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Kruger’s Big 6

Kruger National Park’s Big 6 Birds are a fanciful grouping aimed at mirroring what the traditional big 5 mammals do for public eagerness to spot species.

Where the big 5 represent the 5 game species that were most desired as hunter’s trophies in times gone past and now represent the 5 species that visitors to Kruger (or other classic African savannah parks) most want to see, the big 6 represent a subjective grouping of the 6 most desired birds that visitors to Kruger want to see. It is aimed at the layman birder, and hence the species are easy to identify and instantly recognizable. The species are also by and large restricted to Kruger and other conservation areas, as human encroachment; habitat degradation etc. has reduced their ranges.

Five of the six are seen relatively easily in the park and are found throughout the park i.e. Lappet faced Vulture, Martial Eagle; Saddle billed Stork, Kori Bustard and Ground Hornbill. The one curve ball is the Pel’s Fishing Owl, which is seldom seen, because of its nocturnal habits and restriction to large watercourses. There are however populations along the Limpopo, Levuvhu and Olifants Rivers. They are recorded less frequently along the Letaba, Shingwedzi and Sabie Rivers or from dams in the area. The best way to see them is to go on either the Nyalaland or Olifants Wilderness Trails, or do night drives from Olifants rest camp. Balule camp is also a potential place to see them, as is driving in the Pafuri region along the Levuvhu and being lucky enough to find one at roost.

Interestingly, it is estimated that there are only between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of Saddle-bills in the park, plus a handful of non-breeding individuals. However, because they are so large and striking in appearance and are very prominent along major water points, visitors regularly see them. But these numbers make them far rarer and more threatened than animals such as cheetah and wild dog, not to mention the big 5.

The Big 6 birds are:

  1. Kori Bustard
  2. Martial Eagle
  3. Lappetfaced Vulture
  4. Pel’s Fishing Owl
  5. Saddle-billed Stork
  6. Southern Ground Hornbill

Derek Engelbrecht is busy compiling an updated distribution and breeding “atlas” of the Big 6 in the Limpopo Province. This forms part of a long-term research and monitoring project on the Big 6 in the Limpopo Province. As a matter of interest, annual surveys of Southern Ground Hornbills in the Limpopo Province outside the Kruger National Park since 2004 have indicated that there are considerably fewer individuals and groups outside than was generally thought. As far as could be established, there is not a single breeding record of a Lappet-faced Vulture in the Limpopo Province outside the Kruger National Park since the 1960’s.

The first objective is to find out where these birds are, where they breed and if there had been any range expansions/reductions in recent years. I kindly request anyone with information on the whereabouts and “breed-abouts” of these species to drop me a note on [email protected] and I will then get in contact with you to get the necessary information.