Saturday, 8 March 2014

Mammals etc in Kruger

The mammals in Kruger were the true highlights though. It was breathtaking at times,sometimes being close enough to megafauna that you almost forgot you weren't in a zoo, and at others being on vast open plains surrounded by huge herds of buffalo and elephants (and silently praying that no predators were going to scare the herds in your direction). I would like to be able to claim that I was above the 'Big 5' hype, and that I spent as much time looking at smaller, less famous species, but I can't. Coming face to face with an apex predator, having a hyaena brush itself against the car, or having a leopard saunter across the road in front of you a few hundred metres from camp when you've given up on the day, are just amazing moments that will truly stay with me for a long, long time.

Our first sighting on entering the park was of three giraffe sauntering around in the road, less than 100 metres inside the entrance gate, before galloping up a bank and peering down on us. Although not rare, it was on of the species Cat was keenest to see, so an excellent start:
This giraffe was in the Lower Sabie/Crocodile Bridge area

And it was nice to see a few young antelope on the trip.

By the time we arrived at Letaba that evening after about 6 hours driving through the park, we had seen four of the big five, as well as many other interesting species:
Elephants were common throughout, but always a thrill to see

Impala are the common prey item in Kruger, and incredibly numerous. These again had a few yound with them:

We also came across a huge herd of buffalo, numbering between 500-100 individuals just north of Satara, as well as our first male Lion, chilling out under a tree:
Buffalo; big cows and every bit as boring

When we arrived at Letaba, despite being exhausted after a couple of long days, essentially non-stop travelling, we were too excited not to sign up for our first night drive. Undisputable highlight was watching this young hyaena pup at it's den, cavorting with it's mother and siblings:

Other highlights included honey badger, spring hare, scrub hare, baboon spider, thick-tailed scorpion and common egg-eater
Scrub hare...dull
Spring hare...awesome
The next couple of days were spent driving around the area between Letaba and Olifants, which often involved long stints in dense Mopane woodland, frustrating and pretty boring! However there were still some awesome new species seen, and elephants were pretty ubiquitous:
This female lion was lounging in it's own on the roadside just after dawn on the second day at Letaba
Klipspringer love rocky slopes
Waterbuck (sorry about the dodgy sky editing, just try and pretend it isn't there)

Male Kudu

We also had a close encounter with a family group of hyaena on one of the high bridges, essentially blocking the road by wandering past our car, giving the tyres a sniff, then falling asleep in the middle of the road on the warm tarmac:
Adult hyaena having a midday nap
One of the younger hyaenas
There was also some good wildlife within the camp, and some spotlighting produced various bats and mice, as well as good numbers of thick-tailed bushbaby. Bushbuck were also common within the camp, and a monitor lizard was ferreting around behind our safari tent one afternoon. On a less pleasant but equally interesting note, there was a massive hatch of some locust/cicada/big beetly-buggy creatures which filled the air (and anywhere else they could get to, including the bathroom sinks, urinals and toilet bowls) from dawn to dusk each evening:
Bushbuck were common in camp (this photo was taken just outside it tho)

Monitor lizard sp (is it a young Nile monitor, or a Water?)
On the afternoon of our third day in the park, we headed back down to the wildlife rich plains between Satara and Lower Sabie. This is a truly spectacular area, with huge herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, and impala dominating the landscape. The large, open grassy plains gave it an 'East African' feel compared to the more scrubby 'bush' habitat that dominates most of the southern, game-rich part of Kruger. Rhino were also surprisingly common and easy to see along this stretch:

Blue wildebeest

White rhino

Vervet monkey

Vervet monkey at one of the rest stops
We called it a day when we arrived at our 'safari tent' - complete with en-suite bathroom, and prepared for an extremely long day, and a very early start, the next day.

Pride of female lions from dawn game drive
It turned out to be our best day in the park, and started with a pre-dawn guided game drive from Lower Sabie*, when we had this pride of female Lions looking interested in a hunt, but never quite mustering the energy to chase the surrounding zebra:

*Just a note on the guided rives from the camps; although we very much enjoyed them all, with the exception of the drive from Letaba, I often felt they were too often focussed on seeing the Big 5, and other megafauna that was relatively easy to see on your own during the day, particularly those from Lower Sabie and Skukuza (although I have since heard that the drives from Crocodile Bridge can be excellent). It is undoubtedly worth making it clear to the drive/guide from the outset if you are particularly interested in nocturnal species/birds

Other highlights on the drive included elephant, several rhino, vulture roost, Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Mozambique nightjar, hyaena and other bits and bobs. On returning to camp. we wolfed some breakfast, packed our stuff and headed back out, primarily to look for cheetah:

These cheetahs were one of the outstanding highlights of the trip. Having spent several hours driving promising habitat near Lower Sabie, these two trotted out on to the main Satara-Lower Sabie road just as we turned back towards camp. They continued to doze, play and generally laze about for 30 minutes or so before trotting off into the dense bush :

Having been on safari once before in Namibia/Botswana, these were my first 'top predator' lifer, and one of the most hoped for species on this trip.
We headed back to Lower Sabie for some lunch, then got on the road to Skukuza, one of the most game-filled, and consequently well-driven roads in the park. In the middle of the afternoon it was quiet for apex predators, but there were some nice sightings:
Nyala-an extremely handsome antelope
Nile crocodile above, and Nile Monitor Lizard below

On arriving at Skukuza, we booked ourselves on to a night drive, had a nap, then headed back out late afternoon to try and catch up with some wild dogs. None were seen, but this was more than made up for by this beauty trotting out at dusk only a few hundred metres from camp, Cat's most wanted species, and so close it had to divert its route around our stationary car!
This isn't cropped, and it's on 100mm zoom!

The highlight of the night drive was incredible views of two male lions, right next to the truck and roaring at each other:
Male lion roaring

Male lion (possibly yawning)

We also saw a female lion with three young cubs, elephant, lesser bushbaby, spotted genet and some other bits and pieces. We were truly exhausted by the end, and headed straight to bed.

The next morning we made it up for dawn again and were royally rewarded when I had to kick Cat awake to have a look at an unidentified blob ahead in the road, which to my drowzy mind looked like a small horse. As we got closer, it quickly resolved into this fine male lion:

Further along the road to Crocodile Bridge we came across this honey badger, with a broken leg giving it a very odd hopping gait:

Some grass - with a honey badger behind
Other than a few more rhino, the rest of the drive was relatively quiet and we arrived at Crocdile Bridge relatively early. After discovering it didn'y have a restaurant, or even a proper shop, we headed back up towards Lower Sabie to get lunch, and some food for that evening. The area in the immediate vicinity of Crocodile Bridge is again excellent  for game drives with lots of rhino and antelope. At lunch at Lower Sabie, we got a tip-off about a Cheetah that had made a kill, so we headed out there and got distant views of a very bloated looking animal resting up after eating it's fill of impala. The vultures were surrounding the remains of the poor impala, and provided an altogether better spectacle.

Baby rhino, much needed with the massive increases in poaching 
The next day we had a brief drive round the Crocodile Bridge area, primarily to look for birds, then headed south for St.Lucia wetlands.

Bat sp. under the roofs at Crocodile Bridge

Warthog family
And this was my favourite spot in Kruger, the view from Lower Sabie restaurant, from which we managed to see Elephant, Buffalo, Waterbuck, Impala, Hippo, Croc, terrapins and dozens of species of birds

1 comment:

  1. Nice shot of an epauletted fruit bat (Epomophorus sp)! Would you add your bat photo as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:

    AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

    Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

    Many thanks!