Kruger National Park Animals | Wildlife in South Africa

June 17, 2021

The Kruger National Park, a leading game-watching destination, is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It is South Africa’s largest national reserve, situated across the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Encompassing 19 485 square kilometers of remarkable African wilderness and an astounding variety of Kruger animals.

Needless to say, it is a top bucket list destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

With the abundance of wildlife in South Africa, it may be overwhelming to know which animals to look out for at the Kruger. To help you formulate your African animal bucket list, we’ve listed some of the most well-known and rare animals found in the Kruger National Park below.

This wildlife guide provides Kruger National Park facts and viewing tips to help you maximize your chances of seeing iconic African animals. As well as to create a memorable Kruger experience.

Steenbok in the Kruger National Park

Animals in Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park encompasses vast African wilderness with diverse wildlife including some of the most popular South African safari animals. It is a haven for birdlife and supports critically endangered animal species such as the rhinoceros and African wild dogs.

Kruger National Park Wildlife – The Big Five

The Kruger National Park is one of the best destinations to see the Big Five roaming freely. It is home to all the Big Five animals – the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo – with reliable, unforgettable sightings.

Lion

Pride of African lions

The lion, Panthera Leo, is the largest cat species in Africa and the most social in the world. The Kruger is home to approximately 1600 lions. They are habitually found together in families known as a ‘pride’ – with the average pride ranging from three to thirty individuals.

Within the pride, there are a few males, several females, and their cubs. The head of the family is the male lion with its primary responsibility being protecting the pride and its territory. The female lions (lionesses) are the primary hunters, working together to provide for the tribe.

The male lion is characterized by its royal roar and majestic mane which provides protection and a more formidable appearance to discourage rivals. You’ll commonly find male lions patrolling their territories, either moving on their own or as a coalition. Whilst lionesses hunt and raise their cubs communally.

Lions are distinctly affectionate within the pride, rubbing heads and licking one another – that’s how they say hello. They love lazing around, spending about 20 hours a day resting or sleeping. So, you’ll probably spot them snoozing in the shade. Although they are seen throughout the Kruger, the southern region provides the best chance of seeing lions.

If this interests you, why not read more about lion and lioness comparisons, their roles and differences in the pride

Leopard

African leopard in the Kruger National Park

Leopards are characterized by their captivating pattern, which comprises black spotted markings arranged in rosettes on golden-yellow fur. Males and females vary in weight with an average large male weighing about 154 pounds. Whereas females are significantly lighter at about 66 pounds.

Unlike lions, leopards are usually solitary cats except for a mother caring for her cub or a mating. These stocky, large cats have immense strength which allows them to drag their kills up trees and safeguard them from rival predators. They feed on a variety of animals including impala, baboons, birds, and wildebeest.

As the most elusive of all the big cats, the leopard is one of the most desired sightings in the Kruger. There are about 1000 leopards in the Kruger National Park, with the best chance of spotting these shy predators being in the southern part of the Kruger at the Sabie and Shingwedzi.

Elephant

African elephant in the Kruger National Park

The African elephant is one of the most mesmerizing animals you’ll come across at the Kruger. They are the world’s largest land animal, with males weighing up to 7 tons and females up to 4 tons.

These sociable animals are commonly found in herds led by an older female elephant (the matriarch) or as solitary bulls. Elephant herds are likely to be found near a water source – they can draw about 17 liters of water at once. They also enjoy mud baths as it wards off parasites and protects them from the severe African sun.

There is a plentiful elephant population in the Kruger, with approximately 20 000 individuals.  The Kruger’s large rivers and dams provide phenomenal sighting opportunities.

Rhinoceros

White rhinos drinking water

The Kruger supports two species of African rhino – the black rhino and the white rhino. So, what’s the difference between the two? Contrary to their names, the prime difference is the shape of their lips.

The black rhino, the Big Five’s original member, has a hooked-lip that is well suited for browsing. On the other hand, the white rhino is square-lipped and usually has a longer front-length horn. Black rhinos are smaller in size and more aggressive than white rhinos.

Although both species are critically endangered, they are easily spotted in the Kruger with less than 4 000  rhinos – about 3 549 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos. You’ll most likely find black rhinos browsing in between dense bushes. Whereas white rhinos are often seen grazing in open grasslands. The south of the Kruger park provides ideal rhino sightings, particularly the area around Berg en Dal, Pretoriuskop towards Skukuza.

Buffalo

Buffalo drinking water

The Cape Buffalo, known for its staggering unpredictability and notorious bad-temper, is the most dangerous member of the Big Five. They are generally found in herds, but you may come across an individual at times.

Both males and females have horns, however, the bulls are distinguished by a heavy boss. This provides additional protection and reinforcement of dominance during fights – especially with their eternal enemy, the lion.

These herbivores are bulk grazers who convert long grasslands into a more favorable environment for wildlife with particular feeding habits. Similar to elephants, buffalo protect their bodies from the sun and parasites by coating themselves in mud.

However, their pampering session goes a step further as they exfoliate by rubbing themselves against a tree stump or rock once the mud hardens.

There are about 2 500 of these powerful beasts in the Kruger. The herds can be extensive, you could spot hundreds of them moving through the park.

Kruger National Park Animals List – Mammals

Giraffes in South Africa

There are an estimated 145 mammal species in the Kruger. From the mighty hippopotamus to the tiny tree squirrel, the park has an abundance of mammals both big and small. We’ve listed some of the most popular ones below:

Kruger National Park Wildlife – Antelope

In the Kruger, you’ll find an abundance of antelope gracefully strolling around. From the common antelope such as the Impala and Greater Kudu to the rare Eland and Sable. You’re likely to come across various species in the park.

Impala

Impala in South Africa

The impala is the most common antelope found in the Kruger – you’ll most likely encounter one when entering the park. They are so social that they might just gracefully stroll up to your porch.

This popular Kruger animal lives in herds of up to about 40 individuals. This increases their chance of survival as they leap and disperse in various directions when being attacked to confuse predators. When viewing these impressive herds of impala, keep an eye out for their main predators, such as the leopard, who may be close by.

Male impala (rams) are distinguishable from females (ewes), with their Lyre-shaped and ringed horns. These medium-sized antelope are both grazers and browsers that feed on leaves, grass, twigs, acacia pods, and fruit.

Impalas are seen all over the Kruger, with an estimated 10 000 impala herds. However, spotting impalas in Mopaneveld is usually uncommon. The largest concentrations are in the southern region of the park, beside the Sabi River.

Greater Kudu

Kudu in South Africa

One of South Africa’s most admired antelope species, the Greater Kudu, is an iconic animal in the Kruger with between 11 200 and 17 300 kudus in the park. These large antelopes display strong sexual dimorphism in that males carry substantial, spiraled horns with long-haired beards. Whereas females are hornless with shorter fur.

In the herds, the group of around 20 kudus usually separate with young cows remaining with their mothers. Whilst the young bulls develop groups with older groups following sexual maturity – usually at two years. As a result of size-based dominance hierarchies, the largest bull is commonly in charge of the kudu herd.

You’ll typically find this browsing species feeding on trees and shrub leaves as well as fruits, creepers, and pods. For plentiful kudu sightings, keep in mind that these animals prefer dense bush. They are commonly seen in south-western foothills and woodlands, riverine forest areas, and woodlands in the Sabie River area.

Kruger National Park Animals List – Antelope

Waterbuck in Africa

In Africa, there are 72 antelope species with 21 present in the Kruger National Park. Some of these wondrous wildlife species include:

  • The Waterbuck
  • The Lichtenstein Hartebeest
  • The Black Sable
  • The Eland
  • The Bushbuck
  • The Mountain Reedbuck

Final Thoughts on Kruger Park Animals

Elephant - African Safari sunset

It’s easy to see why the Kruger is one of the world’s premier wildlife viewing destinations. From the heavy hippo to the elegant impala, you’ll find some of the most sought-after sightings in the park.

Visit the Kruger to see spectacular wildlife and birdlife throughout the rich untouched African wilderness.

Need some help planning your trip to the Kruger National Park, South Africa? Why not read our guide on all-inclusive safari vacations in Africa.

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