The Kruger National Park supports an unparalleled diversity of mammal species.
The Kruger National Park encompasses nearly two million hectares of sprawling untouched African wilderness and has firmly rooted itself as one of the world’s premier game viewing destinations. Playing host for almost a century to an incredible collection of myriad wildlife and birdlife, Kruger continues to provide an unrivaled sanctuary for the preservation of some highly endangered species like the black rhinoceros and the African wild dog as well as species currently maintaining the conservation status of least concern.
The lion is the largest species of big cat on the continent and the most social cat species in the world. Prides can range in size anywhere from three to thirty individuals. Within such a unit, the maneless females typically handle the bulk of the hunting, and they are prolific predators. The males are larger, with majestic manes of red, black or fawn, and occasionally form coalitions outside of prides.
The leopard is the most elusive member of the Big Five. These spotted cats are typically solitary, save for mating and when a mother is caring for her cub. Their spectacular camouflage abilities also make them difficult to ‘spot’. Leopards are known for dragging their kills up trees to feast in peace without the threat of scavengers.
Despite not being the largest or ferocious member of the Big Five, many park rangers and safari guides will tell you that the Cape buffalo is the most dangerous remember. Do not be fooled by its bovine appearance – buffaloes are incredibly unpredictable, notoriously bad-tempered and formidable with their horned weaponry.
The African elephant is the world’s largest land mammal and one of the most captivating animals to encounter on safari. A typically gregarious animal, elephants will most often be observed in herds or as solitary bulls. Cows average between 2800kg – 3500kg, while males weigh in at a hefty 5000kg – 6300kg. Kruger’s elephant population is rather prolific.
The black or hook-lipped rhino is the original member of the Big Five. Its hooked lips are ideally suited for browsing. Despite being smaller than its white cousin, it is the more aggressive of the two subspecies. The black rhino is critically endangered due to rampant poaching, and everyday in the Kruger Park is now a fight to protect this remarkable species.
The white or square-lipped rhino is larger in size and typically boasts a longer front length horn (a record 1.58m has been recorded in South Africa). Unlike its hook-lipped cousin, the white rhino uses its square lips for grazing. This species is now on the IUCN’s ‘threatened’ list and, at the devastating rate that poachers are assaulting Kruger’s population, will soon reach ‘vulnerable’.
The grey rhebok is an endemic antelope species found in mountain bushveld territories across South Africa. Both male and female rhebok are grey coated and sport graceful slender builds with long necks. The males are further adorned with a pair of straight unringed vertical horns. These shy antelope are usually preyed upon by leopards, caracals and large eagles.
This small petite antelope is commonly found in open savanna areas where patches of low lying wooded vegetation and tall grass provide significant cover from prowling predators. Their smooth red to golden brown coats allow them to use camouflaging as a defensive mechanism. Males possess a pair of straight slender horns whereas both sexes sport a pair of unusually large ears.
The bushbuck is a large non-territorial antelope widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa. These solitary antelope have a distinct coat coloration; a reddish brown overcoat marked with white stripes and spots. A male bushbuck dons a pair of sharp, vertically spiraled horns. Both males and females of this species possess powerful hindquarters with a slightly arched back.
This graceful dwarf antelope can be found in tall grasslands and floodplains grazing in small temporary herds. Along with their slender build, tall rounded hindquarters and reddish brown coats, oribi have a pair of distinctive black pre-orbital glands situated beneath the inner corners of their large brown eyes which is used for scent marking.
Sharpe’s grysbok is a shy and solitary dwarf antelope found in hilly savanna country. Their most notable feature is a coat that is predominantly reddish brown in color streaked with grizzled white hair. They are nocturnal grazers with a primary diet of fallen fruits, herbs and grass. Interestingly, they have been found to occasionally hide in abandoned aardvark burrows.
Common duiker are a group of small antelope species widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa. They sport light brown and grey dusted coats with large pointed ears and a distinct black stripe running from the central forehead to the black nose tip. A pair of short sharp horns can be found on both males and females alike.
Klipspringer or “rock leaper” is aptly named after its ability to negotiate movement in its preferred habitat of inaccessible rocky terrain. These small robust antelope are nimble climbers and feed on fruit, flowers and grasses, depending mainly on succulent plants for their water intake. They are preyed upon by the likes of leopards, baboons, caracals and spotted hyenas but to name a few.
As the name suggests, the waterbuck is a large shaggy coated antelope found in savanna areas close to a water source. When threatened, they are known to elude an advancing predator by entering water as means of escape. Both sexes sport a white ring on the rump while males have a pair of long, ridged spiral horns.
Tsessebe or topi is a plains antelope found in small territorial herds in open woodland and savanna grasslands. These unusual looking grazers are adorned with a pair of crescent shaped horns, a dark face, reddish brown coat and prominent purple coloration on the shoulders and upper hind limbs.
Impala are a highly successful antelope species dwelling in lush grasslands bordering open savanna woodland. Sporting a smooth tan coat brushed with a red brown mantle on the back, this antelope is particularly graceful with well developed long limbs and a slender athletic build. An impressive pair of deeply ridged S-shaped horns are worn exclusively by the males of this species.
Found in rugged hilly terrain peppered across territories of high grassland, mountain reedbuck are social antelope usually spotted in small breeding herds. These primarily nocturnal grazers boast woolly gray-brown coats with a visible splash of white on the underparts. A short pair of forward slanting ridged horns crown the heads of mountain reedbuck males.
This brown coated antelope dwells primarily in well watered grassland and marshland areas. They rely heavily on a daily supply of water and depend on the cover offered by tall grass and bushes to hide from larger predators. Common reedbuck reside in loosely demarcated territories usually bonded in monogamous pairs with a calving season peaking in the rainy months.
Roan antelope are one of the largest antelope species distinguished by their roan colored coats, large tasseled ears and a black and white mask covering the face. Both males and females have strong builds and a powerful neck topped with a dark erect mane. A pair of heavily ridged back curved horns provide formidable defense against predators.
Sable antelope are known to be one of the most handsome antelope, second only to the greater kudu. Classified as a horse antelope, it has a large powerful build with a strong neck adorned with an erect mane and a pair of incredible ridged scimitar-shaped horns. Their coats are typically dark brown to black with splashes of white marking the face, muzzle, underparts and rump.
These gregarious bearded herbivores can be found in large herds on acacia savanna and short grass plains. Broad blunted muzzles and wide incisor rows allow them to bulk feed on green grass. Both sexes have a pair of short curved cow-like horns centered on an enlarged boss. The blue wildebeest or “brindled gnu” sports a glossy black coat streaked with dark vertical stripes.
The eland is the largest bovid found in Southern Africa. Adult males are known to develop ox-like features in the form of a large hump, thick neck and dewlap, reminiscent of a Brahma bull. Despite being labeled the slowest antelope, this spiral horned ruminant possesses unmatched jumping prowess, effortlessly clearing heights of up to 10 feet (3 meters) from a standstill position.
Found in dense woodland and thickets, the Nyala is an elusive antelope native to Southern Africa. Bulls carry handsome spiral horns – typically one and a half twists – and have shaggy, slate grey coasts painted in spots and stripes. Ewes are more chestnut brown in color, with shorter fur and no horns. The shy nature of these attractive antelopes make them riveting to encounter.
The stately kudu is one of the continent’s most revered species of antelope. The bulls bear the most prolific sets of spiral horns, on rare occasions reaching up to three turns, and have attractive shaggy beards along their throats. Cows are hornless with shorter fur, and are typically a warmer hue of brown while bulls are more grey-brown. Both sexes have satellite-like ears and stripes along their backs.
The African wild dog (or ‘painted dog’) is the continent’s largest canid and one of its most successful large species of predator. This endangered specie still enjoys considerable sanctuary in the Kruger National Park, with quite a few established packs. These hunting dogs are highly social and take down their quarry with awe-inspiring coordination.
The black-backed jackal is one of the continent’s most widespread and successful scavengers. Much like the North American coyote in appearance, the adapt easily to most environments, and should carrion or prey like rodents, hares, birds and young antelope not be available, they are not above snacking on wild fruits and berries.
The side-striped jackal is significantly more rare than its black-backed cousin. They are even more omnivorous, however. Side-striped jackals prefer avoiding open grassland areas and tend to stick to well-watered, woodland savanna. They are typically nocturnal and are far more likely to be encountered at night.
The aardwolf is on the smaller side of the canid range. Despite its rather hyena-like appearance, this nocturnal critter is entirely insectivorous. They take refuge in underground dens and typically only emerge to snack on termite mounds after dark. The aardwolf may be encountered as solitary, in pairs or even family groups.
It may be one of the continent’s most well-known scavengers, but the spotted hyena is a rather prolific hunter as well. These canids have incredibly strong jaws that easily crunch up bones, hence the traces of white typically found in their feces. The hyena’s whooping laughter is one of the most memorable sounds you’ll hear amidst the Kruger Park’s evening soundtrack.
The serval is an exceptionally handsome species of wild cat, and significantly larger in size than most wild cat species. Its spotted coat makes it look somewhat like a miniature cheetah or leopard. These cats are very rarely encountered as they tend towards the solitary and are largely nocturnal in nature.
The cheetah is world’s fast land mammal. This attractive, long-legged spotted cat can sprint at 70km/h when pursuing prey, though it can only sustain such a speed for a short period of time. The cheetah is the only cat species that does not have fully retractile claws. The species is classified as vulnerable, but a few hundred of the call Kruger home.
The caracal is robustly built, medium-sized wild cat with large, tufted ears and a short tail, much like the North American bobcat. It is rich brick-red in color, which alludes to its Afrikaans name ‘rooikat’ (literally ‘red cat’). Sightings are rare, as these cats are typically solitary and nocturnal. They tend to prey on small and medium-sized mammals, from mice to small antelope, and birds.
The African wildcat is very similar in appearance to the domestic house cat, striped much like a tabby, but it tends to be longer in leg and larger. They are very common, but shy, solitary and primarily nocturnal, and therefore rarely encountered. Birds and rodents are their main sources of food, but they’ll occasionally take on larger prey like hares and hyrax.
The large-spotted genet, or Cape genet, is endemic to South Africa. Cat-like in appearance with a long, fluffy tail, these nocturnal critters are typically spotted in the crooks of trees during evening game drives. This genet is covered in large, black spots and usually rusty-brown in color.
The African civet is the largest representative of the African Viverridae. Unlike its smaller cousin the genet, the civet is strictly terrestrial. It is also significantly larger, and bears a starkly mottled coat of black spots and stripes across a grey background. Keep an eye out on the ground during your nighttime safaris in the Kruger Park.
The giraffe is the world’s tallest land mammal and an endearing creature to behold. With its long, legs, long neck, long lashes and long, sticky tongue, the giraffe is both beautiful and bizarre. Almost exclusively browsers, giraffes love feasting on the leaves of thorn trees, maneuvering past the prickles with their tough tongues.
Do not be fooled by the hippopotamus’s rather amusing appearance – this aquatic animal is responsible for the most human deaths by a mammal on the African continent. They will always be spotted near or inside water, bobbing in family pods or lounging on sandbanks in the sun. When night falls, they may cover up to 30km as they graze under cover of darkness.
The vervet or ‘blue’ monkey is very common across the Kruger National Park, often to the point of becoming a nuisance in rest camps and at picnic sites. They live in troops of up to 20 or more individuals and eat almost anything when opportunity occurs. Avoid feeding them or approaching them, as regular human contact leads to aggression and unfortunate extermination.
The Chacma baboon is the fourth largest primate on the contact after the gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo. Like the vervet monkey, they are common across the park and even more of a nuisance around human settlements, as their extraordinary canines make them formidable foes. They are delightful to observe within their troops, however.
Found in the Southern Savanna and South West arid zones, the dwarf mongoose is Africa’s smallest carnivore. Resident packs would typically occupy large territories of woodland rich in termite mounds – their preferred den option. These small agile carnivores have reddish brown coats and long sharp claws which allow for the foraging of insects and fruit.
These long, slender short legged carnivores are generally found across the extensive wooded savanna areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Their most striking features are an impressive black tipped tail almost equaling their body length and a set of short curved claws which enable them to effortlessly scale the boughs of trees in search of unsuspecting prey.
Banded mongooses are highly sociable and form the largest territorial packs of any carnivore. Their name is aptly inspired by the characteristic dark brown bands that cover the length of their backs and tail tips. These small, wide-bodied carnivores are known to throw and smash their chosen prey of beetles, millipedes and snails against rocks and tree trunks while hunting.
The water or marsh mongoose is a solitary dark-coated carnivore found in areas well laced with waterways. They prey on crayfish, freshwater crabs and small reptiles. Their long sturdy bodies and small feet enable efficient undulating movement when swimming while their soft exposed palms allow them to effectively dispose of submerged prey while hunting in shallow waters.
As the name suggests, this mongoose sports a large white tail reminiscent of that of a skunk. These nocturnal foragers occupy open grassland territories abundant in insects, mainly termites and dung beetles. When threatened, it will deter an enemy by using its evident black and white warning coloration and by activating the stink glands with its white tail erect in a display of defense.
The tree squirrel, also known as Smith’s bush squirrel, is an arboreal (tree dwelling) rodent found in the savanna woodland areas of Southern and Central Africa. These small agile creatures favor holes in trees as their preferred dens. A nesting group will make use of mutual grooming to solidify their group bond and are known to engage in “mobbing” as a defensive stance against predators.
The scrub hare is one of two common species of hare found in South Africa and southern Namibia. Their preferred habitat includes scrub, tall grassland and savanna woodland, the perfect environment for supporting their herbivorous diet of green grasses. Their most prominent feature is a pair of long grey ears which are usually always upright and alert to pending danger.
The spring hare, despite its misleading name, is in fact a large bipedal rodent indigenous to the arid regions of Southern and Central Africa. Contrasting to their otherwise cinnamon brown overcoat, they possess a long black tipped tail which is used for balance when standing on the hind legs. Their primary diet includes barley, oats, wheat and occasionally insects.
The porcupine is the largest of the African rodents sporting an impressive prickly armory of black and white banded quills on its back, sides and hindquarters. Porcupines are known to be relatively adaptable to any terrain although primarily choose to burrow in hilly rocky habitats. They forage for roots, bark and fallen fruit under the cover of dark, retreating to their hideaways just before dawn.
Also known as ‘zorilla’, the striped polecat is a small carnivore resembling much of a skunk. Its thick, shaggy black coat is graced by four prominent white stripes extending from the face to a long bushy tail. While visible warning coloration provides the first defense against enemies, the polecat also possesses the ability to squirt pungent anal-sac fluid into the eyes of an advancing predator.
The rock dassie or hyrax is said to be the closest living relative of the elephant despite its small robust stature. Aptly named, these herbivorous mammals can be found basking in colonies atop sun kissed boulders and rocky outcrops during the early morning and late afternoon, making them particularly vulnerable to aerial predators like the Verreaux's and martial eagles.
Armed with a powerful jaw, sharp claws and a thick loose fitting skin enveloping a strong broad body, the honey badger is a force to be reckoned with. These tenacious short-tempered hunters are known to attack predators much larger than themselves in self defense, including deadly snakes. Interestingly, as the name suggests, they are avid consumers of honey and bee larvae.
A collection of photographs of the Big Five, antelope and other mammals.
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