During my time in South Africa I visited two other animal sanctuaries and spent 4 days in Kruger National Park.
I’ll start with Kruger. It was awesome. Just getting there was incredible as it took us a day to make it to the edge of the park, where we stayed overnight before a very early start. It also gave us the chance to stop at Moholoholo animal sanctuary. Fun fact, Emma Watson once worked here. But more importantly there was a lot of animals including the wonderful honey badger, some huge vultures and a very friendly and quite terrifying giraffe in the car park. A really nice place to visit but really just a warm act for Kruger
We were at the entrance gate to Kruger when it opened at 6am.We arrived at Orpen gate which proved a very good move as within about 10 seconds someone shrieked “LION!” and sure enough a male lion strolled on by without giving us a glance. It was a pretty incredible start which was quickly followed by zebra, giraffe and all manner of antelope. This resulted in us seeing 4 of the Big 5 before lunchtime. The big 5 is the collective term of buffalo, lion, elephant, leopard and rhino. The only one we were lacking was the leopard.
So we stopped for lunch at Skukuza camp which is the centre of Kruger. As I was wandering around the gift shop a volunteer ran towards me and exclaimed “There is a leopard outside!”. After reactions that would rival a cheetah, I was at the riverbank looking for a leopard. Which I couldn’t see at first, until the girl that saw the leopard came back. She described to me exactly where the leopard was which was just as well as it was incredibly hard to see even with binoculars. All around us people walked by, either unaware or unmoved by the leopard, whilst we were buzzing for hours.
We saw a cheetah on the night drive which is a very rare occurrence and a really nice thing to see since we all worked in a cheetah sanctuary. Then next day our highlights were, a baby hyena and a serval which our guide had never seen in 10 years of monthly visits to Kruger. It was exceptionally lucky. There are animals everywhere from crocodiles to lions. It really is an amazing place for anyone into animals and it seemed such a natural place.
As we were leaving we received a reminder that humans run the park. A huge fire was raging. To stop invasive plants and a build-up of dead material, areas are periodically burned. The size of the fire was incredible, especially in a place that doesn’t have a fire service. Some workers with a hose on a pickup truck assured is it was deliberate and totally under control. However one pickup truck with a hose was hardly an effective control measure and you could easily imagine the fire getting out of control. Fortunately everything seemed calm at the exit gate and all we could see was a vast swathe of burnt material and a huge cloud of smoke.
Another human reminder quickly followed as two armed guards went past us on patrol. Poaching is still a huge issue despite foot and helicopter patrols. Every camp has a “Sighting board” where you can write what animals you saw and where, but even here you can’t report rhino sightings as poachers might find them first. Stopping the poachers is admirable but unless the consumers are stopped one poacher will replace another.
All in all an absolutely incredible place and it was nice to see people trying to protect wild animals. The same cannot be said for the animal sanctuaries we visited unfortunately, but more on that later.