Exploring the Kruger, a kingdom rich in indigenous flora and fauna

SANParks, which is the South African National Parks authority, lists a remarkable amount of species living in the Kruger National Park: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals. And with almost two million hectares of protected flora and fauna inside its borders, the Kruger is a treasure for local and international tourists and holidaymakers, as well as conservationists and biologists.

While the 'Big Five' are undoubtedly the main attraction in the Kruger, there are also the 'Little Five', the five must-see trees, and the 'big six' for birding enthusiasts.


The Big Five

There are around 12 000 African elephants in the Kruger National Park, giving you an excellent chance of crossing paths with this majestic animal while on a game drive. As the park stopped culling elephants in the late 80s, the population has increased dramatically.

The rhinos of the Kruger number about 2 500, including the black rhinoceros that was extinct from this national park. Today there are around 300 black rhinos in the Kruger, an amazing feat made possible by world-class conservation practices.

Weighing in at 750kg, the African buffalo is an important part of the Kruger National Park's ecosystem, even if it's not the most popular animal on the Big Five safari drive. As the park is made up mostly of savannah grasslands, this herbivore grazes down the long grasses to shorter grassy fields.

The two big cats are the Kruger's 'pride', forgive the pun. Game watchers are more likely to encounter the 1 200 lions that reside in the park lazing beneath the trees during the hot afternoons. However, it's during a night game drive that you'd better keep your eyes peeled for one of the 1 100 Kruger park leopards, who are nocturnal predators and often drag their kills up into the forks of trees for safe-keeping from scavengers, like hyenas.

The Little Five

Many a game ranger has caught a tourist out by asking: "You've heard of the Big Five, but what about the Little Five?" What indeed?

The Little Five are, as you many have guessed, some of the smaller attractions at the Kruger National Park, and are famous for they too are a buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino... just very much smaller. They are the Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Ant Lion and Rhino Beetle.

The white-billed and red-billed Buffalo Weaver is found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, and eats grain, seeds and insects. Like its entire species, the Buffalo Weaver builds a round, basket-like nest which it weaves from long grasses, and lives in noisy colonies high up in trees.

The Elephant Shrew could not look less like its enormous namesake! In fact, it's not a shrew either. This small furry mammal weighs in at between 50g and 500g at the most, and is named for an elephant because of its long pointed snout. Although it resembles a shrew, it is not from the same family, and is known as a 'sengi'.

Spotted like the big cat it is named after, the Leopard Tortoise can live up to 50 years and grazes on the grasses in many southern African countries like South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

The last two members of the Little Five are both insects. Can you guess why the Rhino Beatle is named so? That's right – the males have a large horn-like extension on their heads, and use their horns in mating battles. The Rhino Beetle is in the same family as the scarab beetle. The Ant Lion is sometimes also called a 'doodlebug'. It is a furred insect that eats both ants and blades of leaves and grasses with its large mandibles.

Birding Big Six 

Even though the Kruger has a plethora of bird species, there are six in particular that birders should have their binoculars ready for: the Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Lappet- faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pel's Fishing Owl and Saddle-bill Stork.


The Kruger's Five Trees

The five distinctive trees you must keep an eye out for while on a game drive in the Kruger National Park are the Baobab, Fever Tree, Knob Thorn, Marula and Mopane.