On Safari in South Africa - Where
Africa's Wildlife Never Disappoints
by Andrew Muigai
South Africa continues to enjoy the tremendous goodwill
of holidaymakers worldwide. While travel to most long
haul destinations declined in 2003, this country experienced
an enviable 6.5% growth, according to the World Tourism
Organisation. The growth was jump started by the transformation
heralded by the demise of apartheid and onset of democratic
rule in 1994. Apartheid polices of racial discrimination
protected by law greatly offended enlightened opinion
in many parts of the world. And the enemies of these policies
launched a very effective campaign against visiting South
Africa. So it came to be that South Africa, a truly superior
destination by any standards, remained hidden to many
until the dark cloud of apartheid blew over.
The wildlife safari is a key item on the South Africa
tourist menu. Those who chose to see Africa's wildlife
here will not be disappointed. The game viewing experience
is excellent at the top rated Kruger National Park and
at other well-regarded game parks in the country. Wildlife
is protected in over 300 public and private game and nature
reserves. SANParks (South African National Parks) manages
20 national parks spread throughout the country.
Kruger is the place to see big game particularly the "big
five" - buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.
Most of the other parks have specialised in conserving
particular species or are identified with specific animals.
The Greater Addo National Park, for example, is the only
place you find elephants in the Cape region. Some of the
parks along the 3000 km coastline host whales and dolphins.
South Africa's wildlife conservation policies are advanced
and highly successful. An initiative targeting wildlife
sanctuaries cutting across international boundaries hopes
to replicate this success elsewhere. This is in recognition
of the fact that wildlife is no respecter of territorial
lines covenanted between men. Transfrontier conservation
areas have been identified in six regions along the boundaries
with Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and
In South Africa, the best places to see wildlife is at
private game reserves and national parks. Private game
reserves are not as expansive as the publicly owned national
parks. Their key selling point is the superior accommodation
and ranger escorted personalized tours. The national parks
on the other hand are popular with self-drive tourists.
They offer accommodation in a limited number of enclosed
rest-camps, in thatched rondavels, bungalows and chalets.
Tour companies also offer South Africa safari packages,
including transport and guide in the national parks.
South Africa is home to numerous species of land animals,
including the celebrated "big five" - rhino,
buffalo, lion, leopard and elephant. Most members of the
big five league are undoubtedly charismatic. But this
is not the reason they are so named - otherwise I would
petition that the buffalo be ejected. The reason is that
these are the animals the early safari hunters found most
challenging. The idea of viewing game without killing
had not gained widespread acceptance then. The arrogant
practice of killing animals as a sport is very unpopular
today with those who value the right to life and dignity
of animals as full members of our planet.
In addition to the disagreeable aesthetics, hunting brings
about a bad relationship between man and the animals.
I will illustrate this with an incident narrated to me
by a guide on a recent visit to a country that allows
hunting. The guide recalled an occasion when he was taken
by surprise to see an elephant charging at his vehicle.
This was contrary to his experience with elephants in
that region. This unusual behaviour arose because hunters
had wounded the elephant. The elephant hereafter dealt
with vehicles and humans as enemies. It is regrettable
that South Africa's otherwise stellar conservation policies,
allow the practice of hunting in certain areas.
Game viewing is usually done from the comfort of a vehicle
but walking, horseback, camel and canoeing safaris are
increasingly becoming popular. If you wish to view game
in any of these modes, it is required that you be accompanied
by an armed ranger. Full blood adventure types think that
watching game aboard a vehicle is for wimps. Walking safaris
are designed for such hardy souls. And it is the reason
that the thoughtful folks at SANParks maintain a network
of wilderness trails in the parks. The typical walking
safari will have a maximum of eight persons with ages
ranging from 12 to 60 years and last for 2 nights and
3 days. Participants must obviously be physically fit.
Without doubt, the best place to see wildlife, especially
the "big five" is Kruger National Park. This
is the flagship of South Africa's national parks. The
Kruger was created in 1898 and owes its existence to the
vision of Paul Kruger at one time president of the Transvaal
Republic that later became part of the Union of South
Africa. He was ahead of his time in recognizing the need
to create a sanctuary to preserve and protect wildlife.
Even at that time it was clear that the hunter with his
rifle would soon annihilate all the animals.
Kruger offers a diversity of animals unrivalled anywhere
else in South Africa. In addition to the big five, some
of the interesting game you find here include - hippo,
jackal, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, warthog, numerous antelope
species, cheetah, wild dog and spotted hyena. The park
is home to more than 140 mammal and 500 bird species.
Kruger spreads over nearly 20, 000 sq km of unspoilt scrubland
punctuated by acacia and mopane trees. The botanic biodiversity
is vast and over 336 tree species are found here.
Accommodation within Kruger is provided at self-catering
rest camps that offer good but basic lodging. There are
also some smaller bush lodges and bushveld camps offering
more luxurious stay. Accommodation ranges from rondavel
huts and safari tents to family bungalows and cottages
and luxury guesthouses. In addition, there are caravan
and tent camping sites at some of the rest camps. Most
of the camps are supplied with electric power and telephone.
Other facilities include shops, kitchen facilities, restaurants
and petrol stations.
Kruger has 3,000 kilometers of a well-maintained road
network and is ideal for those seeking a self-drive experience.
The park is relatively inexpensive and easily accessible.
It is therefore hugely popular and draws over 600,000
visitors annually. It in particular gets very crowded
over the school holidays in July and December. Since there
are a maximum number of vehicles allowed into the park
daily, you are well advised to make advance arrangements
if you plan to visit then. Game viewing is good year round,
but the best time will be from April to September when
the bush is sparse.
Kruger is located 330 km to the northeast of Johannesburg.
If you have no stomach for a long drive, take one of the
daily flights from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa Airport,
Hoedspruit Airport or Kruger/Mpumalanga International
Airport. Towards the western and southern sides of Kruger
National Park, there are a number of highly rated private
game reserves. This includes Sabi Sand, Mala Mala, Londolozi
and Timbavati game reserves. Here you will find some of
the finest game lodges in Africa.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is another unique game
sanctuary. This huge park is a combination of the two
parks -the former Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa. Covering
over 36,000 sq km, it is one of the biggest wildlife conservation
areas anywhere in the world. The landscape is marked by
red sand dunes and sparse thornbush vegetation. The environment
of this park provides outstanding opportunities for unforgettable
This park is host to the famous black-maned Kalahari lions.
You will also see gemsbok, springbok, eland, blue wildebeest,
cheetahs, wild dogs, jackals, bat-eared foxes and leopards.
Birding is also excellent and of 297 species recorded,
96 are resident. The Kgalagadi is not for the fainthearted
-it is far from anywhere and getting there is a slog.
It is located 904 km to the west of Johannesburg. All
accommodation in the park is managed by SANParks. You
will get the best experience if you visit between June
and July when the weather is coolest.
On a South Africa safari, remember to carry a pair of
binoculars to help you spot animals. Also carry a camera
and other equipment as a means of recording your safari.
It is the only way to shut up those who doubt the story
of your encounter with the African wildlife. Carry along
a decent pair sunglasses to shield you from glare, especially
if you travel to the semi desert Kgalagadi. Dressing well
means cool clothing (such as light cottons and linen)
for summer and warm for winter.
Copyright © Africa Point
About the Author
Andrew Muigai is the editor of AfricaPoint Insider online
newsletter. It is part of AfricaPoint.com- the Africa
travel website that has helped thousands of travelers
discover Africa. You can view more info on South Africa
safari and tours at the website.