The Kruger National Park is arguably the world’s premier wildlife hub and home to some of the today’s most iconic wildlife species. Ranging over a huge portion of South Africa’s northeast, the reserve is a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts. Animals are never far away!

How big is the Kruger National Park?

Kruger spans over more than 2 million hectares, and 2 different provinces in the northeast of South Africa. The park also borders on Mozambique and Zimbabwe and has long functioned as a wildlife migratory route.

How many animals live in Kruger National Park?

Despite the various census’ and wildlife tracking efforts in the park every year, it’s virtually impossible to estimate the exact number of animals living in the Kruger at any one time.

There are various factors that affect a wild animals lifespan. Predation, natural disaster, disease and poaching all have varying impact on the number of deaths per year, while environmental factors and species health can affect yearly breeding patterns.

What is known is that there are currently 148 mammal species living in the reserve alongside 505 bird, 53 fish, 118 reptile and 35 amphibian species.

Though not always the easiest to spot and never a guarantee on any visit, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most iconic animals you could be lucky enough to spot while on safari.

Here are 10 animals to look out for in Kruger National Park:

1. LION

Kruger is home to an estimated 1600 lions. The Lion is the largest cat species in Africa, and a major drawcard for tourists visiting the park.

Male lions can stand at 1.2m (4 foot) tall at the shoulder and tip the scales at over 200kg (450lbs). These impressive cats are characterised by their majestic manes which are highlighted with hues of red, brown and black. Some males boast almost fully black manes, which are thought to be more attractive to females.

Females, or lionesses, are slightly smaller in stature and can weigh around 130kg (290bs). Lionesses do not have any form of mane and are almost always found in groups with other females or with cubs.

10 animals to look for in kruger national park
A classic lion sighting in the Kruger National Park – lazing around under a tree | Pixabay

Lions are the most social cat species on earth. They are almost always found together in large family groups called a ‘pride’. The average pride of lions in Kruger ranges from around three to thirty individuals. Male lions can often be spotted moving alone or with one or two other males, known as a coalition. These coalitions will either be patrolling their territories to ensure no other lions are encroaching, or on the lookout for a pride to takeover – the exact reason the pride males patrol their territories tirelessly.

Lions are opportunistic hunters, which means they will hunt and eat almost anything and will do so whenever the opportunity arises, even if they’ve just finished off a large kill. Prey mainly consists of large animals like Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo and sometimes even Giraffe. Smaller antelope species like Impala and Steenbok are usually only on the menu when the perfect opportunity arises.

Although you might have seen some of the many spectacular lion hunting videos posted on youtube, don’t visit Kruger with such high expectations as most lion sightings consist of the pride sleeping peacefully under and acacia tree for hours on end. Lions are known to sleep for over 20 hours a day!

Kruger’s southern region is known as ‘lion country’ and your best chance of spotting these iconic carnivores will be somewhere along the stretch between Lower Sabi and Satara.

2. LEOPARD

The African leopard is the most elusive of all the big cats and therefore one of the most sought-after sightings in Kruger. Leopards are solitary cats, which are never seen in groups unless you’re lucky enough to spot a mother and her cubs or a mating pair.

10 animals to look for in kruger national park
Leopard walking on a sand road | Pixabay

The leopard’s mesmerising pattern is made up of black spots arranged in rosettes, contrasted on a golden-yellow background. They are large and stocky built cats with bodies designed for immense power, which allows them to pull prey, heavier than themselves, several metres up a tree to avoid being robbed by other predators and scavengers.

These big cats feed on a wide variety of prey items such as wildebeest, birds, baboons and even fish, but most of their diet comes in the form of impala.

The luscious vegetation found in the southern part of the Kruger National Park, provides excellent habit for leopards and this is where these shy predators are seen most often, along with the more mountainous and tree-covered northern parts near Letaba and Shingwedzi.

3. ELEPHANT

The African elephant is the world’s largest land mammals and one of the most important species to the African ecosystem. Bulls can reach a height of 3.3m (11 foot) at the shoulder and can weight up to 6 tonnes.

Elephants live in large family groups called herds. These were once thought to be led by old bull elephants however this has been proven to be untrue. Elephant herds are always led by an old female known as the matriarch. Sexually mature males visit these groups in search of females in oestrus.

10 animals to look for in kruger national park
Elephants moving across a tarred road. A common sighting in the Kruger

Elephant herds can often be spotted around a water source. Kruger’s large dams and rivers make for some incredible elephant sightings. Apart from drinking massive quantities of water, elephants also enjoy mud baths and even swimming. Mud is a great form of protection from the harsh African sun and also a great way for elephants to prevent parasites from picking on their skin.

Lone bull elephants should be approached with extreme respect and caution as they can often be very temperamental and a car of any size is no match for an annoyed elephant.

4. RHINO

Kruger National Park is home to two species of African Rhino – the white rhino and the black rhino. Both of which are extremely endangered, but also quite easy to spot on a safari in Kruger. You’d be pretty unlucky to not find a rhino after a couple hours in the park!

Contrary to their names, their is no colour difference between the two species. The main difference is in the shape of their lips. The black rhino sports a hooked lip, which makes it easier to pick leaves off trees and bushes, also known as ‘browsing’. The white rhino boasts a square, flat lip which is used for ‘grazing’ or feeding on grasses and roots in the ground.

10 animals to look for in kruger national park
White Rhino and Calf | Pixabay

As with most herbivores, rhinos spend most of their lives feeding and so the best places to spot each species of rhino would be areas where there is an abundance of what they eat. White rhinos are most often spotted out in open grasslands, while black rhinos are usually seen feeding on shrubbery in dense tickets.

White rhinos are also significantly larger than black rhinos and this, as is so often the case in the animal kingdom, means black rhinos are considerably more aggressive. In the bush, being larger means less predators to worry about, and bold white rhinos have even been spotted feeding right next to lions, completed unfazed.

5. BUFFALO

The Cape Buffalo is potentially the most dangerous of all animals in the Kruger National Park. Not because it has an arsenal stronger than any of the animals mentioned above, but because of their incredible unpredictability and notorious bad-temper.

Both male and female buffaloes have horns, with the only notable difference being the thick ‘helmet’ which males develop over the top of their heads. This is called the ‘boss’ and provides extra protection and reinforcement for males when engaging in vicious fights for dominance.

10 animals to look for in kruger national park
Cape buffalo herd | Pixabay

Lions and buffaloes are eternal enemies and many magnificent scenes have played out between the two sets of animals in the Kruger Park. When a pride of lions sets its sights on a buffalo herd, they aim to pick out and isolate one of the weaker members. Buffalos don’t go down without a fight and the herd won’t ever give  up on one of their own. The herd will rush to the scene and fight off the lions using their hooves and horns. In some instances even killing an unlucky lion.

Buffalo are one of the easiest animals to spot in the park thanks to their widespread distribution and they fact that herds can often be made up of hundreds. They frequent the woodland savannahs and are never too far from water.

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