Exploring the Kruger National Park

Exploring the Kruger National Park

Kruger National park (KNP).  Need I say more? A great opportunity to do some conservation field experiences. It’s been 10 years since my last visit and considering we travelled there at least twice a year when we lived in Johannesburg  I was really looking forward to seeing some great animal and bird sightings, not to mention my first  visit since studying Nature Conservation.  I was eager to put my studies into practice.  I really wanted to absorb everything I could about this magical place so let me give you some background information for those who have never been or plan to go in the near future.  Just doing this bit of research has also made my experience in the park richer and has widened my knowledge greatly.

 

I recently found out that giraffes are so silent because the have no voice box!

History

The area where the (KNP) is found was known as a hunter’s paradise and even although the area was riddled with malaria and sleeping sickness carried by mosquitoes and the tsetse fly respectively, this did not keep the hunters away and by the mid-1800s all wildlife in that area had been decimated because of the unregulated hunting laws. On top of this an outbreak of Rinderpest swept through, killing thousands of animals. The result of the dwindling wildlife was brought to the attention of the South African government at the time and in 1898 Paul Kruger, the president at the time proclaimed the 4600 square kilometres Sabie Game Reserve. He also proclaimed a second reserve called the Shingwedzi reserve, these two reserves formed the base of what the Kruger Park  is today. Stevenson Hamilton was the first park ranger and his base camp is now where Skukuza rest camp is situated. In 1926 the land between the two reserves was incorporated into one and the following year the park was opened to visitors.

Climate

The (KNP) is located in the Lowveld of Southern Africa, which is between the escarpment of the northern Drakensberg and along the Mozambibique coastal plains. It is a top destination for tourists around the world and covers an area of 20 000 square kilometres. To put it into perspective that’s double the size of Washington DC and larger than Israel and Wales. The (KNP) has a summer rainfall with an average of 500mm falling across the entire park annually, however some areas receive more rain than others and this was felt in the year 2000 where large areas of the southern park had to be closed due to extensive flooding. The climate is characterized by hot summers and mild winters with winter evenings being quite cool.

Geology

The basic component of Kruger’s geology is igneous granite, which has formed some of the oldest rocks in the world. On top of the granite base lies a layer of shale which developed due to an extreme wet period in earth’s history.  Many other rock types however exist in the (KNP) and these include Ecca Shales, Basalt, Rhyolite and Sandveld.

 

pride rock

Vegetation

In general the vegetation in the park is classed as a savannah grassland and mixed woodland. However this can be broken down into 7 smaller  vegetation types which are Mopaneveld, Sandvled, Sweet plains, Mixed woodlands, Southwestern Foothills, The Lebombo and Riverine Forest.

Animals and birds

Kruger houses 520 bird species, with 146 mammal species and 114 reptile species. That’s 780 species roaming around the park and that’s not even taking into consideration all the plants and insects. Due to the variety of habitats that fall within the (KNP) there is an amazing amount of bird diversity. My bird list grew by at least twenty percent just from visiting the park for a week! A quote from Ken Newman says “ All birds have a preferred habitat with usually a specialised niche in that habitat , thus in order to see as many bird species as possible it is necessary to know and seek their preferred habitat”. In a broad way this can be said for herbivores as well. Food requirements depend on body size, the smaller the antelope species the higher the metabolic rate, which means that they need food that is high in nutrients, the larger the antelope the lower the metabolic rate will be, which means they can eat less nutritious food. For example the little duiker  (Sylvicapra grimmia)or klipspringer  (Oreotragus oreotragus) needs to eat the fresh new shoots of the plant that contain more nutrients than the older parts of the plant. elephants(Loxodonta africana) or eland(Taurotragus oryx) can eat the less nutritious food. This is just a broad example and it gets a lot more complicated than this. Scientists have found that around 76 000 animals are eaten by predators each year. A couple of species that I saw were the fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), tawny eagle (Aquila rapax), black crake(Amaurornis flavirostra) african jacana (Actophilornis africanus), saddle billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis), giant kingfisher(Megaceryle maxima), impala( Aepyceros melampus), lion(Panthera leo), leopard(Panthera pardus),spotted  hyena(Crocuta crocuta) water buck(Kobus ellipsiprymnus), kudu(Tragelaphus strepsiceros), elephant (Loxodonta africana) and crocodile(Crocodylus niloticus).  I am not going to go into great depth on the species as such, yet, as these will be discussed in future posts.

 

Silent assassins, mother and her youngish cub. Also my favorite animal.

Conservation topics surrounding the Kruger Park

Artificial waterholes

Providing water is a common, yet contentious management strategy that may buffer wildlife in protected areas against the apparent harmful effects of scarce resources. Water provisioning is a common practice in protected areas across southern and east Africa and its consequences for wildlife and vegetation has fueled many debates. One school of thought maintains that the provisioning of water changes wildlife populations and especially savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) from natural limitations, causing changes in their distribution and increases in their populations, which may increase their impact through browsing and trampling on vegetation. Other groups discount the influence that the provisioning of water may have on elephants and their impact on vegetation. I am of the opinion of there being natural waterholes with reduced artifical waterholes, so that  the natural role of the ecosystem can still take its course without too minimal consequences.  Elephants have high rates of water turnover due to dermal and respiratory evaporative water loss when surrounding temperatures are high. Furthermore, elephants rely on water-related activities such as mud bathing, swimming, and splashing to cool themselves down. Currently, the provisioning of water reduces the distance to permanent water sources across almost half (48%) of the KNP. Therefore, current changes in water provisioning within the KNP provides an interesting scenario to understand the consequences of reduced water availability on waterhole visitation patterns of large mammals.

Early management in KNP increased natural water sources with around 365 artificial waterholes and about 50 earth dams to increase herbivore numbers and to buffer populations against drought allowed most of the wildlife in the park to be within a 5 km radius of a constant water source. The goal of this water provision policy was to aid wildlife with additional water sources that could be used during water-scarce periods.  This was done to  increase the rare antelope populations and to maintain a sustainable habitat for migratory species that were now enclosed by the fences surrounding the park; and concentrate wildlife in certain areas in order to maximise game viewing opportunities and therefore boost revenue from increased tourism. Artificial water provisioning initially had the desired effects however, the drought of the 1980s uncovered many negative effects on the local ecosystem. Many studies showed a reduction in rare antelope populations for example Roan Antelope (Hippotragus equinus), due to distribution expansion of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and other common water-dependent species, and an increase in predators. African lions (Panthera leo) flourished due to the continuous availability of prey near water sources, while Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) numbers decreased because of the outbreak of density-dependent diseases.

This led to the revision of the water provision strategy of the KNP and to the adoption of a new management strategy. Starting in 1997, this new strategy created to recover natural patterns of animal distribution and movement within the KNP by closing artificial water sources occurring in areas where natural water sources were not found. In addition, further effort was put on opening boundary fences between the KNP and national parks of adjacent countries to establish trans-frontier parks. The ultimate conservation goal of this new strategy was to reduce prolonged high wildlife concentrations in restricted areas and re-establish wildlife migration patterns that provide a variety of use of resources (water and forage) in the landscape.

 

 

Some animals are more water dependent than others.

 

Rhino Poaching

I am not going to go into too much detail with this topic as it deserves an article all by its self. Kruger National Park is a stronghold of many large herbivore species including the southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) and the south-eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis minor). It is here where both species are suffering increased poaching for their prized horns. The Kruger white rhino population is an important conservation entity and provided conservation-based revenue historically for SANParks through live sales. Restoring ecological process or if not possible coping the outcomes of those processes provide opportunities to reconcile biodiversity and financial objectives with poaching carrying consequences for these values. After becoming extinct in Kruger in 1896 and reintroduced in the 1960’s white rhino numbers increased until 2008. The majority of the poaching occurs in South Africa’s iconic (KNP). Rhino poaching is still a big problem in the (KNP) and in all other nature reserves across Africa.

 

I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the rhino I saw because it was in the dense bush, but heres is a giant kingfisher instead.

Communities surrounding the Park

When we went to Kruger 10 years ago, the outskirts of the park were still fairly natural, however this time I was amazed at how built up the surrounding communities have become. The towns have grown and so a strong relationship will need to be built between the park and the local communities in order to prevent conflict. Recently, a non-random survey of 49 villages adjacent to KNP was conducted to analyse the level of community awareness, attitudes and perceptions regarding the park’s activities. This study found, in contrast to other articles which showed negative attitudes, that attitudes and perceptions toward the KNP were, in fact, mainly positive.

The process ensures that the views of the community are taken into account to the largest possible extent and are acted upon, that the Parks’ existence is a direct benefit to neighbouring communities and that, in turn, communities adjacent to Parks welcome the conservation efforts of the SANP’. Concomitant with these changes, Kruger National Park (KNP), the flagship of SANP, established its own Social Ecology Program, which currently facilitates seven participatory communication structures with the Park’s neighbours and affected communities, which consist of about 120 villages and private game farms with an estimated total human population of 1.5 million. The Hlanganani Forum (representing 27 villages), in whose jurisdiction this study falls, was initiated in 1994, and meets monthly to strengthen park-neighbour relationships by, inter alia, engaging in dialogue of concern to the communities such as wildlife depredation on crops and livestock, foot-and-mouth disease, ways to bring about socioeconomic development in the communities and land claims. Studies on attitudes towards conservation and park-people relationships are increasingly being used to inform PA managers about stakeholder interests. Recently, a non-random survey of 49 villages adjacent to KNP was conducted to analyse the level of community awareness, attitudes and perceptions regarding the park’s activities. This study found, in contrast to other articles which showed negative attitudes, that attitudes and perceptions toward the KNP were, in fact, mainly positive.

 

A young pride having a lazy day in the sun.

Conclusion

The Kruger is an amazing place and has become more and more popular over the years. In 1927 when the park first opened, only 3 cars visited the entire year. Now millions visit each year and you need to book far in advance if you want to stay in the rest camps located inside the park. Not only is the Kruger National Park a huge tourist destination but it is also a major conservation success story.

 

 

References

Annecke, W. & Masubelele, M. 2016. A Review of the Impact of Militarisation : The Case of Rhino Poaching in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Conservation and Society, 14(3): 195–204.

Anthony, B. 2007. The dual nature of parks : attitudes of neighbouring communities towards Kruger National Park, South Africa. Foundation for Environmental Conservation, 34(3): 236–245.

Hilton-Barber, B. & Arthur, L.2005. The Prime Origins Guide to Best Birding in Kruger. Cape Town: Prime Origins.

Hilton-Barber,B.& Berger, L.R.2004. The Prime Origins Guide to Exploring Kruger. Cape Town: Prime Origins.

Ferreira, S.M., Greaver, C., Knight, G.A., Knight, M.H. & Smit, I.P.J. 2018. Disruption of Rhino Demography by Poachers May Lead to Population Declines in Kruger. PLOS ONE: 1–18.

Purdon, A. & Aarde, R.J. Van. 2017. Water provisioning in Kruger National Park alters elephant spatial utilisation patterns. Journal of Arid Environments.: 1–7.

Sutherland, K., Ndlovu, M., Rodríguez A.P. 2018. Use of artificial waterholes by animals in the southern region of the Kruger National Park, South Africa. African Journal of Wildlife Research, 48(2).


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