When I found out I was going to South Africa for work to accompany one of our trips the thing I was most excited about, and I think like a lot of people are, was visiting Kruger National Park and hopefully seeing all the fabulous animals. The drive from Johannesburg took about 7 hours but the views were worth it as you climb higher and then descend through the Drakensberg Mountains. As it got later the clouds descended and swept over the top of the mountains creating the most amazing scenery – of course my little hand-held wasn’t able to capture the majesty of all of this!
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and covers an area of 19,633 square kilometres. The park is home to all big five and also has more species of large mammals than any other African Game Reserve (at 147 species). We were staying at the Timbavati Safari Lodge which is located on its own private reserve and meant that we had quite a few animal visitors in the lodge grounds while we were there, including warthogs, wildebeest and giraffes. It was a lovely place to stay, a small Lodge which had a real warm family feel to it! Waking up to find wildebeest outside your bed room window is certainly not something I will be forgetting for a while!
We spent an entire day in Kruger National Park with our amazing guide Prince (I spent the day singing Purple Rain in my head!) – how he spotted things in the bush is a mystery to me, he must have binoculars for eyes. Within a couple of minutes we had spotted lions and a leopard, both a distance off but still amazing. From then on we started ticking off animals and birds like they were going out of fashion. Now of course we were incredibly lucky as our guide told us, you can go on game drives and see very little and that is why I would recommend at least a couple of days of game drives to make sure you see everything. The next day we went on a bushwalk around the lodge and tracked a young male giraffe which was incredible and in the afternoon we went for an evening / sunset game drive in one of the private reserves near by and again got incredibly lucky with everything we saw.
I could go on and on about how much I loved my time in Kruger but I won’t, instead I have selected a few of my favourite photos. I won’t be winning Wildlife Photographer of the Year anytime soon but hopefully they will inspire you to go and see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
Kruger and the private game reserves are such special places and should be preserved and protected. We were in a fortunate position that later on in the trip we met and had a talk from a Kruger National Park vet and this was illuminating for me. It was interesting to hear his views on animal population control, the selling of animals to private reserves but also on poaching. It certainly opened up a lively debate about the ethics behind rhino farming as a measure to control poaching.
Our learning continued when we went to visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. It really hit us all about poaching, that even inside the grounds of the centre rhinos are killed and their horns taken. We came across two rhino’s whose horns had been taken but they were left alive and taken to the centre to live. There is no other way of describing it as just sad, something so central to this animal taken!
One of Hoedspruits main aims is the breeding of cheetahs and releasing them into the wild as they too are quickly dropping in numbers. They are such a beautiful creature and its easy to think of them as something soft and cuddly until you see those teeth and they get their claws out – respect right there! They also have a successful wild dog breeding programme.
It wasn’t only the wildlife that we got to see in Kruger National Park. We also got the chance to go on a walk through a Shangaan village which was very interesting and allowed the opportunity to really see what life was life for people in rural Mpumalanga. We met with people, spoke with them and played with the children. They have so little but have such big hearts, they are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met on my travels.
Going on safari has definitely given me the bug and its something I want to do more and hopefully I will get the opportunity to go back to South Africa but also to the Masai Mara or Serengeti as there is such a wealth of wildlife in both. I have recently been told about a new app called Herdtacker that allows you to track the herds in the Masai so it would be interesting to see it in action! Its amazing how technology can be used! Hopefully it will also help or be a starting point for helping rangers keep an eye on the animals as well and protect them from poachers!
Seeing these amazing creatures in their natural habitat is breath-taking – I do need a better camera though!