The Kruger and Serengeti parks have what any wildlife lover needs
Hardly a visitor to the African continent misses the opportunity to get a glimpse of its fascinating wildlife.
East and Southern Africa are home to many wilderness areas full of big game, but the Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania stand out.
Easily the size of some European countries these parks are home to the Big Five and allow visitors to witness the drama of prey and predator. Both the Serengeti and Kruger offer incredible wilderness experiences, but if you could only visit one of them, which one should you choose?
Kruger National Park
• Size: 19 633 km²
• Established: 1926
• Location: South Africa
• Entrance Fee: about R160
• Access: 5hrs-drive from Johannesburg, flights via Nelspruit or Hoedspruit/Eastgate Airports
• Known for: Big Five, leopard sightings, highest number of mammal species
• Best Time to Visit: July to October (dry season)
The Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s most accessible Big Five game Parks. On the border with Mozambique, Kruger is one of South Africa’s most popular holiday destinations.
During school holidays the rest camps are filled with South African families enjoying the bush. Kruger is also a good place for safari novices.
Easily accessible via road or aeroplane from Johannesburg, Kruger has a solid infrastructure and facilities to give tourists any amount of comfort they desire. The reason for Kruger’s popularity is its fascinating diversity of wildlife. No park in Africa has more mammalian species, more than 500 bird species have been counted in the park and the Big Five occur in relative abundance. While Kruger is one of the continent’s major tourist attractions, its sheer size still allows visitors to drive for hours without seeing another vehicle. The south of the park has a higher wildlife density and more visitors.
Private reserves to the southeast of the park are home to top-notch luxury lodges and share open borders with the national park. North of the Olifants River the park is quieter and allows guests to fully enjoy the exciting atmosphere of the African bush.
Big Five? Tick! More than 500 bird species? Check! Sable and roan antelope, cheetah, African wild dog? Yes!
As far as African wildlife goes the Kruger National Park has pretty much everything you could ask for. Among the 147 mammalian species everyone will find their favourite animal – no matter how big or small.
The Big Five are the major draw of the park. The lions are big, strong and dark-maned. Large numbers of black and white rhino make Kruger a stronghold of this endangered species. Leopards occur wherever there is a tree to climb and the area around the Sand River is particularly renowned for its leopard sightings. There are buffalos aplenty and the habitat can barely take more elephants.
Apart from these admittedly impressive crowd-pleasers the Kruger Park is also home to threatened hunters such as the cheetah and the wild dog. Both predators see their natural habitat declining but the expanse of Kruger allows these impressive hunters to roam and hunt among an abundance of prey.
The impala is the most common prey species in the park, but Kruger’s ungulates range from the massive eland to the steenbok and everything in between.
Kruger has much to offer for birders. Birding in Kruger is best at the rest camps and at water sources. Hornbills, starlings, shrikes, bee-eaters, rollers and vultures are among the 507 bird species that have been recorded in the park. Photographers and birders can try to tick the Big Six (ground hornbill, Pel’s fishing owl, lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, kori bustard and saddle-billed stork) off their list. The northern sections of Kruger around Pafuri and Punda Maria are well known as birding hotspots.
Serengeti National Park
• Size: 14 763 km²
• Established: 1929
• Location: Tanzania
• Entrance Fee: About R400
• Access: 8hrs-drive from Arusha, flights via Kilimanjaro Airport and Dar es Salaam
• Known for: Wildebeest Migration, Big Five, high predator concentration, Maasai People
• Best Time to Visit: December to July (Wildebeest Migration)
The Serengeti is the epitome of a big game safari. This is the land where hunters once coined the term “Big Five”, where big cats slay wildebeest and impala in epic chases and where amateur and professional photographers still come to capture the wild heart of Africa’s animal kingdom.
The vast grasslands dotted with acacia trees are the setting for nature’s greatest spectacle. Every year the hooves of more than a million wildebeest accompanied by zebra and Thompson’s gazelle drum over the plains of the Serengeti in search of new pastures. The annual wildebeest migration has fierce predators swimming in its wake and the drama reaches its peak at the crocodile invested river crossings.
To the north the Serengeti borders Kenya and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the east lies the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with an abundance of predators and Maasai herders grazing their cattle among the wildlife. Together these conservation areas protect the vast Serengeti Eco-System – an area that is known for its density of predators and diversity of species.
Many would agree that the Serengeti offers the world’s best game viewing. The wildebeest migration is the highlight of the Serengeti’s annual cycle. In one of the earth’s largest movements of biomass wildebeest, zebra and gazelle follow the rainfalls through the Serengeti ecosystem to find fresh grasslands.
The migration attracts predators such as lion, hyena, wild dog and the fleet footed cheetah. The Serengeti is possibly the place where the ancient struggle of predator vs. prey is most visible. Goosebumps and open jaws are the involuntarily effect of watching big cats and desperate antelope accelerate to their full potential in the open grasslands.
The drama of the great migration reaches its pinnacle when 40km treks of wildebeest come to a dead halt at crocodile infested rivers.
When hunger trumps fear the first animals jump into the river triggering a frenzy of hooves, horns and splashing water. Inevitably the prehistoric beasts, which lurk below, snatch for the antelopes leaving scarlet streaks in the river. The Serengeti’s game is not only impressive in number but also in diversity. The antelopes include eland, kudu, roan antelope, orbi, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, hartebeest, steenbok, topioryx, impala and dikdik. Elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippopotamus and rhinoceros complete the smorgasbord of large herbivores. The black rhinoceros is a particularly popular sight as the archaic animal is threatened by extinction.
As impressive as the big game of the Serengeti is, many nature lovers come to Africa’s most famous park for a different reason. The Serengeti is home to well over 500 bird species including 34 raptors and as many as 20 000 water birds at a time. The park is one of Africa’s birding hotspots with endemic favourites such as the rufous-tailed weaver.
• Who to Choose
If you are a beginner to safaris and game viewing, Kruger is your best bet. However, if you want the most spectacular wildlife on the planet the Serengeti Plains are the place to be. - News24