On the drive out of Kruger we took the rode frequented by rhinos. We saw so many, and all of them were really close to the car. They looked so serene in the early morning sunrise, surrounded by dew and mist.
I think in total we saw 16 rhinos on our drive out.
Once we left Kruger, we drove to Ralf Kalwa’s house, a former senior ranger at Kruger. He spent many, many years at Kruger and retired on the Crocodile River, the river that runs alongside Kruger’s southern border.
Map of Kruger. It’s just slightly smaller than New Jersey. The city circled on the left, Pretoriuskop, was the main campsite where we stayed. Skukuza was the major tourist stop in Kruger that we visited. The arrows show where the Crocodile River is.
Ralf was a very interesting person. He lectured us on the history of Kruger, on the geology, on climate, rainfall, terrain, and vegetation. He described the past and current projects that Kruger is working on, such as the water hole project, rhino poaching, elephant management, and fire control. He was extremely enthusiastic and fun to watch.
I’ll just include a quick summary of his main points.
Geology: Kruger has a very interesting geology of different soil types that add to the diversity of plants and therefore animals.
This is his rough sketch of Kruger. The left side is quick draining and more desert like, while the right is more nutrient-rich soil, bordered by mountains on the right. Geology is crucial to successful conservation and wildlife management because it impacts every aspect of plant and animal life, including animal rotation and sources of water.
Rainfall: The southern part of Kruger gets much more rainfall than the north, resulting in another factor that greatly affects diversity.
Water management: At one point, the Kruger management team realized that many plants and animals were dying due to the lack of water in the park. This was caused by periods of drought which is typical in the area, and by the fact that the rivers that drain into Kruger must first pass through all of South Africa, resulting in low levels and slow moving waters. So the team decided to monitor which areas had low amounts of water, and over the course of a few years, installed over 200 water holes. Unfortunately, many years later, it was observed that this introduction of watering holes severely disrupted the environment, which “dead zones” of no vegetation around watering holes because the animals trampled everything in the area. Animals also moved around the park in greater concentrations due to the high levels of water sources, resulting in trampling of plants and of the disruption of the food chain. After the problem was realized, the water holes were all evaluated and those deemed harmful were closed.
Vegetation: Ralf also gave us an in-depth look at the different vegetation that grows in Kruger and just how important different types of plants are. Grasses are crucial, and fall into three categories: Tall, medium, and short. Different animals eat different grasses, and many very picky animals, like the Sable antelope, are becoming endangered because their preference of grass is unavailable. A good balance of these plants, and of high quality and low quality grasses, is crucial for animal management.
Fire control: This is one topic that Ralf really emphasized. After a multitude of fires occurring in Kruger, it was decided that a comprehensive fire plan needed to be in place. After years of studying fire patterns, lightning, and dead material, a fire plan was put in place that called for a fire every 2-4 years. Kruger was divided into different blocks depending on the roads and natural barriers, and those sections would be evaluated every year to gauge the amount of dead material. If the amount of dead material was sufficient for good burning, that section would be lit and burned overnight. One mistake that occurred was the fire of Pretoriuskop in 2001. The fire plan had been in place for years, but due to tourism and precautions, the areas around the Kruger towns were never burned. When lighting struck a dead tree near Pretoriuskop, the high amounts of dead material that were never burned away lit immediately, raging in a fire that killed 19 people, including a lot of local village women.
Elephant control: The overpopulation of elephants in Kruger is one of its biggest problems. It’s one that we heard a lot about on our trip and one that I spend a very long time thinking about. I think I’ll leave my full review and summary of this issue for the end, because if not I’ll just be repeating myself every few entries. It’s an incredible problem though, and a very delicate matter.
That night, we travelled to Marepe lodge, which was really beautiful and peaceful. We had a nice dinner of pizza before heading to bed.