Year in the Wild Blog

Kruger – My first week: Lions, kingfishers and on foot with ellies

I’m in the Kruger National Park for two months in August and September. I’ll be compiling a travel guide from my trip, interviewing many of the rangers and guides, and of course, taking lots of photos.

Kruger is huge – 2 million hectares, or 20 000 square kilometres, so it’s larger than some small countries. Is it Africa’s finest protected area? More than any other national park on the continent, it has probably contributed most to the conservation of Africa’s wild animals.

That’s a big statement, and I’m sure that many in East Africa would have plenty to say to me! I obviously haven’t been to all the national parks in Africa, but from what I’ve read, I’m not sure that any other individual park has done a better job to restore wildlife populations, and protect natural habitat on such a large scale. Kruger had it’s foundations in the Sabi Game Reserve in 1898, and was formally declared a national park in 1926. So for more than a hundred years, Kruger has played a very significant role for conservation on the continent. Despite the rhino poaching, the park is still extremely well managed by its staff, most of whom take pride in their work.

Within the context of all the industrial and agricultural development in Africa, Kruger (and other national parks) could be seen by some as an archaic concept, a romantic notion that will eventually buckle under the weight of mankind’s incessant lust for capitalistic growth. But I think that one day, when people in a hundred years time look back, they’ll consider today’s conservationists of Africa as the most important heroes of the century. For many reasons, but for now, it’s just a gut feel that I have.

Anyway, Kruger is special, even if poachers are smashing the rhino presently. Being here is a privilege, especially when I know that many people have to sit in traffic tomorrow morning while I’m out looking for leopards to photograph. I’m in awe of this wild place. It’s only a few hours drive from one of Africa’s biggest cities – Johannesburg – and it represents the ultimate holiday for many people in South AFrica and around the world. I feel like I belong here, that life makes sense here. Ag, okay, now I’m getting all sentimental again…enough of that.

I’m starting my journey in the south, and will make my way slowly north, to finish at the end of September in Pafuri region, on the border of Zimbabwe.

Here are a few photos from my first week. Enjoy.

Wild dog on patrol...he came running past me at a rate of knots, presumably to try catch up with the rest of the pack that was hunting somewhere

Bumped into this beautiful male lion early one morning...he was moving quickly too, no doubt looking for a meal

I went walking with Irving Knight, one of the best field guides in Kruger. He is based at Crocodile Bridge camp, but I have walked several times with him before over the years, when he was based at Lower Sabie. Irving guided us up close to this big bull elephant that was drinking from a pool. We were on top of some low cliffs, so we felt quite safe. The elephant was very well mannered, and didn't seem to mind our presence too much.

A young giant eagle owl...just after sunset.

Not a good day to be a frog. This grey heron shook the poor frog around for several minutes, then swallowed it whole.

Three white rhino drinking after sunset...

The beautiful woodland near the Biyamiti River in the south of Kruger...my heart beats a little stronger when I see landscapes like these.

Too close, too personal. This hippo was a few meters from me at one of the pools on the Biyamiti River.

On patrol...a big male and his lioness near the Biyamiti River.

The male was very confident...it was a misty morning, and I heard him roaring first, then he emerged out of the dawn light, like some canined warrior, coming to fight for his land.

Are you really going to argue with him? He's seen a few fights in his time, and my money's on him.

We saw these three cubs and lioness on the road during a night drive at Biyamiti Camp with guide Bridgeman Zulu, who was excellent. The lions were lying on the warm road, but the cubs were very skittish, and Bridgeman reckoned that they were still very young, and so unaccustomed to vehicles.

Outta my way. I had to reverse a few hundred metres to let this bull walk down the road...but after a while, he stopped, and then turned off the road, so that I could pass. A gentleman.

Malachite kingfisher perched on one of the river weirs...his crest feathers were blown upwards by the breeze.

Contemplating the day's chores...

Ellies crossing the Sabie River...

A tree squirrel, emerging from his sleeping place in a huge sycamore fig tree

A dominant male baboon, keeping watch from a fig tree...and enjoying the early morning sun.

This grey heron at Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie was using a hippo as a fishing perch, and I watched the bird jump off the hippo's back and catch this fish!

Ground hornbill...an endangered bird.

Cape buffalo...those horns are not to be messed with!

This big bull ellie was ambling along the Muntshe Loop to the north-east of Lower Sabie...what a sight.

Mom and baby...

On one of my morning walks from Lower Sabie with guides Dingane Mkhantshwane and Lunga Mamize, we spotted this pride of lionesses and subadults, out hunting.

A lioness, with a look of intent. Sometimes, I wish I knew what animals were thinking.

A beautiful morning at Crocodile Bridge Camp. Some of the camps in Kruger - including Crocodile Bridge and Malelane - are on the border of the park, and so don't have the same wildrness feeling as the camps situated further into the park. Bear this in mind when booking. Although Croc Bridge Camp is lovely, you can see farmlands across the river, and you can hear some noise from farm pumps and vehicles.

A lappet-faced vulture...these birds - listed as "vulnerable" - can reach 8 kg with a wingspan of 2.8 metres. Note the huge bill, which it uses to establish dominance over all other vulture species when scavenging. These birds have been known to have ranges of more than 1 000kms.

A beautiful brown-hooded kingfisher...he posed for me for ages.

A white rhino bull, coming down to drink...

A giant kingfisher, on the Lower Sabie bridge...

A pied kingfisher...looking for a meal.

Giraffe textures

A tree squirrel, plaing hide and seek with me.

White rhino...let's hope these peaceful creatures will still be here in similar numbers in 100 years.

For more, go to www.yearinthewild.com and www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Check out my Flickr photos at www.flickr.com/scottnramsay and my Instagram photos at www.instagram.com/wildscotty. Twitter on www.twitter.com/yearinthewild.

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as WildCardEeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

One comment

  • Hi Scott,
    What fabulous photos. I would love to pull some of them out of this post and put them up on FB.
    Is that OK with you? Also, I wrote to you about a month ago asking permission to use a couple of your photos in a story I did for Africa Geo’s blog but never heard from you.
    Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. I too feel at home in the bush and wish I could live again in a National Park like I did last year in the Tetons.
    I am still hoping to take a drive from SA to Kenya (hiring someone) to go to every big national park along the way. Know of anyone?

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