Kruger National Park Safari, Nov 2018 (part 1)
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Kruger National Park is a mere 5 hour drive from Johannesburg along the highway (scheduled flights from Johannesburg are also available).
First stop Skukuza Camp, the largest of the rest camps, this is prime predator territory and our first game drive from camp didn’t disappoint. We chanced upon a pride of Lion some 10-15 metres from the dirt road. The male lion had had his fill and was lying in the shade but the remainder of the pride, including a number of younger, members were still well immersed in the body of a white rhino. We don’t know whether the rhino was old, injured or had fallen foul of poachers as it’s unusual for a rhino to succumb to a lion pride but with a male lion on dinner duty certainly not impossible.
The summer rains are late this year and the water dependent mammals such as zebra, elephant and wildebeest are having to search far and wide for this vital commodity. Whilst admiring a white rhino wandering though the bush, we encountered a large herd of elephants racing to a waterhole clearly excited at the prospect of a refreshing drink along with some well-deserved fun in the cool waters. However, it wasn’t meant to be as I swear you could see the anger on the face of the adult elephants when they discovered the waterhole was dry, they waved their trunks in clear disgust, trumpeted and marched off in a cloud of dust to continue their search.
The next day we decided to head towards the south eastern side of the park and enjoyed a bush breakfast at Mlondozi picnic site. Kruger has a number of well placed picnic sites sprinkled around the park, most have an attendant on duty who will happily rent you a gas skottel (portable gas pan), so pack your breakfast and cook at one of these sites, you also get the opportunity to chat with fellow park visitors who may know of a sighting or two worth viewing. After our hearty breakfast we drove to one of the dams close to the Mozambique border and spotted a group of five cheetah lazing in the grass. Cheetahs are the most slender and graceful of the big cats and are always a pleasure to see. We also spotted a lioness on one of the sandbanks along the Sabie River. Once back at camp we started our braai (South African BBQ) and spotted a beautiful Verreaux Eagle Owl in a tree, he or she must have been there all day without being spotted.
An early start this morning and we headed for the Renosterkoppies a renowned stretch of road for lion sightings. We met up with a game ranger who was parked next to an impala kill and discovered that a pack of wild dogs had taken two impalas in the early hours of the morning and after devouring the first kill had returned to their den to feed their puppies just a short distance away. So, we drove the 200 metres or so to the den and saw the adults busy feeding the hungry youngsters. With a fresh kill barely touched we decided to return and wait for further action. Sometimes you have to be patient when on a game drive and we expected to sit at the kill for a couple of hours in the anticipation of action.
A few cars came and went more interested in the den than the kill itself, but we weren’t to be deterred. But just 30-40 minutes after our arrival we saw the first vulture circle above, these birds have such an unjustified reputation when in fact they are absolutely vital for a healthy environment. We probably went from one to in excess of 50 birds in a matter of 5 minutes as they landed on the carcass and proceeded to rip it to shreds. First the smaller White Backed before the mighty Lappet Faced Vultures arrived, these guys are at the very top of the pecking order and show no mercy to their smaller cousins. These birds stripped the kill clean in just 9 minutes, with just the rib cage and a few leg bones left for any scavenging hyena who may happen upon the carcass later on.
So, no lions this time but one of our best vulture sightings ever! Hyenas are resourceful creatures and are partial to making their dens in drainage culverts next to the road and this is exactly where we found two juvenile hyenas this morning, sniffing and playing next to the road, another misunderstood mammal of the African bush.
Back at camp and after 3 busy days we decided to be lazy and dine at the camp restaurant. Sat outside on the viewing deck overlooking the beautiful Sabie River we dined by candlelight, then just before we were about to leave we all heard an alarm call from a buck just the other side of the fence line. Half the diners must have jumped out of the seats to shine their torches down on the fence below, at first nothing and then to all our amazements a leopard could be seen sloping off into the darkness following his unsuccessful hunting attempt. It just goes to show that the African wildlife is all around us and sometimes you don’t have to travel far to witness it!