Animals in Kruger National Park: A Safari Adventure

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[Last updated 2023]

Guide to Animals in Kruger National Park

We spent over three months travelling through Kruger and managed to photograph, or at least spot,  a multitude of animals in Kruger National Park.

South Africa’s Kruger Park is home to the Big Five and is a popular safari destination. And it is no wonder. 

As you travel throughout the Kruger National Park, you are transported into a world that is both beautiful and brutal. On safari, you become a voyeur of Mother Nature, and nowhere is life’s impermanence so obvious.

Lioness licking her lips whilst chewing on buffalo in Kruger
Lion on a Buffalo kill ©Lifejourney4two

What’s in This Animals in Kruger Article?

  • The wildlife you might see in Kruger
  • Information on the Animals of Kruger National Park
  • Top locations for spotting animals in Kruger
  • Kruger Safari tips
  • Our best sightings of Kruger animals (in photos and video Included)
leopard stood by a half eaten carcass of a baboon in Kruger
Leopard with a baboon kill ©Lifejourney4two

Planning a Trip to South Africa?

The opportunity to encounter such a great cross-section of South African safari animals, often in relatively close quarters, makes Kruger a great place for a safari — especially for first-timers. 

There aren’t many other places in Southern Africa where finding a mighty leopard with its kill is relatively easy. The photo above was just one of our many leopard sightings in Kruger.

A sacrificial baboon laid bare — one life lost, another sustained.

Cameras click and whir.

Cars reposition, jostling for the prime position and perfect photographic angle. 

The leopard, seemingly unperturbed, drowsily watches the performing circus.

Lioness giving a hard stare at camera in Kruger
Lioness in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

To look a lion in the eyes, hear the rumbling murmurs of elephants wallowing in mud and watch the antics of African wild dogs (also known as painted wolves) darting in and out of bushes …

That is just part of the wildlife magic to see in Kruger National Park.

Two elephants playing in the mud in Kruger
There’s nothing quite like a cooling mud bath ©Lifejourney4two
Close-up-of-wild-dog in Kruger National Park
African wild dog (also known as a painted wolf) ©Lifejourney4two

VIDEO: Animals in Kruger

Jump right in amongst the wildlife of Kruger here:

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Highlights of Kruger National Park

A Little Bit About Kruger

Kruger National Park, a world-renowned safari park, lies in the northeast of South Africa across the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, butting up against the borders of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Kruger Park is one of Africa’s largest game reserves and covers an area of nearly 20,000 square kilometres, similar in size to Slovenia, Wales or Israel. It measures 360km from north to south and 65km from east to west.

 There are a multitude of diverse ecosystems throughout Kruger Park, allowing for some of the world’s most amazing flora and fauna to thrive.

According to figures from the official government SANParks site, there are 505 different species of birds, 148 mammal species in Kruger, 118 reptile species, 53 species of fish, 53 amphibians and a boggling 1990 different species of flora in the National Park.

zebras at waterhole
A dazzle of zebra in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

Kruger National Park Map

To use this map, expand it using the square symbol on the top right-hand side, and you will find the key on the left-hand side. 

Kruger Rest Camps are marked with a purple house, and any rivers or roads mentioned in the post are marked in blue. 

The Big Five in Kruger National Park

If you’re considering a safari in Kruger National Park, then you have probably heard of Africa’s iconic ‘Big Five’.

This illustrious list of animals includes:

  • Elephant
  • Lion
  • Buffalo
  • Leopard
  • Rhino

Your chances of seeing the Big Five in Kruger do depend somewhat on how much time you spend in the park, where you drive, and whether luck is on your side. But if you are to find them at all on a safari, then Kruger is one of the best places to start.

The unpredictability of the African bush cannot guarantee an outcome, but you can take steps to nudge the odds in your favour.

adolescent lions rest under a tree after a feed
Adolescent lions rest under a tree in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

The Animals of Kruger

Whether it’s a self-drive in Kruger, a guided safari game drive, or a guided walking tour, wildlife enthusiasts can encounter an extraordinary variety of wildlife at every turn.

You’ll also want to be ready with your photography gear and have a good idea of how to take some memorable safari wildlife photos so you are able to capture your Kruger wildlife encounters.

Below, we list the main iconic African animals you may encounter on a Kruger safari. We also give you useful information about the animals, tips as to where you might find them and safety pointers for when you are around them.

I had many misconceptions about African safari animals when we arrived in South Africa.

Not only did I believe elephants were harmless, but I thought that if a lion spotted you, it would immediately attack.

As you will see, these aren’t necessarily true, so it’s good to know how animals might react to your presence, even those as habituated as the Kruger wildlife.

1. African Elephant

Inquisitive baby elephant lifting his trunk whilst looking at us
Baby African bush elephant ©Lifejourney4two

I was surprised and baffled when someone who spends a lot of time in the South African bush told me that in daylight hours, she would” … rather walk into a pride of lions than a herd of elephants.”

Over the coming days and weeks, I began to understand that sentiment.

Elephants are found in almost all areas of Kruger, and you would be unlucky not to come across any while searching for the Big Five there. Especially as they are the largest land-living animal on our planet.

However, don’t underestimate their ability to blend exceedingly well into the surrounding landscape.

Although elephants are mesmerising — and their babies are just the cutest creatures — they aren’t always the ‘gentle giants’ you may think they are. They are intelligent and demonstrate deep bonds within their herds, but you do need to have your wits about you when in the presence of these wrinkly, grey giants.

Elephant herd digging for water in one of the dry riverbeds in Central Kruger  ©Lifejourney4two

Elephant herds consist of a lead matriarch (older female and also often the largest), other females (cows) and younger calves. The males (bulls), are often solitary or hang out with a couple of older males, having left the herd in their late teens.

Knowing whether there is an elephant herd nearby or that you are just near a solitary bull can help you know what to look out for and how to handle any uncomfortable situations.

 I can’t tell you how many times in the 5 months we spent in the bush, both in Klaserie Nature Reserve, in Greater Kruger, and in Kruger National Park, that I jumped out of my skin as a trumpeting mother screamed her annoyance at us.

Yes, a 10-foot, 6-tonne animal can hide extremely well behind a bush.

Baby elephants climbing over each other whilst one is lying on the ground
Playful little ones ©Lifejourney4two

Female Elephants

Amongst the herd, there are likely to be young calves. Be warned that their mothers can become very agitated if they sense their youngsters may be in danger.

An instinct I’m sure we can all relate to. The elephant mother may also just be having an ‘off day’. Maybe the pressures of parenthood are getting to her or she just wants a few moments of me time.  Whatever the reason, she could be, ‘on the edge‘ and not at all happy with annoying vehicles encroaching on her space.

So, always be particularly careful when around elephants and their calves.

Baby elephant sucking its trunk – they do this much like human babies suck their thumbs 🙂 ©Lifejourney4two

Male Elephants

If you see a male elephant with a dark strip of fluid running down its face and urine dribbling down its legs then it is likely in ‘musth.’ This elephant is also likely to be aggressive because it has more than ten times the normal amount of testosterone flowing through its body.

Also, the swollen temporal glands (behind the eyes), which produce the tar-like fluid running down its face, swell to the size of a grapefruit, causing the elephant pain equivalent to a major toothache.

It’s, therefore, no wonder that male elephants in ‘musth’ tend to be temperamental.

Close-up-of-elephant in Kruger National Park
An Elephant in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

An Elephant Mock Charge

An elephant will let you know that it isn’t happy to have you around. It may trumpet if suddenly frightened or give a vigorous shake of its head.

That’s a warning to let you know it isn’t particularly happy and is thinking about what it might do next. It may also slightly lift one of its front legs and sway a little – again thinking and weighing up the situation.

The elephant may also run toward you in what is called a ‘mock charge’. In this scenario, the elephant will likely have its ears spread out wide and may also trumpet.

If it’s a mock charge, it will then pull up suddenly, hoping to intimidate you.

The elephant then reassesses the danger. Often, reversing your car too loudly or too quickly may spur the elephant on to chase you further.

It may turn away if it doesn’t sense any more danger.

If it isn’t a mock charge, the elephant will likely have its ears pinned back and be silent or scream rather than trumpet.

The best thing is not to get too close and to read the situation carefully if you find yourself in that scenario.

Treating the animals with respect and limiting any actions that would antagonise or make them uneasy is the best course of action.

💡TIP:  We used to think that an elephant flapping its ears meant it was angry, but they do this to cool themselves down – literally cool themselves, not to cool tempers.

Elephants crossing the Luvuvhu River by the Pafuri Picnic Site ©Lifejourney4two

Our Kruger Elephant Experiences

Elephants in Kruger will sometimes feed amongst the bushes right by the road hidden from view, so always be aware that a huge giant could step out in to the road at any time.

This happened to us several times, and we were normally able to back up, giving them some space and watch from a suitable distance.

You’re not going anywhere until this herd disperses – we ended up reversing all the way back along the bridge near the Pafuri picnic spot ©Lifejourney4two

Other times, we would be stationary, watching something else, and a solitary elephant or even a herd would suddenly appear. Those times, we had to judge the situation and normally sat quietly while they passed.

Sometimes, a juvenile elephant would hover around in the road, sizing us up before attempting a half-hearted mock charge. It would then hasten off to catch up with the rest of the herd; teenagers are the same the world over – thinking they’re all grown up.

We loved to sit and watch a herd of elephants with their little ones playing and practising using their little trunks as they learned all about the world around them.

Baby elephant happily playing and taking a keen interest in us at the same time ©Lifejourney4two

We were lucky enough to see one of the solitary tuskers digging for water in the sands of the dry Mphongolo River bed, not far from Shingwedze bush camp.

These behemoths of the bush are the stuff of legends. One climbed the bank and crossed the road right in front of us – such a treat.

W-Big-Tusker-on-bank in Kruger
Tusker, Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

If you have a keen interest in elephants and find yourself passing by the Letaba bush camp in the central part of Kruger National Park, then duck into the camp and pay a visit to the Elephant Hall.

Here you can wander around a fantastic exhibition explaining the habits and history of elephants in Kruger. You can also admire the ivory from the ‘tuskers’ of old that are hung from the walls.

In the northern parts of the park (north of Letaba bush camp), the elephants seem to be more easily agitated – likely as there are fewer tourists and the elephants are therefore less habituated to onlookers (SanParks also include a similar warning in their brochures).

Elephants along the Mphongolo Loop in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

2. Lions

So, does a lion attack at first sight? Because that’s what I thought before coming to Africa.

Well, apparently not. The theory isn’t the same for nighttime, but lions aren’t that interested in you during the day if you are in a car.

I soon learnt that I didn’t have to rapidly wind my window up every time I saw one approaching. In fact, the lions in Kruger are completely habituated to vehicles.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying a lion won’t attack you if you were stupid enough to get out of your vehicle – but it’s safe enough to get closer to a lion on the road than to an elephant, let’s say.

Kruger Lions don’t pay much attention to you in a vehicle ©Lifejourney4two

They wander along the road with a couldn’t-care-less attitude to the rows upon rows of cars, all with eager passengers straining their necks to get a good look at these majestic creatures.

We had that privilege on more than one occasion – and, luckily had front-row seats.

Two male lions in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

The enormity of their paws was what struck me first, and the casual air with which they padded along the road. I suppose being at the top of the food chain, the King of the Beasts offers a sense of security that isn’t too common among most of the other animals in Kruger National Park.

Lions are more prevalent in the southern and central parts of Kruger.

They can be regularly sighted near the Sabie River, where the water continues to flow during the dry months from June to October, attracting all types of potential prey.

The Skukuza – Lower Sabie Road road parallels the Sabie River from above, giving great views down to the river bank where lions can be seen stalking or just lying about in the sand.

Lioness drinking in Kruger National Park
Old lioness taking a drink near Skukuza, Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

It’s not unusual to come across a pride of lions sleeping in daylight hours. It’s equally unusual that you’ll see them get up too much.

You can watch them for quite a few hours, waiting for just a twitch of their tail. It’s always nice to get at least a yawn or a stretch in return for sitting there, camera at the ready, for several hours!

We were privileged to see the result of a buffalo kill in Greater Kruger. The pride of lions that took down the buffalo was called the River Pride.

We watched for hours as the lions feasted and then laid about while the younger members of the pride tucked in. Later, the lions were on high alert as hyenas tried to get in on some of the action.

Lions on a buffalo kill
Lionesses at a recent buffalo kill ©Lifejourney4two
Lionesses eating the buffalo head
You are always being watched by at least one of the lions when in close proximity ©Lifejourney4two
lionesses turn to face the hyenas
Full focus – the moment the hyenas make an appearance near the kill ©Lifejourney4two
lionesses rest during a buffalo feed
A short rest before the feasting continues ©Lifejourney4two
Lionesses form a tight family pack around the buffalo carcass
Lionesses sharing the buffalo carcass ©Lifejourney4two
adolescent lion resting under a tree
At rest but forever watchful ©Lifejourney4two
Adolescent male lion
Adolescent male lion remains vigilant ©Lifejourney4two
lioness licking herself
Licking off the buffalo blood ©Lifejourney4two
Lionesses watching us
The largest of the lionesses is not happy with our presence ©Lifejourney4two

3. Cape Buffalo

I still remember seeing my very first buffalo after arriving in South Africa. Stompy was his name, and he was walking towards our vehicle at the Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve near Johannesburg.

I’d just finished reading the book, Torn Trousers, written by a couple who gave up their repetitive 9-5 life in the city to run a game lodge in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Intrigued as to what our overlanding Africa experience would perhaps be like, I had been gathering information about the wilds of Africa and the animals that we might encounter. I remembered their safari guide’s words to their guests; 

… If you see a buffalo climb a tree. If you see a lion stay still, if you see a leopard don’t look it in the eyes.

Buffalo missing a horn and a helpful yellow-billed oxpecker ©Lifejourney4two

At the time, I doubted I would ever be in such close proximity to any of those animals, much less have to take heed of those warnings.

But the information had stuck and it was suddenly thrust to the forefront of my mind as Stompy the buffalo headed straight towards us. 

Buffalo and elephant sharing the tiny waterhole in the dry riverbed ©Lifejourney4two

These lumbering beasts can weigh up to 750 kgs, and you’ll find them all over Kruger National Park, either grazing in large herds or lone bulls ambling along alone or in small groups.

If the herd decides to cross the road, you can wait for a while as they slowly file across.

Several times, the herd seemed to stop en masse in the middle of the road, just looking at us. I wonder what they think of us as they stare down our 4×4 gently rumbling beast.

If stopped for a while, we would turn off the engine to be less obtrusive, but unlike elephants, buffalos are not a danger when you are in your vehicle.

However, if you were on foot, that would be a very different story.

We had heard a few stories of those on walking safaris having to climb trees to escape a buffalo charge.

Buffalos can be particularly bad-tempered when they perceive you as a person rather than a large moving beast (your vehicle).

Herd of buffalo-on-Kruger-Road
Buffalo stopped in the middle of the road in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two


Older male buffalos are known as ‘Dagga Boys’. ‘Dagga’, in Afrikaans, means cannabis or hemp but is also used as slang to call someone crazy.

I’ve also been told that dagga is a Zulu word meaning mud. Whatever the origin of the term Dagga boys, they are often found rolling in mud and can seem crazed if you encounter them when on foot!

The older males, without the protection of a large herd, rely on attack as their defence and give little to no warning of an impending charge. Therefore, they have gained the reputation of being grumpy old men prone to acting crazy.

Dagga boys are easily recognisable with their large horns and ‘big boss’ – the thick centre part between the horns. An almost constant companion of the buffalo is the oxpecker.

buffalo in Kruger National park
Buffalo and Yellow-billed oxpecker ©Lifejourney4two

The red-billed oxpecker is the most common, or you might be lucky to spot the less common yellow-billed variety.

The contrast of this cute little bird cleaning up this brute of a beast makes for some endearing photos and brings a pop of colour to this member of the Big Five teams.

herd of buffalo block the roadway
Thou shall not pass ©Lifejourney4two

Buffalo, being a favourite meal of lions, will group together when threatened to thwart an attack.

We didn’t see any attacks, but we did come across these full-bellied lions lying in the sun with a fresh buffalo partly devoured.

lioness takes a rest during the feed
The lioness rests during the feed ©Lifejourney4two

You can read more about the old dagga boys (old buffalos) who slept around our camp and all the other wildlife we experienced while living in Klaserie Nature Reserve African bush.

You’ll see I came closer than I liked to more than just buffalo in our overlanding adventures … Which brings us to the next of the big five animals in Kruger National Park — the leopard.


From all the photos of Kruger Park leopards I’d seen on social media, you know, the ones – with a leopard draped lazily over an overhanging branch – I assumed that we, too, would spot this attractive big cat in such a pose.

I became very excited several times when we stopped to find out what all the other people in the cars were looking at and were told there was a leopard in the tree.

There may very well have been, but we could neither position our 4×4 in such a way to see the leopard nor see anything other than blurred rosettes through copious leaves and branches with our binoculars.

It’s important to note that some Kruger visitors are reluctant to move once they have a prime spot and can hog that spot for hours.

Animals in Kruger - Leopard on a fallen tree
Female leopard on a branch 50 cm off the ground –  not quite the leopard in a tree pose I was looking for ©Lifejourney4two

This beautiful animal, with its distinctive black rosette markings, prefers to live a mostly solitary existence.

The male leopard is a bit larger overall, with a large head and muscled neck and torso, compared to the female, with a more refined appearance.

Leopards can often be found around the rivers in Kruger – especially those with bushy trees.


Although found throughout Kruger, the highest concentration of leopards are found along the stretch of the Lower Sabie River, but we did hear of sightings even in the far north of the park near Crook’s Corner.

It wasn’t until our very last day in Kruger that I found my elusive leopard draped over an overhanging branch.

Seeking refuge from the heat, he was hiding in the dappled shade overlooking the Mphongolo River; so well hidden, that I almost missed him.

But I had that feeling in my bones, that after five months in the bush, today I’d see my leopard in the pose that so many before me had captured on film.

Ok, he wasn’t actually draped over the tree branch but I’ll take it as a win.

Leopard in tree in Kruger National Park
Finally, my leopard in a tree … ©Lifejourney4two

This wasn’t our first leopard sighting in Kruger, though. We had seen several stalking in the bush on their solitary daily sojourn and some sunbaking on mounds of baked red earth, both land and animal, waiting for the summer rains.

One had crossed the road right in front of us, and our skin prickled with excitement. The best encounter though was spotting a leopard and her cub crouched in the bushes as we drove north to our next camp, Letaba.

leopard mum and cub in Kruger beside a half-eaten baboon carcass
Leopard with cub and half-eaten baboon ©Lifejourney4two

As we slowly drove along the main road, we caught a speck of movement alerting us to stop, reverse and take a closer look.

With its bare confusion of sticks and stems, the winter bush had not yet begun its spring renewal – so the small whiskered face was all too clear as it peered out between the branches.

Another movement signalled its mum, bringing up the rear, before leaping up into a nearby tree, where a mass of brown fur hung limply. In her maneuvering of what we later assessed to be the remains of a baboon, the mangled body dropped from the tree.

We watched on voyeurs of nature’s cruel but necessary cycle.

Mum and cub then tucked into lunch at the foot of the tree.

Five minutes later, she decided it would be better to continue their meal ‘upstairs’, and she niftily hoisted the carcass back up into the safety of the tree. Mum, cub and lunch disappeared into thick greenery and dappled shade.

(You’ll see more of mum and cub feeding in the video above.)

Leopard in Southern Kruger ©Lifejourney4two


Both white and black rhinos are found in Kruger. However, it’s the black rhino that is the rarer sighting. On our safari travels, we have only seen black rhinos at Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Botswana and Etosha National Park in Namibia.  

Black rhinos weigh up to 1.4 tonnes and are smaller than their distant ancestor, the white rhino, with adult males possibly tipping the scales at 3.5 tonnes.

Although their names suggest that one is white and one black, they are both grey. The easiest way to differentiate between the two is by looking at the shape of the mouth. The white rhino has a square mouth, while the black rhino has a more hook-shaped mouth.

We had a great sighting of a white rhino pair not far from Lower Sabie bush camp.

They allowed us to drive within 10 metres of them, and we watched them for a glorious 10 minutes before they wandered off into the bush.

The White rhino is not known for being particularly ill-tempered, unlike the short-fused Black rhino, which is known for not needing any provocation to charge.

two rhino animals in Kruger National Park
Two white rhinos in Southern Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

At each of the twelve main rest camps in Kruger National Park, you’ll find a sightings board that displays the locations of sightings of lions, buffalo, elephants, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs. However, you won’t see any rhinos indicated because of the constant threat of poaching.

Many of the rhinos we had seen in Klaserie Nature Reserve, Greater Kruger, had been dehorned to protect them from poachers, but the cost to undertake such a project for all the rhinos in Kruger would be too exorbitant.

Therefore, if you are lucky enough to see a rhino in Kruger, it will likely still have its horn intact.

Rhino up close
The white rhino can be distinguished by its square-shaped mouth ©Lifejourney4two

6. African Wild Dogs

Coming across a pack of African wild dogs and their pups’ musical yips and yelps is always a special moment.

Also known as painted wolves, these dogs with dappled brown, black and white fur and large bat-like ears are endangered, with only about 6,500 left in Africa.

Wild dogs in Kruger
What are we all looking at?  ©Lifejourney4two

We saw them twice in the two months in Kruger.

The first time, we came across a lot of parked cars on the side of the road – a sure sign there was something interesting up ahead. As we edged closer, we could see about 20 African wild dogs huddled under the shade of a large tree.

What was particularly special was the number of tiny faces inquisitively peering out over the jumble of sleeping bodies. The pups were still quite small, so likely only about 4 or 5 months old.

We couldn’t believe they’d chosen a spot so close to the road – and it was just a couple of kilometres from Skukuza main camp. 

wild dog pups in Kruger Natiional Park
Wild dogs and their pups by the road in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

The second time, we encountered a whole pack in the middle of the road.

It was a miserable morning with drizzly rain – the type of rain that seems light but still manages to drench you if you keep your window down while trying to spot wildlife.

But these African wild dog pups didn’t seem to mind the wet weather — or the fact that they were blocking the main road from Letaba to Shingdwezi.

Wild dogs in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

For 20 minutes, they tussled with and chased each other on the road. The young ones darted across the road from side to side like kids in a school playground.

As our lenses zoomed in and out, the rain no longer mattered.

Sharing rare moments such as these is part of the Kruger magic.

A wild dog with grass stalks in his mouth
Wild dog pup ©Lifejourney4two

7. Hyenas

Did you know that there isn’t only the Big Five but also the Ugly Five, the Small Five and the Shy Five?

And the hyena is one of the Ugly Five.

Now, if we were judging the hyena portrayed in the hit children’s movie ‘The Lion King’, then I would agree that both their looks and temperament in that movie are ugly indeed

However, I think the real-life spotted hyenas, the type you’ll find in Kruger, have been unfairly labelled.

Suckling-Hyena- 2
Hyena and bub in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

They are just as endearing as any of the animals in Kruger, and although maligned as the bush’s scavengers, spotted hyenas kill more than 80% of their food rather than scavenge it.

And I challenge anyone to tell me that a baby hyena cub isn’t just the cutest thing.

Now tell me that face isn’t adorable ©Lifejourney4two

Lucy Cook, an author and conservationist, has written a really interesting article, ‘Everything you know about hyenas is wrong’, – highlighting that hyenas are fierce, social and incredibly smart.

Hyena in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

8. Cheetahs

We weren’t lucky enough to see any cheetahs while we were in Kruger, and they can be quite elusive.

They prefer the open savanna for chasing prey because they can get their speed up. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals over short distances and can reach up to 90km/hour.

Just a quick check of YouTube tells me that in mid-2023, three cheetahs were hanging out in the area between Phabeni and Kruger Gate.

Here’s a video by PKSafaris, who had been seeing them regularly in the same area.

Three Cheetahs often spotted on Doispan in Kruger National Park

9. Burchell’s Zebra

The Burchell’s Zebra or Plains Zebra is the type that you will find in Kruger, as opposed to the Mountain Zebra.

Zebra mum and baby
Zebra mum and foal ©Lifejourney4two

10. Giraffe

Giraffes are the tallest animal in the world, and there is something very special and elegant about the way they move. They are often quite inquisitive and will stand watching you for quite a while.

Adult males generally reach a height of about 5 metres and females about 4,5 metres. Both the male and females have short horns, but if you look closely, you can distinguish the male as he has a bald tip compared to the female’s hairy tips.

five giraffe in a row in amongst bushes in Kruger national Park
A Journey of Giraffes in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

11. Antelopes

There are so many types of antelope in Kruger Park.

The impala, kudu, nyala, steenbok, waterbuck, wildebeest, hartebeest, tsessebe and duiker (all types of antelope), will keep you guessing until you’re familiar enough not to have to scroll through your Kruger Explorer App — and we’d recommend getting that because it’s super useful.

Here are a few pics to help you start recognising all the different types of antelopes in Kruger.


Impalas are very common in Kruger and found throughout the park. You’ll likely see them grazing by the sides of the roads in large groups. They give birth to their young in November, so if you visit in the summer, there will be no shortage of little impala trotting around.

Impalas are very vocal if they see a leopard or other predator. Their ‘bark’ has helped us more than once spot a leopard.

Impala herd watch us
Impalas ©Lifejourney4two

Greater Kudu

The type of kudu in the Kruger is the Greater kudu and is often found in the same kind of areas as impala. Unlike Impala though, they tend to travel in small groups.

Only the males have horns.

Male kudu in among bushes in Kruger
Male kudu ©Lifejourney4two


The male nyala is easy to spot with its yellow and black legs, but the female is harder to differentiate at first. The female nyala slightly resembles an impala but has white strips on its side.

Male nyala antelope in Kruger
Male nyala in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two
Female Nyala
Female and male nyala


The steenbok is a small antelope that normally springs away when it sees you. You will most often see one on its own but occasionally, you might be lucky to see two together.

small steenbok in long grass
Steenbok in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Sharpes Grysbok

This little fellow isn’t a common sighting in Kruger, as they like deep bush cover. The grysbok can easily be confused with other small antelopes, such as a steenbok, duiker or klipspringer.

A clue is to look at the coat, which has lots of white hairs, giving the grysbok an aged look.

Grysbok small antelopeeith short pointy horns


Waterbuck are mostly found near water and can be recognised by their white ring-like markings on their rear. It looks a little like they have sat on wet white paint on a toilet seat.

Only the males have horns and are slightly larger than the females.

Waterbuck male with long horns in long grass in Kruger
Male Waterbuck in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Blue Wildebeest

Blue Wildebeests have a long black mane along their back and a black beard stretching from their chin to their throat.

Both the male and female Wildebeest have short curved horns. The female gives birth to one calf in the summer, which is able to run within minutes of being born.  

Blue Wildebeest-and-Impala
Impala and Blue Wildebeest in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two


Tsessebe (pronounced T-Zeb-ee) is another type of antelope – not to be confused with Lichenstein’s hartebeest, which looks very similar.

The difference is that tsessebe is smaller and darker, and its horns are wider apart. The Lichenstein’s hartebeest horns are more heart-shaped.

Tsessebe crossing the road in northern Kruger ©Lifejourny4two

Other antelopes

If you thought that was a lot of antelope to get your head around, there are even more:

Other antelopes that you might come across in Kruger include:

  • Eland (the largest antelope in Kruger) – uncommon sighting
  • Bushbuck – can be seen around some Kruger camps
  • Roan – a rare sighting in Kruger
  • Duiker – small commonly seen antelope
  • Sable – a rare sighting in Kruger
  • Reedbucks – not a common sighting in Kruger

12. Hippos

The day becomes complete when your eyes are set upon a dazzle of zebras, a tower of giraffes, a confusion of wildebeest or a bloat of hippos. And we certainly saw our fair share of bloats of hippos in Kruger.

We saw many hippos in Kruger, and contrary to textbook behaviour, they don’t just come out of the water at night. We saw many laying out in the sun and grazing along the riverbanks during the day.

(Note – if you love hippos while in South Africa, take a trip to iSimangaliso Wetlands, particularly St.Lucia. Hippos are known to walk around the town at night!)

Hippo in the grass
We saw many hippos out of the water during the day in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Rare Sighting of Animals in Kruger

The rarer animals to be seen in Kruger are the pangolin and black rhinos and some antelope species, such as Sable and Roan antelopes.

But would you believe it if we told you that we actually saw a pangolin in Kruger National Park? Incredibly, it was just a few weeks since we’d seen our first sighting of a pangolin in Klaserie National Park in Greater Kruger.

Some rangers we spoke to had lived their whole lives in South Africa, worked in the bush, and had never seen a pangolin in the wild. So we were extremely lucky.

It was one of our most treasured wildlife sightings.

Our rare pangolin sighting in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

The Ugly Five of Kruger

The Ugly Five

       ♦ Hyena ♦ Warthog ♦ Vultures ♦ Wildebeest ♦ Marabou Stork

The Big Five have developed and marketed their brand well – with most of us knowing the stars of the show.

But just because they have top billing doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most talented or most interesting of the animals in Kruger.

History has labelled them as such because hunters used to find them the most difficult and dangerous to shoot and capture. But there are a number of other mammals just as, if not more interesting as some of the Big 5.

vultures huddled around a kill
One of the Ugly FiveWhite-backed vultures waiting to move in on a kill ©Lifejourney4two

The vultures – well, yes, they’re probably not the prettiest of birds soaring the skies above Kruger. Nonetheless, they do an excellent job of cleaning up every last scrap and morsel of the mess left behind by the predators.

Vulture in Kruger national Park
The hooded vulture in Kruger Park (critically endangered), a lesser-seen vulture,  found mainly near rivers in Kruger  ©Lifejourney4two

The black-backed jackal is another animal you’ll likely see in Kruger and will also be happy for any scraps it finds.

The other bird in the Ugly 5 group is the Marabou stork, which does indeed have a very unfortunate look about it. You’ll likely find these in the trees or by the river just outside the entrance to Shingwedzi’s main camp.

marabou stork
Marabou Stork in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

The warthog, usually a common sighting in Kruger, is often found kneeling on its front legs, grazing and digging in the dirt or quickly trotting through the undergrowth.

Again, it’s probably a fair call to be lumped into this group, but it’s just as well they won’t be reading this — I’d hate for them to develop any self-esteem issues.  

two warthog in Kruger National Park
Warthogs in Kruger National Park ©Lifejourney4two

The Small Five and the Shy Five

There are also many smaller and more obscure animals in Kruger, some of which have been grouped into their own Big Five equivalent.  

The Kruger Ugly Five go hand in hand with the Small Five and the Shy Five.

I imagine these have been grouped together to highlight the other, albeit uglier, smaller, and shyer animals found in Kruger that are just as deserving of our attention.

For us to appreciate the underappreciated.

The Small Five:

  • Leopard tortoise
  • Lion ant
  • Rhino beetle
  • Elephant shrew
  • Buffalo Weaver

The Shy Five:

  • Meerkat
  • Aardvark
  • Porcupine
  • Aardwolf 
  • Bat-eared fox.

So many other animals in Kruger National Park deserve our attention, and Kruger is not Kruger without the whole gambit of wildlife.


Hornbills and rollers, bee-eaters and kingfishers, hoopoes and shrikes. These are just a few of the bird names that’ll be rolling off the tongue in Kruger. Not having a huge knowledge of South African birds, we were intrigued by the variety and appearance of Kruger’s array.

There are far too many bird species to go into detail about here, so we’ve covered them in much more detail in our Birds of Kruger post. Kruger is definitely a birder’s paradise.

Here are just a few of our favourites.

Bateleur eagle
Bateleur eagle finishing off lunch in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two
Southern ground hornbill ©Lifejourney4two
Lilac breasted roller
Lilac-breasted roller ©Lifejourney4two

Best Places to Spot Wildlife in Kruger

The Lower Sabie area is one of the best places to spot wildlife in Kruger. Situated on the banks of the Sabie River, this area is known for its abundant wildlife and picturesque scenery.

It is particularly renowned for its lion and leopard sightings and a variety of other big game, including elephants, rhinos, and buffalo.

Another great spot is the Satara Rest Camp, located in the park’s central region. This area is known for its large herds of grazers, such as zebras and wildebeests.

two Lioness-with-elephants-in-background
Kruger Lions laying with full bellies  ©Lifejourney4two

Additionally, the Timbavati River Road, which runs along the park’s western border, is an excellent location for birdwatching, with a wide range of bird species to be spotted. Other notable areas include the southern region near Berg-en-Dal and the northern region near Punda Maria. 

Overall, the Kruger National Park offers numerous opportunities to witness a diverse range of animals in their natural habitat. 

Lion and lioness beside river Lower Sabie
Lions on the banks of Sabie River ©Lifejourney4two

Wildlife in Southern Kruger

The southern part of Kruger Park is the most popular area for visitors to self-drive due to the more prolific wildlife in the area.

Known for: Rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dogs,

What we saw:  Lions, leopards, wild dogs, rhinos, giraffes, zebra, steenbok, impala, nyala, baboons, vervet monkeys, elephants, buffalo, kudu, waterbuck, hippos in and out of the river, and pangolin.

Mother and calf white rhino
Mother and calf white rhino spotted in Southern Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Good Places to Spot Animals in Southern Kruger

  • Biyamiti Weir Viewpoint: Good for spotting Hippos, crocodiles, birdlife and giraffes
  • H4-2 Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie: This road is known for spotting rhinos and cheetahs
  • The H4-1 north of Lower Sabie Rest Camp: Drive along the picturesque Sabie River and take a detour along the N’watimhiri Causeway
  • Sunset Dam (near Lower Sabie Rest Camp): The perfect place to chill and watch the various animals come to drink. Here, you’ll see hippos, crocs and plenty of water birds.
  • Lubyelubye River Crossing: As you drive south towards Lower Sabie, there are a few pull-offs to the left, just before the crossing. Here, there are great views of the river, and it is an excellent place to spot leopards and lions.
old buffalo in the grass
‘Dagga boy’ buffalo in southern Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Southern Kruger Rest Camps to Stay in

  • Crocodile Bridge
  • Berg-en-dal
  • Skukuza
  • Lower Sabie
  • Pretororiuskop

 Wildlife Viewing in Central Kruger

Central Kruger has more open savannah grasslands where you can find lots of zebra, wildebeest and the odd ostrich.

You can find troops of baboons and vervet monkeys, hippos and crocodiles near the rivers.

Central Kruger Known For: Lion, cheetah, leopard

What we saw: Lions, giraffes, zebra, steenbok, impala, baboons, vervet monkeys, elephants, kudu, waterbuck, blue wildebeest, honey badger, hyena and lots of Swainson spurfowl by the roads.

Honey badger in Kruger national park
We were thrilled to see a honey badger skipping around in the long grass in Central Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Good Places to Spot Animals in Central Kruger

  • The S100: This route has a mixture of riverine landscape and open savannah and is known for great sightings. However, we saw plenty of grazers here, but even though we drove it about 5 times, we never saw any predators. As always – it’s your luck on the day.
  • The Sweni Bird and Game Hide: A lovely dam with hippos, crocs and plenty of waterbirds.
  • H1 -3 Tshokwane Picnic site to Satara: This route has lots of open savannahs, so it’s relatively easier to spot animals. The picnic area at Tshokwane overlooks the river. And it was here that we watched elephants digging holes in the sand in search of water underneath.

Central Kruger Rest Camps

  • Orpen
  • Satara
  • Olifants (no camping)
  • Letaba
two impala head to head
Two male impalas practising their skills ©Lifejourney4two

Wildlife Viewing in Northern Kruger

The game viewing in the north of Kruger is not as prolific as in the south; therefore, there are fewer visitors in this area. This means that any viewings you have are likely to be far less crowded.

The northern part of Kruger attracts a wide variety of birds and is known as one of the premier birding areas in the world.

Known for: Elephants (including tuskers), a plethora of birds

What we saw: Elephants, leopards, baboons, vervet monkeys, impala, waterbuck, kudu, hippos, grysbok, nyala, zebra and giraffe.

Good Places to Spot Animals in Northern Kruger

  • The whole area: Bird watcher’s paradise
  • Crooks Corner
  • Mphongolo Loop (our favourite route of all)
  • Shingwedzi Loop (S52)
  • Red Rocks Lookout

Rest Camps in Northern Kruger

  • Mopani
  • Shingwedzi
  • Punda Maria
Leopard in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Why Kruger is a Great Safari Destination in South Africa

Kruger National Park is widely praised as one of the best safari destinations in South Africa and for good reason.

With the park stretching over such a vast swathe of northeast South Africa, Kruger offers an incredible diversity of wildlife and vegetation.

Visitors have the opportunity to spot the famous Big Five, elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and buffalo in their natural habitats. Because the animals in the Kruger are habituated to cars then it is easier to watch many animals go about their daily business seemingly unperturbed by the visitors around them.

We found that it was easier to find and photograph the animals in Kruger National Park because the wildlife didn’t bolt away compared to those not habituated to vehicles, such as in the more remote and less busy National Parks of Botswana.

Kruger caters to every type of traveller as it has a wide range of accommodation options, from luxury lodges to camping sites. Many of the campsites have shops and restaurants and offer game drives, including guided walks, bird watching, and night drives.

Impala – always on alert for predators  ©Lifejourney4two

Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park

The best time to visit Kruger depends on what you want to see and experience.

The park is open year-round, but the dry winter months from May to September are considered the best time for game viewing.

During this time, the vegetation is less dense, making it easier to spot wildlife, and the animals gather around water sources, making them easier to find. The weather is also more pleasant, with warm days and cool nights.

If you’re interested in birdwatching, however, the best time to visit Kruger is during the wet summer months from October to March. Many migratory bird species visit the park during this time, and the landscape is lush and green.

The summer months also bring baby animals, as many species give birth during this time.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Kruger National Park depends on what you prioritize – whether it’s game viewing, birdwatching, or seeing newborn animals. 


As dusk descends over Kruger National Park …

Hyenas whoop their ghostly calls.

Baboons and vervet monkeys take to the trees to roost.

Hippos grunt in a chorus before hoisting their bulbous bodies onto land, grazing 40 kilograms of grass before daybreak. 

Tiny bats swoop and flit as darkness sweeps across the savannah.

A lion roars, signalling the start of the Hunger Games – where no one is safe and only the strongest and smartest survive.

A shriek of a bird or bark of a baboon in the darkness — a reminder that the night is full of surprises as predators prowl. 

Lion claw holding the buffalo
Lion claw holds the buffalo steady ©Lifejourney4two

FAQs on Animals in Kruger National Park

What animals live in the Kruger National Park?

All of the most iconic African animals live in Kruger National Park including the Big Five, elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards, as well as many antelope species, zebras, giraffes, hippos, African wild dogs, warthogs, spotted hyenas, honey badgers, cheetahs and more.
Kruger National Park is home to 148 mammal species.

What is the most common animal in Kruger?

The most common animal seen in Kruger is the impala. You can’t drive far without coming across these pretty little antelopes. Other common sightings are elephants, zebra and giraffes.

What is the rarest sighting in Kruger?

The rarest sighting in Kruger is a pangolin — though we were extremely lucky to see one in Kruger National Park. The next rarest sighting in Kruger would be the black rhino, and a few of the antelope species, such as roan and sable.

Buffalo carcass in Kruger ©Lifejourney4two

Animals in Kruger National Park … That’s a Wrap

We hope this article has given you enough information on the animals of the Kruger National Park so you will know what to expect when you embark on a safari there.

As you can see the park is home to many animals and birds and is one of the best places to spot Africa’s iconic wildlife.

Immersion in nature does wonders for the soul and reminds us of the connectedness of all who share this planet.

It reminds us to be in the moment, to live for today. Beauty and brutality abound. But it is this rawness, this embodiment of nature in all its glory and gore that brings us back to our primitive being, back to our true selves.

Kruger is a feeling – it captures your heart.

Cheers and bottoms up!  ©Lifejourney4two

We are looking forward to continuing our Overlanding Africa trip and sharing many more memorable moments with Africa’s wildlife. 

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These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trips.

For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.

Photo of author


Shelley, a former primary school teacher with a law degree, is the owner and writer of Lifejourney4two. Beginning her adventure in Perth, Australia, she has since explored Europe's diverse landscapes and Africa's wilds, traveling in motorhomes, cars, and bush campers. Her travel guides blend practical advice with engaging storytelling, capturing the joys of life on the road. Shelley's transformation from 'One Day' to 'Day One' showcases her adventurous spirit and loves to inspire others to pursue their travel dreams.

2 thoughts on “Animals in Kruger National Park: A Safari Adventure”

  1. What a wonderful blog post! We loved seeing the pics of all the animals. This post reminded us of our own trip to Masai Mara. We missed the leopard in the Big 5 but saw all of the Ugly 5. 😀

    • Thank you for taking the time to leave a message — we’re so glad you enjoyed the post. Kruger has to be one of our favourite places in the world and can’t wait to get back to Africa to continue our overlanding trip 🙂 The Masai Mara is on our list and we still have to see a cheetah.


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