Photo Trip Report: SA Zoo Safari 2018

In May we ran our 9th safari for the South Australian Zoo Volunteers, friends and associates, this time with 18 wonderful participants, a big group by our standards! The itinerary was based on maximizing the safari experience, and to this end we included 11 nights in the Kruger National Park (from Mopani all the way down to Berg-en-Dal, thus covering two thirds of the park) and 4 nights at Idube Game Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. This added up to a lot of time out in the field looking for animals!

Kruger National Park:
Conditions in the Kruger were green and reasonably wet (no rain but quite a bit of surface water) for the most part, which added up to tough (but typical for the time of year) game viewing conditions. Although, by the time we left the Kruger, we had on paper seen the Big Five plus Wild Dog and Cheetah, in reality we struggled with the predators a bit – nice Wild Dogs on the first afternoon, and a few Lion sightings in between, but the Leopard component comprised only two brief sightings, and we had only one Cheetah sighting (2/5 visuals). Still, this does not mean that it was not a good experience, for we saw plenty of Elephant and Buffalo, and the White Rhino sightings were particularly good (we got stuck on the wrong side of a crash of 10 Rhino for about half-an-hour on one occasion), and of course we had plenty of plains game and birds etc to keep us occupied. Still, by the time we got to Idube the ‘old hands’ and the guides at least were desperate for some cats…

Idube / Sabi Sand Game Reserve:
Idube didn’t disappoint either: the opening afternoon drive in the pouring rain produced two Leopard sightings, the occupants of one of our three Idube vehicles seeing one Leopard kill a Scrub Hare at very close quarters. By the end of our stay at Idube we had collectively seen around 8 different Leopards, plus some good Lion sightings and, on the final drive, a fine male Cheetah with a fresh Impala kill. 

So all in all it was a great tour, which ran seamlessly from start to finish thanks to solid planning and organisation (and a bit of luck). Thanks to Kevin Folland for organising things on the Australian end, and more importantly getting the 17 participants together – setting up a safari is relatively easy, getting the ‘bums in seats’ is the hard part! Thanks also to all the staff at Idube and to Doug and John of Outdoor Dining for the catering in the Kruger. Here are a few images from this most recent trip, and we look forward to our two SA Zoo Volunteers’ safaris in 2019!

Elephants of northern Kruger.

The Kruger National Park is a massive protected area, measuring some 20 000+ square kilometers in size, roughly. That’s the size of Wales or Israel, just for comparison. The southern third of the park, from about Satara Rest Camp southwards, is generally considered to be the best region in terms of game viewing, especially in terms of the big cats, water availability, road density and habitat diversity all playing a role. In comparison cats can be scarce in the north; going several days without seeing any Lions or Leopards is not unusual by any means. The habitat in the north is also somewhat less diverse, vast swathes of the region north of the Olifants River are dominated by Mopane (Colophospermum mopane), a broad-leaf tree that can become quite large but in many areas the soil quality is such that they remain ‘stunted’, Elephants of course also handicapping them in the vertical realm. But this doesn’t mean ‘the north’ is not appealing. Quite the opposite in fact, the north appeals because there are fewer camps and no major tourist towns outside the park gates, apart from Phalaborwa near Letaba Rest Camp – this means fewer tourists than one finds in the south, giving it a more ‘remote’ feeling. The stunted Mopane veld also makes for unobstructed views in many areas, and horizon to horizon vistas create a sense of ‘epic-ness’ that one doesn’t often get in the south. And another plus for the north is the Elephants. While you do of course get Elephants in the south, and plenty of them, the north is renowned for big tuskers – home ranges of many past and current big tuskers are centered on the Letaba / Mopani region. On a recent visit we had some great views of these behemoths of the north at a couple of water points in the vast Mopane belt of the central / northern region of the park – with very few other tourists around to share it with us. In fact, our sighting of the big tusker N’wendlamuhari  (‘the river that is fierce when in flood’) was entirely private apart from two game scouts on foot patrol in the area.  So, while the south is a must, especially for the first time visitor, the north is not without its appeal by any means. Birding is equally good northwards up to the Punda Maria / Pafuri area, where it gets even better. The bottom line is that any part of Kruger is great, each has its own appeal (and that’s why we include three or more camps, to show off the diversity of this incredible national park), and any day in Kruger is a great day!

Destination Pafuri…

Pafuri Camp

Pafuri Camp 

At night, while sitting on your porch for a few minutes before you retire, the soulful two-note call of a Pel’s Fishing Owl reaches you from across the river (just too far to catch it in the beam of your torch!). From downstream in the big trees on your side of the river an African Wood-Owl pair breaks into a duet, somewhat livelier than the languid call of the Pel’s. Then, from the more open Acacia woodland just behind the camp, the deep pig-like grunting of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl comes through, while Fiery-necked Nightjars (“Good Lord deliver us!”), the whoops of foraging Hyenas and a plethora of insect clicks, rasps and chirps provide a sonic backdrop to the calls of the three owl species. What a way to end off the day at Pafuri Camp!

Pafuri Camp is located on the northern bank of the Luvuvhu River, in the Makuleke Concession area of the far northern Kruger National Park. This is the way to do the northern Kruger – from the closest public camp, Punda Maria, you can only really scratch the surface as you are basically limited to the southern bank of the Luvuvhu River. It’s north of the Luvuvhu, ie: between the Luvuvhu and the Limpopo Rivers, where it really gets exciting. Habitats are incredible, including Baobab savanna, iLala Palm savanna, incredible riverine forest, Fever Tree groves that glow yellow in the sun (see banner photo at top), seasonal pans holding amazing water birds, fantastic rocky gorges and more. Special bird species include Pel’s Fishing Owl (sometimes seen fishing in the river at night from the bar at Pafuri Camp), Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Three-banded Courser, the rather strange Bӧhm’s Spinetail, Tropical Boubou, Meve’s Starling plus the ‘usual’ range of Kruger birds. Big cats are not encountered here as often as they are in the south of Kruger, but for birders and those not overly concerned about cats, Pafuri is hard to beat. The camp is made up of 19 individual luxury safari tents, all spaced out along the river front for views and privacy. Three wonderful meals per day take care of all things gastronomical, while activities include morning and afternoon / evening wildlife and birding drives. In between drives one can continue birding and wildlife viewing from the public areas or your private porch, which is as idyllic as it sounds (see photos below). All in all this adds up to one incredible birding and wildlife destination. Experience Pafuri Camp on our Eagles, Elephants and Baobabs Birding and Wildlife set-departure, 3 – 15 March 2018. From ZAR 49 550 Per Person Sharing (based on 4 participants).