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Friday, September 02, 2005

An African Safari Must-See

By Nick Leong, The Star (Malaysia)

Africa boasts many parks where you can watch wild animals in their natural habitat. One of the oldest is the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Kruger National Park is located north-east of Johannesburg. It took us about five hours via Mpumalanga Province to reach the Paul Kruger Gate, one of eight entrances to the park.

Initially called the Sabie Game Reserve, the park was given its present name after it merged with the Shingwedzi Game Reserve in 1926.

At 19,633sq km, about the size of Johor, Kruger National Park is the largest in South Africa. But it is not the size of the park that makes it so popular with tourists. The park has one of the largest concentrations of wild animals anywhere in the world.

It is estimated that there are 1,500 lions, 2,500 cape buffaloes, 5,000 rhinoceros, 1,000 leopards and 12,000 elephants living at Kruger National Park. Besides the “big five” mentioned above, there are also thousands of zebras, giraffes, hippopotamus and antelopes among the 145 mammal species living in the reserve.

The animals are easily spotted unlike the animals at Taman Negara. During a three-day two-night stay there, I saw a variety of animals.

The leopard is one of the most difficult animals to spot in the wild because of its excellent camouflage and nocturnal habit. ”You don’t look for them, they look for you,” said Dieter, the ranger.

As luck would have it, I saw a leopard feeding on a carcass on a tree on my first safari tour. We spent 10 wonderful minutes watching the animal before a jeep-load of tourists arrived and scared the animal off. We also came within 10m of the largest animal on land, the African elephant.

Dieter said the largest elephant recorded was a twelve-ton bull, shot and killed in Angola in 1974.

The most memorable experience was watching a pride of lions resting on a small hill.

The gaze of an adult male lion was both captivating and intimidating.

Besides animals, there are also a variety of birds and snakes in Kruger National Park.

The five of the “big six” birds are easily spotted in the park. They are the Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Saddle billed Stork, Kori Bustard, and Ground Hornbill. The last is the Pel’s Fishing Owl.

One of the largest flying birds found at the park is the Marabou Stork. A large male marabou stork weighs nearly 9kg and stands at 1.5m tall.

“It is nice from far but far from nice,” said Dieter, pointing out to the bird’s bald and scab-encrusted head.

Kruger National Park is a must for visitors who wish to see animals roaming freely in the wild.


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