they are all watching.
We saw three (elephant, rhino, and cape vuffalo) of the Big Five during our drives through Kruger. We saw a leopard in Sabi Sand, a private game reserve next to Kruger, where we went on an evening game drive.
The Big Five are not the biggest animals on Africa, but definately the most famous ones. Try to spot everyone of them. I tried, but missed the leopard, the hardest one to see.
(If you've never seen these animals on TV, try my travelogue)
Kruger park is teaming with wildlife, stay out driving as much as possible to see it!!
We came accross this pride of lions eating a Buffalo shortly after the kill! We sat and watch for hours! They were in a feeding frenzy!! Growling, roaring and you could smell the fresh meat! After they had stuffed themselves, they walked bloatedly to the river for water as others from the pride ate more!
As I have mentioned elsewhere, these sightings are not staged! It is only by luck that you come accross an encounter, for that reason i recommend staying as much as possible out on a drive!
Weight white rhino up to 2000 kg, black rhino up to 1500 kg
Shoulder height : 1,6 m.
They walk fast at 28 km/h and trot at 40 km/h
A rhino lives 30 to 40 years.
Estimated there are ......white rhinos and ...... black rhinos in the Kruger
Notes of Interest
The differences between the two are that the white rhino is a grazer with a big wide mouth, and the black rhino has a pointed mouth with a prehensile upper lip used to strip leaves from branches. He keeps his head in line with his back most of the time and lifts his head higher to feed on leaves whilst the white rhino keeps his head low down.
The white rhino, the less aggressive of the two, is larger and prefers open spaces (which made him an easier target for hunters. He holds is head low to the ground, more placid and less prone to attack.
They are the same colour, "white" deriving from the Afrikaans name "wydmond"
Horn lengths have been recorded at 160 cm for white rhino and 135cm for black but they are not true horns but an outgrowth of dermal papillae in the skin - something like compressed hair. The horn will regrow if broken off.
Rhinos have poor eyesight but acute sense of smell and hearing. Rhinos can rotate their ears independently.
Rhinos are not gregarious but white rhino may be seen in groups of 5 or 6 but black rhinos are usually alone or with a mate.
Rhinos mark areas but are not strictly territorial even though bulls will not tolerate each other. .A white rhino may have a rubbing post often polished to a fine surface.
Rhinos defecate in middens and frequently scatter the dung with their hind legs
Rhinos pay little attention to other mammals, even at close range and predation on them except by man is minimal.
One calf is born about every 3 years weighing about 45 kg. The calf of the white rhino runs in front of the mother, and the calf of the black rhino runs behind.
Average mass 600 kg
Shoulder height 1,5 m
Their massive horns rarely intact, can reach 1,2 m.
Gestation 330 days bearing 1 calf.
It is estimated there are ........ in the Kruger Park.
Notes of Interest
A grazer preferably, but also browses on shoots, twigs and bushes.
They carry their heads lower than the top of their shoulders. Their horns are very thick at the base with close ridges, almost meeting in the middle.
These massive animals are nonetheless shy creatures and congregate in herds which can number up to 3000. If disturbed they will race to rejoin their herd which can stampede easily in unexpected directions.
Buffalo prefer their haunts to be in the vicinity of water with a profusion of red and ample grass-covered grazing and like to have trees and bush nearby to rest in shade and chew the cud.
They are fond of taking mud-baths and in hot weather drink water twice a day
They are inquisitive but with fair sight and medium hearing, individuals may break away from the herd to examine vehicles more closely.
They have the reputation of being the most dangerous animal to hunt. When wounded they circle and stalk their hunters. A charge head-on is almost impossible to stop at short range.
Within a herd there is a linear hierarchy amongst the bulls. Bulls rarely fight to establish dominance but adopt a threatening stance lifting his head high and expecting submission from other bulls demonstrated by lowering their heads.
The great herds of buffalo were decimated by the rinderpest in 1896 and only about a dozen were left over in the area of the present Kruger Park.
South Africa has got the largest Rhino population in Africa. Two sorts of Rhino's are at home here the Black and White Rhino, the Black Rhino normally being at home in densce bushes since it generally eats branches and leaves, where as the White Rhino stays mostly in open plains since it is a grazer.
The King of the African bush and I am excited everytime I get close to a pride of lion. During the day time lions normally rest and at dusk start roaming around for a hunt. Lionesses normally do the hunting and the males then have the first go when 'dining'.