Mid-summer (ie. Christmas) is not the best time to visit the Kruger Park. Apart from the fact temperatures reach 35degrees by 11am, it’s also the rainy season. That means thick vegetation which makes game spotting virtually impossible – one second an elephant can be standing right next to your car, the next it’s invisible, blended perfectly into the bush.
Still, we figured we didn’t move to South Africa to spend all our time in Joburg traffic, so headed north for four days last weekend to get away from the city and spend some time in one of my favourite places in the world. Kruger really is a remarkable place – two million hectares of Africa which has been preserved as wild as possible for the last century or so, except for the criss-crossed dirt and tar roads which allow families to traverse its entirety in nothing more rugged than a regular sedan.
And what we lacked for in quantity of game spotted this time round, we certainly made up for in quality. Despite hours without seeing as much as a bunny rabbit in the road, we saw lion (twice), leopard (twice), two or possibly three herd of elephant, white rhino (including a large and relatively rare herd of six), hippo and – my personal favourite – several giraffe. Some great photo ops which will be uploaded shortly. Also, lots of young animals which had clearly been born in the spring.
We didn’t see any cheetah this time round, but we did see the lady (I think) pictured above. One of the most sadly rare sights in all of Africa – the black rhino. Hunted by poachers for its horn, there’s something like two and half thousand left across the whole continent, and one subspecies was declared extinct last year.
Sadly, this girl had been in a fairly dreadful fight the night before by the looks of it, which is probably why we managed to catch sight of her resting (a fairly spectacular spot by Tamsin through undergrowth to the far side of a river bed as we were leaving the park.
The wounds look like they came from a natural source – and there was a battered pride of lions lying in the road nearby who may well have been the cause of the gouge on her neck, the scratches on her side, and the loss of her tail. A ranger we spoke to about her was concerned that the fact her tail was missing might indicate poachers, but even my untrained eye can tell that they don’t look like man made injuries. Just vicious old nature at work.
Apparently this year has seen a sharp rise in rhinos killed for their horns, as it remains popular as a medicine in certain sections of Asian societies. In South Africa alone, nearly 700 rhino have been hunted and killed illegally from a total population of less than 20,000 during 2012, more than double the number poached in 2010. That’s despite a massive effort on behalf of SA National Parks and the like to clamp down on the practice, and a high profile arrest and trial last month.
As you can see from the photo above, life is hard enough for these guys as it is. Let’s hope the youngster below doesn’t end up the same way.
The town of Hazyview is considerably more developed since last time I was here. Back then, there was an open market in a gas station for all your needs. Now there are several malls, including one with a camera shop that sells universal chargers. The old town may have had more charm, but the new one at least means we were able to fire off 100 shots of these two kudu almost being eaten by a crocodile this morning. The face off (shall we drink the water? Is that a log?) lasted well over an hour before the kudu walked off and the croc went hungry.
Still, if we hadn’t sat watching them, we’d have missed this gorgeous chap just around the corner when we left the lake.
I can’t believe we’ve been lucky enough to see a cheetah just three days after the leopard. These two are almost impossible to see normally, and yet both were just by the side of the road, waiting for us. amazing creatures. Thank you.
As I’ve been fond of pointing out to people prior to this trip, there may not be snow in Africa at Christmas, but there’s a hell of a lot of rain south of the equator this time of year. The day we arrived in Sambonani, a lodge just outside of Kruger Park where we’re spending a few days, it’s was to a full on monsoon. In the dark, with the power constantly failing, the lightning storms that illumated the first two nights here were staggeringly beautiful.
Apparently, we have a family of hippos and a crocodile living in the river opposite us. I haven’t seen them yet, but I do hope there’s a backup generator for the very fragile looking electric fence keeping the crocs out.
One lesson I have learned is that the old adage about the the most important camera being the camera you have with you is very true. My trusty GF1 is a lovely piece of kit, but without a powerful zoom and a reliance on contrast-based auto-focus, it’s not the best for taking pictures of game. Fortunately, we also have Tamsin’s Nikon, with my 300mm VR lens on it. Which is perfect.
We’ve been very lucky in our first two days in the park. We’ve seen rhino, a huge herd of elephants, hippos, nearly every type of buck and possibly a wildcat or caracal or two as well. The most impressive spot so far though was this one.
A leopard – the last of the Big Five I haven’t photographed in the park. Asleep in a tree in the late muggy afternoon. These cats look lazy, but they’re incredibly hard to spot – they hunt at night and hide during the day. Seeing one is a rare and unusual privilege.
This would, however, be the point that Tamsin’s battery dies, and we discover the charger is back in Joburg. Hence the rather disappointing blur-o-vision above, cropped in from the maximum range of my GF1.
Sigh. I love my GF1, but it does have it’s limitations. If anyone wants to buy me one of these for Christmas, don’t hold back.
Still, it’s hard to get too upset. I’ve been waiting years to see a leopard, and come close twice in the past. And look at the position he’s in, all four legs hanging down like he just doesn’t care about cameras and all the cars jostling for position at the base of the tree.
He probably doesn’t.