Tips on where/how to spot wildlife.

Moderators: ritad, RosemaryH, lion queen, Crested Val

User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:15 am

Unread post by WeeBirdy »

Sightings really do depend on luck.
On a trip to Kruger last month, we saw about an even number of animals on the tar roads and the gravel/dirt ones.
The tar roads tended to have a lot more traffic, but our one and only leopard sighting was on one.
On some dirt roads we were able to drive for 2 hours at a time without seeing a single car, so we really felt out in the middle of the bush--which was fantastic.
Anyway, my advice is to do a mix of dirt and tar roads, and to ask people at your camp if they have any recommendations for good roads nearby.
Other people working or staying there will probably know about recent sightings.
You can also look at the sightings boards posted at the camps for ideas, although as you can see from reading this thread, there's some debate about how reliable the boards are. Still, they're fun to at least look at!

As for the night drives, we did one at Satara and one at Biyamiti, and both were very good.
The really nice thing about the Biyamiti drive was that it was a smaller vehicle (10- instead of 20-seater), we got to stop along the way for sundowners and the guide, Benjy (sp?), had lots of great commentary.
From what I've heard, the night drives can vary quite a bit, depending on the guide you have and the number of animals you see.
User avatar
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Posts: 14519
Joined: Fri Jan 14, 2005 5:42 pm
Location: Red sand, why do I keep thinking of red sand?

Unread post by DuQues »

In the south you will have more sightings, in the middle (Satara etc) you'll have more cats, and in the north you'll have quiet, but less sightings. So animals only? South.

But... My choice? North.

Do you want to see the big 5? It's possible in the north, just less likely. However the old rule is still valid, @ the right place, @ the right time...

If you want to see a little more though, like spectacular views, superb birding, while not being pestered by tourists and OSV's. Shingwedzi is a super camp, but I would take a few days in Punda as well, and go to Pafuri. Do some birding with Frank (one of the attendants of Pafuri picknik spot), visit Crooks Corner and so on.
User avatar
Posts: 47950
Joined: Thu Dec 30, 2004 5:54 pm
Location: The Beautiful Cape

Unread post by DinkyBird »

For me.... Sweni Bird hide and the parking area just to the left of the hide. Great for pics!
- Dalene
User avatar
Posts: 269
Joined: Wed Jan 19, 2005 2:19 pm
Location: NOT where I want to be!!

Unread post by Dan »

Water and Trees = ellie magnets, so where you find rivers and dams like around Shingwedzi with Kanniedood Dam and Letaba's Engelhard dam, where there is a constant supply of both, you will find ellies, and lots of them.
Fortunately Shingwedzi is also very competitively priced with accommodation and is a quieter camp, but nonetheless beautiful!
You can sometimes drive for hours without meeting other cars, so its a nice region to just sit and relax when spotting animals without too much disturbance from other traffic.

They also like the Mopani brush, so you are bound to find them between Letaba and Shingwedzi.

At Letaba we also walked literally right next to ellies (within 4 meters) at the fence, at the river's side of the footpath at sundown.
Was an incredible experience when they give that deep rumble and you feel the low and deep sound waves vibrate through your stomach and lungs. :shock:
Very humbling experience being right next to something so big and powerful.
Just always be very quiet when so near to them.
Their sight aint good but the slightest sudden sound will spook them when you are that close to them..
You can also check the big five sighting maps link on the Sanparks homepage (near the bottom ) There they indicate the biggest concentrations of all the big 5.
User avatar
Virtual Ranger
Virtual Ranger
Posts: 1289
Joined: Thu Mar 02, 2006 12:11 pm
Location: Back on earth.....

Unread post by G@mespotter »

Although quite far from any camp, I love Sonop waterhole, situated along the H6 east from Satara.
Maybe because I have special memories there....

When you approach Sonop, it looks quiet, but I dare you, stay there for 30 min, if you have time of course..., I have seen buffalo, lion, warthog, impala, zebra and 2 elephants within 1 and a half hour.....amazing for a 'seemingly' quiet waterhole

My opinion is that the late afternoons are better for waterhole viewings than the early morning, I dont know why, its just a feeling I have, I never see much at waterhole in the early morning.
Sonop unfortunately doesn't have much shade....

A second, equal popular hide of mine, is the Sweni hide....the peace is unmatched.
A good thing (and bad) about this hide is , its so far from main camps, and situated on an infamous road, so not too much visitors as is the case with Lake Panic...

Both Sweni and Sonop have the advantage that it is not too far from N'wanetsi, so in an case of emergency, its less than 8 km ..
Walking is the best way to explore Kruger: 2x Olifants Backpack Trail (2009, 2016), 3x Mphongolo Backpack Trail (2011, 2013, 2015), 1x Mathikithi Wilderness Trail (2022).
User avatar
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Posts: 14519
Joined: Fri Jan 14, 2005 5:42 pm
Location: Red sand, why do I keep thinking of red sand?

Re: Leopards & Cheetas

Unread post by DuQues »

Actually, if you look for the other treasures of the park, like the birds, you're more likely to find them.
I call cheetah 'ironed cats', due to the fact that if they lay down only that round little head is a bump on the floor. The rest is flat! No hips, no lungs.... At least so it seems...
Leopards seem to hang around in trees. Never seen that, poor things have a fear of heights I think.

But I have spotted both! Just by driving around, looking the whole 360 degrees, which includes up, looking for movement. Could be a bird, Which!?, could be just a leaf, could be a flick of an ear. Cat?

Just drive slowly, and look at everything. Not just one thing, and you'll see far more... And enjoy yourself more. Don't set targets, let Kruger serve them...
User avatar
Virtual Ranger
Virtual Ranger
Posts: 1289
Joined: Thu Mar 02, 2006 12:11 pm
Location: Back on earth.....

Re: Leopards & Cheetas

Unread post by G@mespotter »

Hi there :D

I would say all the above advice is quite valid..However, I also know you want more 'specific' info besides the @ the right time @ the right place explanation :wink:

Leopard: indeed it's probably one of the most elusive animals, and because of their special hiding techniques one can hardly pinpoint certain spots in Kruger to find them. However, generally they tend to appear more often close to (major) riversystems, thus riverine area's, altough not exclusive. I personally find Skukuza a good base to start from, and some people say the same about Shingwedzi, which I'm about to find out. I also want to particularly name the southern part of the s114 and s25 as a 'hotspot' but this is personal. The Berg-en-Dal area is also quite good, as is Lower-Sabie. Indeed, early morning & late afternoon increases your chances, as well as a sunset or night drive.

Cheetah: These are 'day-animals' and BB has already mentioned the best routes, which are IMHO the H7 (Orpen side), the H10, the s28 (bigtime!) and the H3. Dunno about north from personal experience, but some have mentioned the H1-7 between Shingwedzi and Punda :D

Yet again, try your luck and happy searching 8) Enjoy ALL wildlife so BTW :thumbs_up:
Walking is the best way to explore Kruger: 2x Olifants Backpack Trail (2009, 2016), 3x Mphongolo Backpack Trail (2011, 2013, 2015), 1x Mathikithi Wilderness Trail (2022).
Dave Heard
Posts: 20
Joined: Thu Aug 23, 2007 9:37 am
Location: Johannesburg

TIPS for Game Spotting/Travelling in Kruger

Unread post by Dave Heard »

With acknowledgement to JenB for the idea

Like so many others active on the Forum I have been visiting Kruger for many years. I have had unbelievable trips and others, (but only long ago), where I've questioned why I bothered. Over the years I've come to realise that it's not just the Big Five - it's the total experience that makes Kruger so addictive to me.

Having gone through many of the responses to other Subjects on the Forum I realise that you may do things differently so my approach is not intended to cause any controversial reaction - please be positive. I hope that you will add your tips so that at the end of the day all who read the Posts can decide what suits their Game Viewing objective and the circumstances of their visit.
Who knows with all the collective experience you have we could end up with a useful guide of benefit to the rookie and more experienced visitor alike.

This is MY approach

- When travelling at the speed limit, for example moving between camps, with a clear road ahead I occupy centre road. This improves my chance of stopping in the event of animals suddenly coming onto the road. If oncoming traffic appears I immediately move left and slow down.
- Irrespective of my speed if I see animals in or on the side of the road I slow down and proceed with caution so that I can stop quickly in need.
This precaution has proved particularly appropriate when Impala are crossing - they follow the leader and don't stop for vehicles.
- On a leisurely game spotting drive travelling speed can be adjusted according to the number of occupants (and them being awake!) and how keen you are to see anything other than the obvious.
- If alone, you need to travel very slowly or otherwise depend on people in other vehicles to spot the game for you. I prefer the former but the choice is yours.
- Screaming Baboons and snorting Impala may indicate the presence of a predator - typically a Leopard. To detect those signs keep the radio off and windows open - again your choice.
- When taking an off-road detour, for example with a river view, don't just ride in look around and ride out. Park, switch the engine off and wait for a while. Sometimes that animal, not immediately in view will emerge when all is quiet.
- At water holes, especially in the winter dry season, don't just drive in look around and leave - sit a while, a few minutes can change everything.
- Back in camp keep your ears open - listen for others discussing their sightings and have a look at the board reflecting the day's Big Five. Neither guarantees their presence later - but use your judgement and you may be lucky!

Well Forumites those are my initial thoughts. Please criticise constructively where necessary and add your contributions - it can only be of benefit to the overall Kruger Park experience for all who choose to participate.

With Thanks - Dave
[i]A Bird in the "BUSH" is worth two ANYWHERE ELSE![/i]
User avatar
Bush Baptist
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Posts: 7658
Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2005 12:38 pm
Location: In the shadow of Table Mountain

Re: Game Spotting/Travelling in Kruger

Unread post by Bush Baptist »

Vultures in dead trees are usually roosting, vultures in green trees are usually waiting for a predator to move off a kill.
Manage the heat. Drive with the windows open and listen.
Do all the little loops and roads to waterholes. Often you are rewarded.
Ask people what they are looking at, politely of course. If you are not a birder - you are unfortunately only half a NP enthusiast - slowly drive off without spoiling the sighting, and showing your disappointment.
At impala herds, look around for other species.
If you see something good on the left, also look on the right (and vice versa) often there are more on the other side of the road.
If you see people 'waiting for lions' either in grass or having walked into the bush, drive on, don't waste your time.
If 'it' is 200 metres off the road, drive on, chances are you will see 'it' closer.
Whatever : "You are right but I don't want to admit it".

In a world of grey, be RED

Latest lifers: Red-rumped Swallow, Red Phalarope, Purple Gallinule, Chukar Partridge, Australasian Gannet, Brown Booby

Latest World Lifer: White tailed eagle
User avatar
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Posts: 17064
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2007 1:41 pm
Location: Johannesburg - where they cut down trees and name streets after them.

Re: Game Spotting/Travelling in Kruger

Unread post by JenB »

Don't feel the stress of chasing after the big ones.
Take a look at other things like the colour of the grass, the trees, the insects, the birds. Have you ever noticed how much more beautiful any tree is in nature compared to those in the garden?
Drive slowly and appreciate the different rock formations or the path a river has carved in years gone by. Try and imagine what happened over time for it to look the way it does today.
Don't just sit in camp during the heat of the day, sit under a tree and look around for other sightings like two dung beetles jostling for the same dung ball, stick insects, different grasshoppers, spiders, butterflies. If there is absolutely no life around, look at the flowers. The tiniest ones are usually those with the most detail.
You will be amazed what awesome sightings you have by sitting quietly looking at the little things and while doing that, the leopard with cubs, the honey badger or snake will reveal it's self. One can only see "nothing" if you have your eyes wide shut.
Once you learn to appreciate the small things, any walk in a place like the Botanical gardens or even your own garden becomes a major African safari. :wink:
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France
User avatar
Duke Ellieton
Posts: 4842
Joined: Mon Jun 19, 2006 6:13 pm
Location: Centurion, ZA

Re: Game Spotting/Travelling in Kruger

Unread post by Duke Ellieton »

I usually will be the first to leave camp but will have a waterhole in mind that I want to get to and then will spend about an hour or two at the waterhole.

This has proved to be very successful for me at places like Klopperfontein dam, Renosterkoppies dam, Muhlambadvube dam, Ngirvana, Rooibosrandt and Mantimahle to name a few.

Agree with you all about stopping, looking and listening. We stop for just about anything and I remember my first leopard sighting (those were the days in the seventies when I was of the opinion that it was nigh impossible to see a leopard in the daytime and it was our third trip to KNP).

We were on the S114 and had stopped to look at a tortoise and were parked off for about 10 minutes when a leopard emerged out of the bushes and walked pass our car - yes I was gobsmacked :big_eyes: :shock:

Have also had amazing sightings in the heat of the day, on the road and in camp, so agree with you Jen about not just sitting in camp. The hides at Biyamiti and Bateleur can be very productive in the afternoons as can the river frontage at Letaba, Olifants, Skukuza and Lower Sabie. Once saw a pride of lions polish off a wildebeest from the hide at Biyamiti.

David, we have stopped a number of times because we could here impala snorting - must have your windows open and radio off like you say - and have found a predator in the vicinity.

If you see a hyena at the base of a tree scan the tree carefully, twice we have found a leopard hidden amongst the foliage in this way.

BB, many people are half out of the window at a sighting little realising what is on the other side of the road - like you say look on the other side.

Happy spotting forumites.
User avatar
Virtual Ranger
Virtual Ranger
Posts: 117
Joined: Wed Jan 12, 2005 3:40 pm

Re: Game Spotting/Travelling in Kruger

Unread post by acekam »

- If a leopard either about to cross the road or having just crossed the road suddenly goes to ground, don't drive to the point where you last saw it. Rather back off 30 meters and wait, when its ready, it will come out again.
- If you are the last car to leave a sighting that is still there (eg.a sleeping lion, leopard in a tree), make a note of the mileage, flag down the next approaching car and give them the exact distance to the sighting. This is good kudos and these things have a way of coming back to reward you.
- If the sighting was not still there, do not flag down the next approaching car - nobody wants to hear about the leopard they just missed.
- There is never nothing to see. The sooner you embrace birding, insecting, treeing, rocking, etc, the more fulfilling your experience.
- At an elephant sighting, give them their space and always make sure you have a forward escape route in case of a charge. This often means driving slightly ahead of the sighting and looking back.
- At a getout point (eg.hide, lookout), if you are the only car there, first switch off your engine, look and listen for 5 minutes before getting out.
- At a crowded sighting where its clear no-one is actually seeing anything, drive ahead of the pack for 30 meters and stop. That's normally where the animal re-appears. If it doesn't, gesticulate wildly and pretend to take photographs anyway; it drives the waiting pack bonkers.
- Keep binoculars and camera within easy reach in the car, if not around your neck.
We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children
User avatar
Posts: 517
Joined: Thu Oct 05, 2006 4:01 pm
Location: 10,000 miles from where I'd like to be

Re: spotting tips

Unread post by skywalker2251 »

Drive slow. The slower you drive, the more you'll see. I usually drive between 20-25 km's per hour.

Don't look for a specific animal, look for movement. As you're driving along rivers and dry riverbeds, make sure to pull into any overlooks. Sometimes you'll get to a waterhole and it will appear as if nothing is there. Stop for a minute and wait. I once stopped at the Nkaya Pan and saw only a giraffe drinking at the waterhole. After watching the giraffe for a moment, we spotted several lion laying in the shade.
Tony Park
Posts: 101
Joined: Sun Mar 01, 2009 12:38 pm
Location: Sydney and southern Africa

Re: spotting tips

Unread post by Tony Park »

When you're looking for animals try forcing yourself to scan the bush from right to left, instead of left to right.

This is a trick I was taught in the army.

We learn to read from left to right, so when we're scanning our eyes tend to move in that direction.

If you force yourself to scan from right to left your eyes and brain are working harder (so the theory goes) and you;'re more likely to pick up movement or irregularities you might have missed.

Try it. I find it works sometimes.


(and as for Satara itself, get up early and head down the S100. You'll rarely be disappointed)
User avatar
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Posts: 14519
Joined: Fri Jan 14, 2005 5:42 pm
Location: Red sand, why do I keep thinking of red sand?

Re: spotting tips

Unread post by DuQues »

Let your periferal vision do the work. It's very good at it, and sees things your normal vision misses, especially movement.
The flick of a tail, a branch moving, things like that you can pick up. And then just stop, and wait a bit. It's often false alarm, but those times it isn't...

But don't go looking for the outlines/colours of say a lion! You'll maybe see a lion, but may disregard the pattern of a leopard is it's not brownish.

Good luck!