Hi to all of the Kruger Family
Being currently an environmental consultant in the Limpopo Province, having done my pHD a couple of years ago in plant ecology, I thought I'd share some interesting facts about animal movements in the park related to vegetation patterns! The vegetation of Kruger is immensely unique in the sense that different geological formations, give rise to different soils and in turn will determine the plant communities which occur, and what the palatability of the graze and browse will be.
The basalt areas of the park (eastern section) have mostly dark clayey soils and the grasses are extremely palatable. This area seems to be favoured be game in the late summer and early winter (especially areas around Satara and north of Lower Sabie). Even though the grasses are extremely valuable for grazing, the soil dries out quickly in winter, making it less valuable. Game will then tend to move from these areas in the middle of winter more to the western granitic areas (depending on the amount of rain that fell before winter and whether the grass layer was burned and rejuvenated - good example is the area between Lower Sabie and Tshokwane). The soils in these areas are poor, acidic soils and although grazed throughout the year by resident game, will attract more game in the late winter time (good example is I've driven the S36 numerous times in late winter, early spring and it was amazing to see big herds of general game and buffalo on a road that is usually quiet for most of the year). The patches of gabbro (good example is just after entering Orpen gate) is unbelievable after the first rains fall, and attract all species of game. December would be an excellent time to spend time in these areas. The reason is that this rock tipe give rise to a fine clayey soil, that is even more valuable than basaltic soils. However, these soils dry out even quicker in the start of winter, and by April the large numbers of game would have moved out of these areas. Mountainous sections of the park (Berg-en Dal and the Lebombo Mountains) will be similar to granitic soils, although these areas will keep water for more extended periods of time! Late winter / early spring is always a good idea in these areas as elephants and other browsers move into these areas to utilise the evergreen trees on the slopes, while the grass layer is also valuable for extended periods of time into the early spring due to the soil being "wetter". Of course game will tend to move towards drainage areas in winter as soon as the veld dries up, yet these areas will play an even more important role to supply browsers like elephant, kudu, bushbuck and giraffe of browse in the dry months when other trees lose their foliage. The Ecca Shales is another example of giving rise to a loamy clay soils, that gets over gazed very quickly (examples is the area just before Nsemani Dam closer to Orpen and on the S25 on the Crocodile River Road closer to Croc Bridge). However, these areas Will l be utilised throughout the year since it provides a pass through areas whenever game move to better grazing areas. This is one of the reasons that this is the area with the highest biodiversity in the park. Game will easily move into the Ceca shale ozone after the basalts have dried up, and the same goes for the game grazing on the granitic areas, since the Ceca Shale is "slap bang" in the middle of the two.
Other interesting movements of game are as follows:
Elephants tend to utilise the marula at the end of February when all the fruit ripens. By the end of March when it start getting drier, most of the ellies will then tend to move north towards the Mopane Veld, or closer to drainage areas. General Game migrate early winter from the areas around Satara to areas north of Lower Sabie (presently happening). It is quite spectacular to see these animals from Nkumbe Lookout point. Predators will follow game when they migrate, but remember lion, hyena and leopard are territorial, and except for nomadic animals will not easily venture too far out of their area.
Remember that the tips I gave only focuses on the main geological formations. If one looks at the soil catenas for each ecozone in the park, there are still many differences in topography giving rise to different soils. Hope the info will be usefull and remember it is still being at the right place at the right time. Happy "hunting" for all the animals!