Trip report May 28 – June 12
Lets start with saying that we have enjoyed our two week stay in Kruger very much. We had some amazing sightings, met a lot of nice people and lit the braai every night. Just my idea of what a holiday should be like! I kept a record of our sightings and have listed the most interesting ones per camp below.
In advance, I had read the forum threads to get an idea of where our chances of finding certain animals would be best. I marked those spots on a copy of the Kruger map in different colors. I also got Nigel Dennis’ photographic guide to the Kruger park. Although it is a nice little book, I think his road descriptions are way too positive and could easily give rise to unrealistically high expectations. Also, I found that if he had written the exact opposite, he would have been right just as many times!
Anyway, here goes with the report.Berg en Dal, May 28
Elephant and White Rhino on the short drive from Malelane gate to BnD.Berg en Dal, May 29
2 Cheetah at intersection of H3 and S114
4 White Rhino on the S110
Small herd of buffalo on H3
2 White Rhino on S114
Large (20+) herd of Elephant on S110
A wonderful start, given that the BnD area is not known as the part of Kruger with the highest game densities. I did my best finding the resident Malelane Leopard, but to no avail. I hope to finally see and photograph one during daytime, as this is my 6th safari to southern Africa! Funny thing is this was my 3rd Cheetah sighting in the mere 12 days I have ever spent in the park and they are way less numerous that the Leopard I am craving for.Berg en Dal to Lower Sabie, May 30
6 Lions on H4-1 on rocks near LS
Lots of Elephant along S112 and S21
2 White Rhino on S28
2 White Rhino on S130
Lots of Elephant along H4-2 towards CB
Day 3 and the first Lion sighting. Way too many vehicles and no way to get a clear view as the rocks they are on are obscured by vegetation from just about every angle. Probably more Lions to come later! I cannot remember having ever seen so many Rhino in so little time.Lower Sabie, May 31
1 White Rhino on S110
Absolutely nothing along S29 and S128!
1 White Rhino on H4-1
1 Large Elephant bull forcing cars backwards on H4-1
A very slow day. The area to the north of LS had absolutely nothing to offer, where did all the animals go? The afternoon drive along the H4-1- was just as slow. Strange, as LS had always been good to me.Lower Sabie, June 1
1 Leopard (my very first in 6 years!!!) on H4-2 towards CB near sausage tree
1 Male Lion on S130
4 White Rhino on S130
Herd of Elephant on S130
9 Lion on Buffalo kill on H4-1 very close to LS
70 Buffalo chasing Lions from kill at funeral
I knew from the forum and the sightings boards that Leopard were often seen on a stretch of the H4-2 towards CB. So I decided to drive that stretch extra slowly. Still dark, I noticed an animals ass at the base of a tree. Just a black shape and probably an impala, but I decided to check it out anyway. The shape jumped into the tree with one graceful, feline jump. A Leopard! We waited some 30 minutes before he or she got out of the tree again and walked around, sniffing and licking the soil underneath the tree. All other vehicles just passed without even giving a glimpse. The Leopard then walked into the dense reeds in the riverbed and we drove off. I got my first decent Leopard shots. The frustration had ended and I suddenly felt relaxed
Later on we saw a beautiful big male Lion scare the heck out of the other animals at the seasonal pan on the S130, but he just was a passer-by.
Back in camp, we heard about a pride of Lions that had killed a Buffalo no more than 4 km from LS that morning. So we went to have a look in the afternoon. After some 30 minutes, we got into a good position and watched the Lions feed on the carcass. Another 30 minutes went by when a large herd of Buffalo came and chased the Lions from the carcass. They sniffed and licked their deceased relative for a good hour and then left the funeral. The Lions patiently waited on the other side of the road. One bold young male thought he could get a bite with the Buffalo herd still at the carcass. I have never seen a Lion flea that fast
Big 5 in one day, a first for us and LS again delivered the goods!Lower Sabie to Satara, June 2
2 Leopards on H4-2 towards CB near sausage tree
3 White Rhino on H10
20 Buffalo H1-3
1 Large Elephant bull on H1-3
3 Cheetah near end of S100
1 White Rhino on S100
Just to push our luck, we went back to where we had spotted our Leopard. Again still dark, but we saw part of an impala in the tree. The Leopard was bound to be back! We parked the car and just waited to see what would happen. Again all other vehicles drove on because there was nothing to see. A few minutes later, we saw the Leopard moving in the high reeds in the riverbed and walk off to the left. We kept searching that area for 30 minutes when two Leopards approached from the right. They had fooled us big time! The bolder one (probably the mother) crossed the road and walked off into the thick bushes. The careful one (probably an adolescent cub) fed on the impala in the dense vegetation of the tree before walking off into the riverbed. The tarred roads towards Satara did not offer much, but we were more than happy. I got some really nice shots of the Leopards, better than I had ever expected to get.
I decided to drive the infamous S100 in the afternoon. Lots of animals before I came across a traffic jam towards the end of the S100. There were 3 Cheetah brothers in the high grass. I waited until it was time to go back to camp. Unfortunately, they did not do much, but may I remind you that this was my 4th Cheetah sighting in 16 days in the park?Satara, June 3
1 Male Lion drinking in riverbed on S100
1 Hyena on S41
5 Elephant on S100
4 Elephant on S100
A very slow day on the S100. The male Lion was far away down in the riverbed and there were hardly any other animals to be seen, both in the morning and afternoon. A very disappointing day.Satara, June 4
Missed a Leopard along S40 twice, matter of seconds
Enormous (200+) herd of Buffalo at Nsemani dam along H7
Some Elephant and Buffalo on S100
Again a very, very slow day along the S100. It’s starting to loose some of its fame. On my last visit 4 years ago, I had seen plenty of Lion and even a glimpse of a Leopard, but nothing going on now. I missed a Leopard cross the S40 by seconds. Some 30 minutes later I passed the same spot again and another vehicle told me the Leopard had walked into the vegetation on the right side. So I carefully searched that side of the road. A minute later, I noticed a vehicle that had just passed me from the opposite direction hit the brakes. I drove back and asked her what she had seen. It was the Leopard on the LEFT side of the road that had sprayed a tree no more than 5 meters from the road and then disappeared. You gotta love it. The enormous Buffalo herd was some sight, very impressive.Satara to Olifants, June 5
1 Male Lion on H1-3 just behind Nwanetsi bridge
1 Cheetah on S12 at Girivana waterhole
1 Puff Adder crossing S40
Lots of Elephant at S127 and H8
Absolutely nothing on S91, S92 and H8
Finally Lion near Satara, but again only one male. Before heading to Satara, we drove the S40/S12 loop again to maybe spot the Leopard. We came across a traffic jam at Girivana. A Cheetah lay in the grass some 2 meters from the road, but at the narrowest stretch. We could only see the spots through the bushes. It was feeding on something. After 40 minutes we left the scene. We were still the 7th car in line and even after asking politely by making gestures, none of the front vehicles were willing to let other people have a look too. I hate it when people behave so selfishly, but fortunately, it was the only occasion we witnessed such behavior.
The view at Olifants was still wonderful, the game viewing even more disappointing than I remembered from last time. Just nothing there.Olifants, June 6
1 White Rhino on S90 at Bangu waterhole
2 Elephant on H1-4
20 Buffalo on H1-4
Some Elephant on S91, S92 and H1-4
Another disappointing day at Olifants. It took lots of driving to see a few Elephants and Buffalo, nothing else.Olifants to Tamboti, June 7
1 Jackal on S39 at Ratelpan waterhole fooling with Guineafowl
1 Giant Eagle Owl on S39
1 Saddle-billed Stork on S39
1 Puncture at Tamboti/Acornhook
Another slow day. The Jackal was very funny,. We watched its antics for some 30 minutes. It fooled around with a flock of Guineafowl without intending to actually catch one. I finally spotted my first Giant Eagle Owl of this trip. Somehow, I always get to see them, although they usually are in the shady parts of trees. I also tend to spot lots of Pearl-spotted Owls, tiny as they may be. Must have to do with me searching each and every tree for Leopard.
The afternoon was spent trying to get a puncture repaired. Skukuza and Letaba were just too far away, so I had to drive to Acornhook. I’ll spare you the details, but it was quite something to get it done and be back in Tamboti before the gates close. I had expected the Livina to have a full-sized spare wheel, not just a temporary one.Tamboti, June 8
Enormous herd of Buffalo crossing H7 in dense fog
Absolutely nothing else along H7 and S106
6 Jackal on H7
1 Honey Badger fighting dustbin at camp
Just as I was used to, the H7 had nothing to offer, except for the spooky Buffalo crossing and the Jackals in the afternoon. Funny how some people rave about the H7 and I have yet to see anything really interesting on it, after having driven it a dozen times.
We had been warned about the resident Honey Badger at Tamboti, but were looking forward to see it. I don’t understand who decided on the plastic dustbins, but we were happy to have them, as from the sound of the falling dustbins, we could judge how far the HB was from our tent. It appeared to favor the brine from canned pears over pieces of meat. It even was bold enough to take the stairs to our deck. That was close enough for me and a sudden movement of my foot sufficed to send it back to the dustbin. I got some very nice shots with a remotely controlled camera and a wide-angle lens. It came back several times that night.Tamboti, June 9
1 Male lion on S36 at Shimangwaneni dam
2 Giant Eagle Owl on S140
1 Jackal on H7
1 Honey Badger fighting dustbin at camp
Another slow day. The H7 again had nothing to offer and only after a long drive did we came across a male Lion at Shimangwaneni dam. Again a single male Lion, we had only seen one Lion pride so far! Other people I had talked to at Satara also mentioned Lion sightings had been very slow over the last weeks. Only fleeting moments and often single males, no kills or large prides to sit with. Strange!
One other thing: I visited the bird hide at Tamboti, only to see a huge wall of reeds obscuring the view. A pity, as I remembered the hide to be a nice place. Same at N’wamatsatsa waterhole on the H7. Only a large wall of reeds and no view of the waterhole.Tamboti to Skukuza, June 10
1 Wild Dog on H7
2 Hyena on H7
3 Saddle-billed Stork on H1-3
2 Giant Eagle Owl on H4-1
Finally a good sighting on the H7, but a sad one. A single Wild Dog normally is not a good thing, and this proved to be no exception. After watching it lie in the grass for 30 minutes, it finally got up and walked into the vegetation. That’s when we saw it missed half of a hind leg. The wound had almost healed so it must have been from an older injury and apparently the Wild Dog was able to survive on itself, but it was a sad sighting. Our first Wild Dog in Kruger, but not as expected.Skukuza, June 11
5 Hyena with small pups on H11 towards Kruger gate (den site)
3 Elephant on H11
Absolutely not a single animal on S3, S4 and S1!!!
1 Leopard on H4-1 on other side of Sabie river
Finally a good Hyena sighting. Four years ago I had a den with pups all to myself in the most beautiful light, and now we had only seen glimpses of them. This time, they crossed the road in the dark at the same spot several times and a closer look revealed a culvert under the road where the pups were kept safe. The rest of the morning yielded nothing at all. The S1, S3 and S4 appeared deserted. Not even an impala, nothing at all!
The afternoon drive was our last one and we went out with a bang. Two vehicles were overlooking the Sabie river and told us a Leopard had been drinking near the far bank and had walked off into the thickets. They left, I decided to keep searching. Some 5 minutes later, I found it sitting at the far bank. Very far away, but again a Leopard sighting. Within minutes 20 vehicles formed a traffic jam and they were all shouting at each other to get information about the whereabouts of the Leopard. Even with binoculars, it was difficult to find. Sometimes, it is funnier to watch human antics than animal antics.Skukuza, June 12
5 Hyena with small pups on H11 towards Kruger gate (den site)
On the way out we saw the Hyena clan again at the culvert and spent a quiet two hours at Lake Panic to watch the sun rise and get some backlit shots and silhouettes. A nice way to end our trip.Conclusion
In two weeks, we got to see all of the Magnificent Seven. I got rid of my Leopard frustration and frustrated a lot of people by telling them I had seen Cheetah on three occasions. You get some, you loose some. 4 years ago, I saw Cheetah twice, but no Leopards and a lot of Lions. This time, only one Lion pride and 4 sightings of a single male Lion. I guess that’s the addictive part of visiting Kruger: you never know what you’re going to get and what Kruger is willing to show you around the next corner.
And again I have learned that most sightings are a matter of sheer luck. They are fleeting moments, often of animals crossing a road in a split-second. Level A sightings were you get to spend an hour with good views are very scarce and you have to embrace these moments when you are lucky enough to have one. Same with the roads: the S100 and H7 are famous for their sightings, but sometimes they deliver and more often they don’t.
I feel fortunate to also enjoy birding and small and common mammals like mongoose and impala and just watch their antics. That means there is so much more to see. I feel sorry for the people who just speed through the park in search of the next traffic jam in hopes of seeing Lions. At one time, I was photographing a Lilac-breasted Roller in a small bush. The big lens pointed upwards. A car stopped next to me and, I kid you not, asked: what do you see, lions?
One thing I know for sure: I’ll be back again (and again).