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Animals of the Kruger National Park: What to expect

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest and most abundant wildlife destinations made up of 7523 square miles of wilderness. Visitors will be kept busy for days-on-end exploring this natural wonder that is home to the Big Five, namely Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, and Leopard, as well as plenty of other animal species.


The park is open to members of the public all-year-round, welcoming day visitors on the well-mapped tar roads to see what animals they can find. A daily conservation fee is payable on entry and once inside you will find rest stops and restaurants along the way. For those wishing to spend longer in the Kruger, there is a variety of accommodation on offer, from self-catering bungalows to luxury private lodges. These need to be booked well in advance due to the popularity of the Kruger, especially during the peak seasons and South African school holidays.


Within the park you will find ‘private concessions’, which are private game reserves with private safari lodges. These lodges have exclusive traversing rights to specific areas in the Kruger and although there are no physical borders or boundaries that separate these concessions/ game reserves, only paying guests are allowed to enter. Off-road game drives are conducted in open-vehicles that take guests deep into the bush for close-up sightings. Experiencing the Kruger with a professional guide and tracker, which is what is provided at private safari lodges, is a wonderful and safe way to learn about Africa’s wildlife.

How many animals does the Kruger have?


If you have chosen to visit the Kruger National Park in the hope of seeing some animals, then you won’t be disappointed! With more than 800 animal species spread across a vast and diverse landscape, the park offers an authentic representation of the African Animal Kingdom. These animals are made up of 147 mammal species, more than 500 species of birds, over 100 reptile species, and 49 fish species.


What animals can be found in the Kruger National Park?


Although it is not impossible to list every animal species recorded in the Kruger, it may take a while! So, to keep things light and breezy below is a table listing 15 species of each animal category, which covers a handful of the mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish of the Kruger National Park.




The Big 5 in the Kruger National Park


In this part of South Africa, the Big Five animals can be found in abundance and part of the fun is seeing how many you can find during your visit.


If you are on a self-drive it is important to follow some basic rules when traveling around such as; always remain in your vehicle unless you’re in a designated area or at your camp; stick to the speed limit while driving in the park; and keep a safe distance between animals and your vehicle should you need to remove yourself from an unsavoury situation – you don’t want to be too close to an elephant bull warning you to get out of his way! You will find there are ‘Sightings Boards’ at the park’s gates, rest camps and some picnic spots where visitors record what animals they have seen in certain areas to give other safari-goers a chance of spotting, say, a lion on the move or a cheetah with her cubs.


For first-time visitors to the Kruger, it may be in your interest to book a guided safari as wildlife rangers who work in the park have extensive knowledge of the land and its animals. In the private reserves radio communication and tracking is used to increase chances of seeing the Big Five, including the elusive leopard.


If you would like to learn more about these animals, then you can head over to our blog ‘Everything you need to know about Africa’s Big Five Animals’.

What habitats are there in Kruger National Park?


The Kruger offers an ever-changing landscape and given the sheer size of the park it is no surprise that it contains several different ecosystems. The Mopaneveld (found north of the Timbavati) is the most dominant of them all, with the mopane tree existing in three forms across the Kruger: the mopane woodlands; mopane shrubveld; and mopane thickets. Further north you will find the Northern Sandveld ecosystem, a region made up of ‘sandy, well-drained soils’ with trees such as syringas, white kirkia and mountain kirkia growing there. Travelling south from the Olifants to the Lower Sabi are the Savannah Grasslands, a magnet to large grazing herds as well as opportunistic predators and in the central western Kruger and south of Skukuza is predominantly Mixed Broadleaf Woodland made up of various species of bushwillow trees, large marulas, and knob thorn acacia, to name a few.


Thorn Thickets, another ecosystem consisting mostly of acacias, attract the rare Black Rhino and the Lebombo range, which forms the eastern border of the park, is one of the driest areas of the Kruger and home to a number of ‘drought-resistant plants’. The South-Western Foothills, a region of rocky outcrops and mixed woodlands, bring the highest rainfall, and Riverine Bush can be found along all seven major rivers within the park.

Where are the most animals in the Kruger National Park?


The Southern Region of the Kruger National Park is known to host many animals and is one of the more popular areas frequented by visitors to the park. Bordered by the Crocodile River in the south and the Sabie River in the north the Southern Kruger is said to have the greatest population of White Rhinos, as much as half the Kruger’s Cheetah population, and healthy numbers of Wild Dog. As mentioned previously, this area is made up of Mixed Broadleaf Woodland so although it cannot endure large numbers of plains game, there are still decent sightings of Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Kudu and Wildebeest. The rocky outcrops and dense vegetation of this region also provide the ideal habitat for Leopard. Other regular sightings near the Sabie River are Hippo, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Baboons, Vervet Monkeys, and large Elephant herds. For the birders, you can look forward to regular residents such as the Purplecrested Lourie, Green Pigeon, African Fish Eagle, and Half-Collared Kingfisher, to name a few!

What are the rarest animals in Kruger?


Below is a selection of three rare animals of the Kruger and a brief write-up on each of these species:


Aardvark


With big ears, a long snout and a round, arched body the Aardvark (Anteater/ African Ant Bear) weighs between 39 – 82 Kilograms and can grow to a height of 0.6 meters. Their main source of sustenance are termites, which they feast on by digging up termite mounds with their very strong claws. A 30-centimeter tongue allows them to scoop up insects and sometimes they will use their long snout to suck up termites like a straw! These unusual looking animals can live up to 23 years in the wild but one of their greatest threats are humans who hunt them for their meat. Aardvarks reside in the savannah, grasslands, or forests and they use the soft ground to dig burrows where they will sleep and hide from predators.


Honey Badger


As the name implies, the Honey Badger is often found digging its powerful claws into beehives however, being carnivorous and insectivorous, it is the bee larvae it is after rather than the sweet tasting nectar! These animals have gained quite a reputation for being fearless hunters and there are numerous videos available online showcasing their relentless, and somewhat savage, behaviour as they take on venomous snakes and fight off lions! With a height of around 30cm’s and a body approximately 70cm’s in length covered in coarse black and grey fur, the Honey Badger prefers dry regions, although it is widely distributed and can be found in a variety of habitats. Viewing Honey Badgers in the Kruger is rare, but not impossible and like all three of these rare species we are looking at in this section, consider yourself lucky if you stumble across one!


Pangolin


The Pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal hunted for its scales (made up of keratin and believed to have magical healing properties) and its meat. They reside in woodlands and savannahs close to a water source, and only come out at night to hunt insects such as termites and ants, which they do with their 40 centimetres long tongue. There are four African species of the Pangolin and they can grow up to a height of 152 centimetres depending on the species. In an act of self-defence they will roll themselves into a ball, creating a body of armour with their plated-scales and may also release a toxic acid from their glands, similar to that of skunks.

What are the most endangered species in Kruger National Park?


The African Wild Dog, also known as ‘the Painted Dog’, is one of the world’s most endangered mammals with approximately 6600 remaining in the wild. Their greatest threats are human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, viral diseases, and competition with other predators such as lion. On a positive note, the Kruger is home to a rising population of around 500 wild dogs with packs that can range from 10-40 members. The Painted Wolf Foundation is an organisation that is spearheading wild dog conservation and offers ways for people to get involved in the survival of the species.


The Black Rhino is another critically endangered species that is under threat due to the illegal trade in rhino horn. There is an ongoing poaching war in places like the Kruger that targets these prehistoric looking mammals and ‘Save the Rhino’, another excellent organisation, is part of several initiatives that protect the species and offer ways for the public to be a part of these conservation efforts.


References:


1. National Parks; Kruger National Park (Official GANP Park Page) (national-parks.org)

2. The Wildlife and Natural Beauty of Kruger Park; Natural Beauty and Wildlife of Kruger National Park (krugerpark.co.za)

3. Kruger National Park Reptile list; Kruger National Park Guide - spotlight on South Africa's premier safari reserve (kruger-national-park-guide.com)

4. Kruger Park Fish Species; Stories Of The Kruger | Kruger Park Fish Species List (storiesofthekruger.co.za/kruger-park-fish-species/)

5. Kruger National Park Bird List; kruger-national-park-bird-list.pdf (kruger-national-park-guide.com)

6. Kruger Park; Kruger Park Facts - Vegetation by Regions (krugerpark.co.za)

7. The Southern Kruger Park Region; Images of a Great African Park - Souther Kruger Park - Recommended Books (krugerpark.co.za)

8. African Wildlife Foundation; Aardvark | African Wildlife Foundation (awf.org)

9. African Geographic; The Honey Badger - Africa Geographic (africageorgaphic.com)

10. African Wildlife Foundation; Pangolin | African Wildlife Foundation (awf.org);

11. Kruger Park; African Wild Dog Facts - Kruger Park Wildlife (krugerpark.co.za)

12. WWF; Black Rhino | Species | WWF (worldwildlife.org)


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