Summer 2015-2016 had been a very hot and dry season and the strong El Niño phenomenon, which causes the hot and dry weather, resulted in a severe regional drought. The whole of the Kruger National Park is also feeling the pinch. For those unfamiliar with Nature’s regulatory rhythms it may sound like a disaster and might think of avoiding the Kruger altogether to spare themselves witnessing animals suffering. The truth is that a dry season might be one of the best times to visit the Kruger (although it is a magical place all the time, wet dry, hot or cold).
Thirsty leopard tortoise drinking from a puddle on the tar road after a brief rain shower
Yes, many grazers are not in peak condition as they have to travel long distances for water and food and certain species like hippo, buffalo, waterbuck and warthog are more susceptible to mortalities than others. All these species however, recover quite quickly.
Baboon licking rainwater droplets from a bridge railing
Yet, in spite of some animals inevitably dying during a drought, a visit to the Kruger right now it a great plan. Here’s why:
- Wild animals are much tougher than farm animals, and way, wa-a-ay tougher than humans. For the simple reason that climatic events and natural disasters, such as this drought, keep the gene pools healthy and strong. Witness survival of the fittest in all its glory when you see animals in great condition despite the drought.
- After a very wet season, the bush is thick and the grass tall. This means you are most probably driving right past some great hidden sightings. Waterholes, rivers and dams far from roads and tourists’ eyes are also keeping animals dispersed over wide areas. When it’s dry, there simply isn’t so much hiding place and you should see a lot more during a game drive.
- Light, scattered rain showers, like we’ve seen here and there over the past few weeks, and nightly dew run off the impermeable surface of paved roads, resulting in grass sprouting right next to the tar roads. Well, close encounters with grazers couldn’t be easier.
- Park management has also opened up some waterholes in dry riverbeds to allow animals access to the water under the surface. Many of these waterholes are close to the roads.
- Predators and scavengers are having a blast – weakened prey is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sightings of carnivores and kills are far more likely than usual.
- Sightings of rare and unusual birds are being recorded all over the Park. Birds usually seen in other climatic regions or biomes have moved into the area and other species which are usually common has moved elsewhere. Great news for the birders with the big field guides and even bigger binoculars among you.
- And lastly, not as much a function of the drought than the time of year, the late winter – early spring weather in the Kruger National Park is just awesome. Warm days, cool nights and crystal clear skies all the time. This while the rest of South Africa is still shivering…
So make a reservation today, it’s something you just shouldn’t miss…
Photographs courtesy of Candice Botha Wildlife Photography (a local lass from Phalaborwa with an eye for wildlife like few other)