Two minutes into the park and BAM, a HUGE snake, a night adder. The snow globe of South Africa, or Kruger National Park, is absolutely insane. Home to countless different species of animals, if you’re coming to South Africa, you’re coming to Kruger. You basically have to. When people think of South Africa they usually think lions and giraffes, but there are many animals people aren’t so aware of. Many unique, and oddly hilarious creatures, stray from the Big Five spotlight. The common warthog, spotted hyena, and chameleon are just three of the many animals which fit that category. All of them are different, but they all have one thing in common: they’ve all starred in a Disney animated movie.
Everyone has heard of a chameleon. We all know they change color to blend in to their surroundings. They’re really amazing actually, but what you might not know is the Disney animated movie, “Tangled,” lied. The chameleon in the movie is incredibly quick and fairly agile. Real chameleons are so slow, it’s not even funny. I can’t even tell you how slow they are. They actually take a huge risk crossing roads in Kruger, because it takes them forever to cross. But it doesn’t matter if they’re slow when they climb into the trees. They use their abnormally long tongue to quickly grab any prey they can reach. Maybe they’re slower than anything I’ve ever seen, but the speed and stickiness of their tongues makes up for it.
Another fun fact, the chameleon’s eyes can move to look at two different things at a time. If there’s a tasty looking bug on it’s left, the left eye can look at it, while the right eye keeps a careful watch to see if a predator’s near. Now, everyone thinks that chameleons change color to blend into their surroundings; but that’s not the case. Actually, only certain chameleon species can turn certain colors. They all have four layers of skin; and the different pigments in each layer reflect and create certain colors. The epidermis is the protective outer layer of their skin, no special color pigments there. If you go deeper, the next layer is the chromatophore layer which has yellow and red pigments. The melanophore layer can have brown and black colors and can reflect blue. The final layer is the nether layer, which can simply reflect white. I could go on and on about chameleons, for all of eternity, but we must move on to mammals.
Warthogs, oh blessed warthogs. The wannabe participants in Project Runway, South African edition. Their long legs, hooves that look like high heels, and prissy demeanor makes them utterly hilarious to watch. Of all animals, the ones who partake in mud-wallowing as a favorite pastime, look the most full of themselves. They prance about in their preferred open grassy and woodland areas, with their tails held high.
We were curious the whole time we watched them why they kept their tails straight up in the air. It’s actually to let their group know where they are in the tall grass. I think it just adds to their strut.
Anyway, your basic warthog family consists of the male, female, and an average three piglets. The dad abandons the family after a while (those piglets will have issues); and if the mom becomes pregnant again, she might run off her kids.
We all know the warthog from “Lion King,” so you probably have a pretty good idea of what they look like in your head. Their tusks form into a sort-of smiley face, and their hard nose is ideal for digging in the dirt. They mainly eat grass, preferably the new grass that grows after a fire. Their main predators are lions and leopards, and the occasional piglet will be targeted by a cheetah.
Oh beloved warthogs, send in that audition video; and maybe one day the world will see you walk the runway. I hope to see that day, sorry I love the warthogs.
The spotted hyena is the scavenger of South Africa.
They mainly find kills others have made, or other dying, abandoned animals.
The mom rules the hyena household. The biggest female is the head. Usually a dominant male is present as well, but he still has to follow the female. They reside in burrows in hidden grassy areas. We had the privilege of spotting a whole group of hyenas in their home on the side of the road. There was one giant, scary mom and five adorable kids. Sadly, like other animals, if the kids are left unprotected, they can be killed by lions, leopards, and wild dogs. Their main predators are lions though.
Hyenas are portrayed as villains in the “Lion King;” but lions kill them, so I honestly think the two roles should be reversed. If you hear hyenas, don’t be afraid; or maybe you should be.
They make a number of different sounds from long “whoops” crawling up the scale to assemble for a hunt, maniacal and hysterical laughter after a kill went well, and whining and groaning to scare off predators. It’s strange. Spotted hyenas are a little creepy, but nevertheless they’re determined scavengers and hunters.
People from all over flock to Kruger National Park to see the Big Five, some paying little attention to anything else. If you find yourself in Kruger, don’t drive past the warthogs, common or not, they’re incredibly entertaining. Don’t run over chameleons as they embark on the struggle to cross the road. If you hear maniacal laughter, don’t be scared, it’s just Africa. -Ella
Burchell’s Zebras are beautiful and were a common sight in our time in Kruger National Park.
Burchell’s Zebra or Plains Zebra can be distinguished by the “shadow stripes” in between their main black and white stripes.
The patterns of the stripes are different on every animal, with the shadow stripe being easily visible sometimes and sometimes not visible at all.
An interesting fact about zebras is that they can usually be found next to a group of wildebeest. Evidence shows that when attacked by a lion, the lion would rather eat the wildebeest than the zebra. Wildebeest must just taste better. So Zebra typically hang around them for defense purposes.
Zebra will all gang up on predators, lashing out with violent and destructive kicks to protect their herd.
You would never think of getting tired of such a beautiful creature; but sadly after ten days in the park, zebra became too common and were almost on the level of an impala. – Walden
Some of the most common residents of Kruger are the Impala.
These antelope have impressive horns, but remind us mostly of deer from home after the 3rd or 4th day of game viewing. The males barking snort though is pretty impressive, and we have seen some serious aggressive courting by these guys.
You also see a lot of water buck near the watering holes; and their size can be striking, as well as the white bullseye on their bottom.
They secrete a goat-like smelling, waterproofing substance that makes them taste exceptionally bad. For that reason, they are the last of prey to be taken down and only if food is scarce.
We watched these guys right near the jaws of crocodiles repeatedly, and they never ended up dinner.
The greater kudos are discernible by the white chalk like streaks on their flank and some of the males’ spiral horns are quite remarkable. Unfortunately, sometimes two males can be locked together because of these horns, which does not end well.
We occasionally saw a tiny duiker or steenbok, which remind you strongly of Bambi as a toddler. – Mom
Giraffes are just the most calm and peaceful animals.
Their gorgeous eyelashes, docile demeanor, and elegant neck are relaxing just to watch. As the tallest animal earth, they average 5 meters tall, with the tallest recorded being 6 meters. This guy was the tallest we spotted, wish we could have measured him!
They graze continuously, although they will occasionally rest their head against a tree during the heat of the day. They have unusual “horns” that look like knobs and seven elongated vertebrae like humans in their graceful neck.
Surprisingly, they have no hierarchy and males are able to wander from group to group. Lions are their main predators, and they will kick to defend themselves; but they do not easily spook. Their average life spans are 28 years and they usually have only 1 baby at a time, rarely 2.
They define Africa in so many ways to me. To see their conspicuous necks dotting the endless skyline as the sun is setting is undeniably breathtaking – Mom
For some strange reason, I love watching hippos. The kids and Chris think it’s hilarious and love making fun of me about it.
I realize they could crush you with their mouth and they are one of the most deadly African animals; but they are still just cute.
They look like they know how to have fun and just relax. They need a sloped bank just to haul their girth up, if they want to rest in the open. Otherwise, they submerge their body in the water and bring their nose and eyes up to get a breath as needed.
They can hold their breath up to six minutes! They seem to hang out in groups, facing each other, and may hang out in the same pools for years. They have a protective secretion on their skin to help prevent sunburn, but they still have to continuously submerge themselves in the water. We caught the disgusting, but humorous, display of the bull spinning his tail in the water while defecating, sending stool flying in all directions to mark his territory. You gotta laugh to think of it.
They usually come out of the water to graze once the sun goes down. Unfortunately, they are likely responsible for the deaths of more humans in Africa from wild animals than any other; because if you get between them and their return to the water in the morning, they get very angry. Surprisingly, the mother leaves the water to give birth; but the baby can swim within a few minutes of its birth. Their loud hissing blast when they emerge from the water is always fun to see. Around sunset, you often hear their honking grunt. They may flip around in the water on their side, and generally just enjoy the water and their friends. We were thrilled to spot a baby in the water with his mother.
One of Walden and Ella’s favorite books as little ones was “Kiss, Kiss,” featuring a mother hippo and her baby. Mom
Ella also spotted several African turtles!
We saw a water monitor at at the site of the famous Kruger Battle on youtube. Even the safari guide who pulled up beside us got excited about it!
Not sure what this guy was, but Dad spotted him.
Crocodiles were also impressively prevalent in Kruger. Chris and I’s first memory of African crocodiles was in Ghana soon after we were married, when we were doing missions in Yendi. Before, we came home that semester, we went on a brief safari in southern Ghana. We still remember the safari guide toting his machine gun. The only time he cocked it was when he saw a crocodile near the edge of the water. Scared us to death!
The Nile crocodile reportedly has the strongest bite ever measured and is capable of taking down humans and hippos.
They are more aggressive than the American version and can grow to 20 feet long!!
We kept our distance from these quiet, sleuth-like predators. We waited on edge during several water hole watches to see the attack, but they never did. I think I’m glad. Not sure I want to see that.
Our last night at Kruger, we decided to have one more amazing braai from Dad and eat outdoors, next to our safari tent surrounded by the vervet monkeys. The day had been a bit hotter than usual, so the insects were out in full force. More than once, an insect the size of my hand landed on my shoulder or Ella’s hair which is always good for hysteria. While we were laughing around the table, reminiscing about the trip, out of no where Ella points frantically and yells, “Thick tailed bushbaby!” We all looked around confused, and we saw this guy.
He was adorable in person, but then he started bouncing around our tent. I mean literally bouncing, boing, like shooting a rubber band. Seemingly, he did not crouch or jump or leap, he just went from still to a shooting movement.
He had perfect precision, and as he started to shooting right at our faces a few times, we started to freak! It was quite a scene, we started trying to hide behind chairs and the table, as we nervously and quite hysterically laughed and talked nonstop. Soon, we decided inside the tent might be the best place with crazed lesser bushbabies and vervet monkeys around. It was a fun ending to the evening and our safari and brought our species count to 85! But let’s just say, no one went to the bathroom by themselves that night.