Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s most remarkable nature reserves. Any tour through it is certain to result in some magnificent wildlife encounters, unforgettable camping experiences and, as clichéd as it sounds, memories to last a lifetime. It’s home to the Big Five (lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros), as well as 147 other species of large mammals. That’s more than any other African game reserve. As Africa’s first national park (it was established in 1926), Kruger is regarded by many as the gold standard for national parks all over the world.
Much has been written, recorded and discovered about the park and its inhabitants over the years. Here’s our round up of some essential knowledge.
Size matters Kruger is one of the largest national parks in the world, boasting an area of 19,485 square kilometres. It’s roughly 360 km long, has an average width of 65 km and is about 90 km wide. To put this in context, it’s pretty much the same size as Israel.
A warden’s legacy James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed as the park’s first warden on 1 July 1902. He was serious about anti-poaching, and trained others, including natives, to help him. Stevenson-Hamilton also convinced local companies to lend him land, which allowed him to extend the original reserve from 1,200 square km to 14,000 – the space that is today known as the Kruger National Park. The native Tsonga Shangaans dubbed Stevenson-Hamilton ‘Skukuza’, which meant ‘the man who swept clean’, in reference to his anti-poaching efforts. Areas of the park have been renamed after him and a library was built in his memory.
Best time to visit Perhaps surprisingly, the best time to visit Kruger is during the winter season. During winter, the grass and leaves are at their most scarce, offering the greatest opportunities for wildlife spotting. Births are also more common in winter, so the chances of viewing some of these incredible creatures actually giving birth are at their highest. If you want to see the Big Five, you should try and avoid visiting in autumn. The grass will be tall and long, and your views largely obscured.
It’s well equipped Though wild at heart, Kruger National Park is extremely well equipped for the modern traveller. The accommodation is largely world-class, each park has its own bank and ATM (there are also ATMs at some camp shops), and fuel is available at the main rest camps. For the most part, the bigger camps also have mobile phone reception and internet cafes. For any health-conscious travellers – the park is in close proximity to hospitals and has an onsite medical doctor.
Drone defences Kruger National Park began using drones in December 2012 to combat rhino poachers. The Seeker II drones circles around 600 feet above ground with a thermal camera pointed towards the plains below. If it spots a subject that looks to be suspect, it dives in for a closer look before calling for an armed response team. The $38,000 drones help the park’s anti-poaching team, tasked with the job of protecting 10,000 hectares, a much-needed bolstering. We’re sure James Stevenson-Hamilton could never have predicted this.
Impressive numbers Kruger National Park is home to around 147 species of mammal, including the Big Five, 517 species of birds, 34 amphibian, 114 reptile and 1,982 plant species. There are about 254 cultural heritage sites within its confines and roughly 125 sites of rock art. Over the years, more than 300 Stone Age archaeological sites have been discerned.
Ecosystem friendly Because of its enormous size, the park is actually home to six separate ecosystems. There’s the Baobab sandveld, the riverine forest, Mopane scrub, mixed acacia thicket, Lebombo knobthorn-marula bushveld and Combretum-silver clusterleaf. The names of these ecosystems might not mean much to those of us that aren’t eco-experts, but the gist of it is that the space Kruger National Park inhabits and all life within it is extremely diverse.