Kruger Big Five and Other Lists
Kruger. Is. Amazing! Never in my life have I seen such an incredible array of wildlife in one place. Of course, we were keen to see the Kruger Big Five, but it turns out there are plenty of other lists to tick off here too…
Adam and I, along with our new friend Selma, took our rented car through the entrance at Paul Kruger gate. We then spent two days driving around this massive park, spotting more animals than we’d ever imagined.
We started with breakfast in Skukuza rest camp, before heading south to Crocodile Bridge, then north to Satara rest camp, in the centre of the park, where we camped for the night. The next day we explored the central region, before heading south once more, and exiting through Malelane gate. Armed with our trusted map and lists of animals to spot, we ticked our way through Kruger National Park.
Kruger Big Five
Like most visitors, we were hoping to spot the Kruger Big Five: rhino, lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo.
Some were easy to find. Soon after we entered the park, we passed a herd of buffalo on the road, nervous as we’d heard these aggressive beasts tend to ram vehicles without warning. They glared at us as we passed, their hilariously grumpy faces peering through the windows.
After driving through crowds of giraffes, zebras, and various antelopes, we reached crocodile bridge, in the far south of the park. Here, we came upon an amazing sight- a watering hole overflowing with buffalo, hippos, antelopes, and the second of our Kruger big five, a massive rhino.
Continuing on to our first viewpoint, we were thankful to finally get out of the car and stretch our legs. As we looked down into the valley below, we were joined by a massive lone elephant, plodding silently along the ground while flapping his giant ears.
Our next elephant encounter was even more impressive, as this one was joined by a miniature baby, huddling between its mother’s legs.
And so, after our first few hours in the park, we had seen three of the Kruger big five. But the Big Five aren’t so named because they are difficult to spot, instead, the list is a relic of big game hunts. These are the five animals that don’t flee when injured, instead becoming more aggressive and attacking the hunter.
Of course, the only trophies we wanted from our hunt were photographs. So we drove on in search of lions and the oh-so-elusive leopard. We found our first pair of lions at the end of our first day in Kruger, but far more exciting were the group of lion cubs we saw huddled under a bush.
More impressive still were the couple of lionesses we saw the following day, relaxing on the road, completely unperturbed by us pulling our car up right next to them.
And yes, we did finally manage to tick off all of the Kruger Big Five. On our second day in the park, we woke early to get our best chance of spotting the nocturnal animals. We were rewarded with a glimpse of a leopard.
Squealing with excitement, we grabbed our cameras and started snapping photos of the last of our Kruger Big Five. Giving us a look of disdain, the leopard rose, walked behind a cluster of trees, and lay down again, now obscured from view. What a jerk.
The Little Five
Far more difficult to spot were the so called “Little Five”, the miniature counterparts of the Kruger Big Five: Rhinoceros beetle, antlion, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, and redbilled buffalo weaver. No matter how hard we scanned the landscape from the inside of the car, the only one of these mini critters we managed to see was a leopard tortoise.
The Big Five Raptors
Equally as impressive as the animals in Kruger were the birds. Along with colourful hornbills and huge ostriches, there was a massive array of birds of prey.
And so another list for us to spot was the Kruger Big Five Raptors: crowned eagle, african fish eagle, bateleur, martial eagle and the tawny eagle. We did manage to spot several different types of raptors, the problem was figuring out which was which.
The Secret Seven
Even more difficult to spot than the Little Five were the Secret Seven: african wild cat, genet, serval, porcupine, aardvark, pangolin, and civet. I was hoping to at least spot a pangolin, a crazy-looking creature covered in armour. But unfortunately, as we weren’t allowed to drive outside the rest camps after sunset or before sunrise, and these secretive creatures only come out at night, we didn’t manage to see a single one of the Secret Seven.
The Ugly Five
The last list was my personal favourite, the Ugly Five: warthog, hyena, marabou stork, lappet-faced vulture, and wildebeest. I’ve always loved ugly animals, and to be honest, I was more excited about the Kruger Ugly Five than the Kruger Big Five.
The first one we managed to see was a warthog, a funny looking creature trotting along the roadside with his tail in the air. Over the course of our two days in Kruger, we ended up seeing several warthogs, my favourite of which was a mother accompanied by miniature warthog babies, right inside our camp.
Next up was the marabou stork, who we found perched in the middle of a river. A gangly bird with dangling red excess skin, even I had to admit, he was pretty ugly.
I was keen to see a vulture, a personal favourite. Luckily, we ended up seeing a whole bunch, circling in the air and landing, hunch-backed, on a tree. I’ve always been a fan of vultures, because, not only are they ugly, they are completely disgusting, eating rancid leftovers, peeing down their legs to wash away the maggots, and vomiting when they’ve eaten too much to take off. Totally and utterly gross, and I love it.
And of course, we had to keep an eye out for wildebeest, an ugly hoofed animal with a thick neck and hunched shoulders. We saw several herds of these throughout our time in Kruger, including, once again, some adorable, gangly-legged babies. Seriously, they may grow into ugly adults, but I’ve yet to see a baby animal who wasn’t cute.
And so the hyena was the last animal on our Kruger Ugly Five list. At the end of our first day we had yet to spot one. But our rest camp had several signs warning us not to feed the hyenas that roamed by the fence at night. So after dinner, Adam, Selma and I grabbed a few drinks and sat by the fence, peering into the darkness.
Just as we were about to give up, some guys who we’d spoken to earlier called us over eagerly and said they’d just spotted one. But no matter how much we searched, we couldn’t find him, though we did hear him cackling nearby.
So the next day the hyena was top of my list. And thankfully, after hours of searching, we found a lazy hyena with a swollen belly curled up right on the road.
It started to drizzle, and our hyena buddy sloped off into the trees. Driving on, we found a few more huddled in the grass. And sure, they had earned their ugly title, with speckled fur, misshapen bodies, and hairless faces. But once again, we reconfirmed our belief that there is no such thing as an ugly baby animal, as an unbelievably cute baby hyena began sniffing around our car and licking the rainwater from the road. His giant ears, doe eyes, mohawk hairstyle, and pink tongue made him the sweetest animal we’d seen that day.
Some that didn’t make the lists…
Though we were keen to tick off the Kruger Big Five and our other lists, we also came across several other incredible animals. The first was a pair of black-backed jackals, nervously disappearing into the trees as our car approached.
On our first day, after driving around for hours. We finally reaching our rest camp and met someone who had just seen a cheetah a short distance away. Dragging ourselves back into the car for one last drive, we made our way achingly slowly along a bumpy dirt track, with no sign of the big cat.
Then, just as we gave up and turned back, an entire family of cheetahs strolled across the road right in front of our car. We had earlier spoken to a resident who had told us she’d been to Kruger at least a dozen times and the cheetah was the one animal she’d never seen, so we were aware of just how incredible this sighting was.
The last animal we saw in Kruger was perhaps the rarest, and the one that all of us, especially Adam, had been hoping to see since we arrived: the african wild dog.
Before our last drive, we checked the board at Skukuza rest camp, where people stick magnets indicating where they’ve seen each animal. We saw the little brown spots indicating that the african wild dogs were last seen along road S28, so we headed in that direction, keeping our fingers crossed but realising it was a long shot.
But there they were, a group of some of the hardest-to-spot animals in Kruger. There were at least twenty of them, cuddled up next to each other and occasionally standing to stretch and yawn. Even when a kudu strolled by in the distance, these predators seemed unbothered, pricking up their huge ears before curling back up again.
And the rest…
And that’s it, the many lists of Kruger! Got any more? Be sure to share them in the comments…
Looking for other wildlife activities in South Africa? Head to the Garden Route, for penguin colonies, shark diving and more!