Tag Archives: Kruger National Park

The Tropic of Capricorn

Along the drive between Punda Maria and Letaba we crossed The Tropic of Capricorn.  You were allowed to get out of your vehicle “at your own risk”.  I felt a certain unease doing this as we were on a road where, during our drive, we had seen dozens of wild animals.  I felt like a lion might be hiding behind any tree or rock, so I kept the car door open so I could get back in quickly.  Bob insisted on walking on the entire line across the parking area and the main road to stand by the sign pointing to the turn off.  As a geographer and cartographer that was important to him.  I said OK, only if he went quickly.  One thing I really did want to do was to walk on the line marking the Tropic of Capricorn.  I wanted to do this because my friend, Renae Dunn, and I had walked on the Equator like this back in 1993.  Somewhere I have a picture, but it is a print as that was not the era of digital images.

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Camouflage

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Animals are experts at camouflaging themselves.  It was surprising that even when you were physically close to some animals how they blended right in with their surroundings.  And I mean big animals like elephants, zebras, and even lions as well as the small reptiles we saw such as the lizards.  Camouflage is how they hide from their predators and survive in an environment like the African savannah.  I am sure we missed some animal sightings because the animals blended right in with the environment.  The ostriches we saw in the burnt savannah are one example , we almost missed them even though there was not thick bush around.  The stripes on zebras are effective camouflage as is the color of an elephant’s hide.  It was surprising to be viewing an elephant and see him take a few steps behind some bushes, small by comparison to his size, and yet so completely disappear to the human eye.  How could something that big hide so easily?

Fire

The day we drove between Punda Maria and Letaba we noticed that we went through a large area where it looked as though a fire had swept through the area.  At lunch, when we stopped at Shingwedzi, I saw a poster that explained the South African National Park’s policy on burning in the park.  They do controlled burns purposefully so that the vegetation does not get too thick.   Kruger’s vegetation is a savannah system which has developed over thousands of years with fire being an important part of the ecosystem.  Most burns take place during the winter months of July through September although occasionally lightning may start a fire spontaneously, usually in the September through November time frame but has happened as early as May.

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The park management has a formula for the percentage of the park where they will have a controlled burn depending on the amount of annual rainfall over the previous two years.  The goal is to reduce the amount of grass so they don’t have high intensity spontaneous burns later in the season.  The poster goes on to explain that plants in the savannah have evolved to reproduce after a fire.  Savannah animals also have evolved to survive a fire.  Large animals can sense fire a long way before it gets to where they are and have time to leave and small animals can hide under rocks or in holes, burrow into the ground or hide inside the thick bark of savannah trees.  Fire does not penetrate any further than 5 cm. into the dirt.

An endangered animal

http://vimeo.com/greenrenaissance/flyingrhino

We felt so fortunate to see a Black Rhino while in Kruger National Park.  They are being poached for their horn at astonishing rates because of the market in Asia for ground horn powder.  It is very sad.  Above is a link to an interesting video with some spectacular photography and a story about how some Black Rhinos are being flown out of the wild area to a safer conservation area.  Below is a photo of the one we saw.  For some time we slowly drove down the road perpendicular to him as he was walking behind a row of bushes.  Once we could have a clear view, he was not too happy to see us and decided to trot very quickly in our direction, he seemed closer to us than he looks in this picture.  We, wisely, moved along.

Black Rhino

Letaba River Bridge

As we approached the second rest camp of our trip, Letaba, we had to cross a river of the same name.

The sign for Letaba River

This part of Africa had a very large flood in February 2000 and a very high bridge was built over this river.  This is one of the places you are allowed out of your car.  They paint yellow lines on the bridge that you must stay between.   My naughty side got the better of me in this photo.

Do not cross the yellow line

As this bridge is quite high and long there is plenty of space between the lines to walk around, I felt pretty safe getting out here.  Seeing an animal approach the bridge would have been very obvious (if you were looking towards the end of the bridge instead of over the railing)!

This was a highlight of the trip.  I enjoyed looking out over this large river bed with the vast expanse of sand, much of it deposited along the river edges by a massive flood in February 2000.  You could definitely see the flood plain.  When you looked down over the railing of the bridge you could see many animal footprints in the sand, I could tell that this was a place frequently visited by many animals.

Footprints in the sand

Panoramic view looking over the edge of the Letaba Bridge

The flood of 2000 impacted the Kruger National Park in many ways and some that really changed the park.  If you would like to see some photos of the change and read an article, which is not too technical, I would recommend this one from 2004.

http://www.wrc.org.za/Knowledge%20Hub%20Documents/Water%20Wheel/Articles/Archive/WW_04_jan-feb_KNP_flood_p7-10.pdf

We saw our first Hippo sighting from the bridge.

Hippo and Elephant in the Letaba River

The exciting part was after a few minutes on the bridge we saw some elephants walking out of the trees on the right side of the river bank to join one solitary elephant who had been bathing near the hippo.  As we watched, more and more elephants kept coming in a line from the trees to the water. It seemed like they went on and on, even one small baby elephant was among the herd.  It was really fun to be there and see this happen.  Once they got to the water they all started splashing around and having fun, just like a day at a water park!

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Punda Maria to Letaba

Not much to write today, but I wanted to share a few more photos of the drive to Letaba with you.  Since it was such a long day with many stops we took many pictures.  We averaged only 10-12 km an hour so you know we were driving slow, taking lots of photographs and we had a few breaks at official picnic spots and lunch at Shingwedzi which is another rest camp with rental units, camping, store and restaurant.  If you see multiples of the same type of animal in this post it means we saw them at different locations.  Right before we got to Letaba we crossed a higher bridge and saw an awesome sight, but I will save that for the next post!  I know, a teaser…

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