10 Rarely Seen Creatures to Tick Off Your Wildlife List
Words Nadia Krige, pic credits below images
Considered to be the flagship of South African National Parks, Kruger is a wonderland for anyone with a passion for wildlife and conservation.
While many first-time visitors could be forgiven for heading to the park solely for the enticing possibility of seeing the majestic Big 5 in their natural environment, those who go on a relatively regular basis may want to set themselves more challenging game viewing goals.
Fortunately Kruger National Park is home to a huge array of fauna and flora, including 148 mammal, 505 bird, and 118 reptile species, which means that there will practically always be something new to tick off your life list.
In honour of this, we’ve put together a list of 10 creatures that are rarely seen during your average game drive in the park. While some are seldom spotted due to small numbers, others are reasonably abundant, but just extremely shy.
So, next time you go to Kruger, why not set yourself a challenge and go in search of a few of these:
Sable antelope – Guillaume Marais/Slow Drive
Once widespread throughout the Kruger National Park, sable antelope numbers have seen a massive decline in the past few decades from approximately 2 000 in the 1970s to only a couple hundred in the past few years. The reason for their decline isn’t clear, however disease, drought-caused food shortages and predation are the most likely factors. Apart from the fact that there are so few of them left in the park, their striking good looks also make them a sought-after sighting.
Where to look: In the vicinity of Pretoriuskop rest camp among dry open woodland.
Pel’s Fishing Owl
Pel's fishing owl – D Keats/Flickr
If you’re an avid birder, we have absolutely no doubt in our minds that you have spent at least one sleepless night trying to hatch a plan to catch a glimpse of Pel’s fishing owl. These large nocturnal birds are extremely elusive, only coming out after sunset to hunt. During the day they are known to roost in pairs in high riverine trees. They are only found in the very northern reaches of the Kruger National Park.
Where to look: Roosting high up in tall trees along the banks of rivers in the Pafuri region of the park.
Sharpe’s grysbok - Tamara Krige/Solid Stuff
The Sharpe’s Grysbok is a small, shy and solitary creature found mostly in the northern parts of the Kruger National Park. It’s similar in looks and behaviour to its slightly larger and more common relative, the Cape Grysbok. They are extremely cute little antelope with a thick-set body and an almost scruffy-looking reddish coat, shot through with grey speckles.
Where to look: Sharpe’s Grysbok are most often spotted in the region of Punda Maria, Shingwedzi and Olifants rest camp. Apparently, the Mahonie Loop close to Punda Maria offers a particularly good chance of seeing them.
The Rock Elephant Shrew
Bushveld elephant shrew – Yathin/Wikimedia Commons
While they are by no means endangered, elephant shrews aren’t likely to be spotted during a game drive. Firstly because they are so damn tiny and secondly, they are superfast and would dash away at the first sign of danger. However, getting a glimpse of these sweet little things with their long snouts and beady eyes is a treat indeed.
Where to look: North of Shingwedzi, among rocks. Settle into a spot somewhere in a rest camp where you can keep a close eye on a rocky outcrop and you might be lucky to see one darting about on its daily business.
Cape Clawless Otter
Cape clawless otter - Mark Paxton/Wikimedia Commons
These cute-looking, but highly skilled hunters are found right throughout the park, anywhere that has a spot of water for it to swim and fish in. Despite their healthy distribution, getting to see an otter in Kruger is a rare delight. In 2013 a group of lucky game viewers managed to capture amazing footage of a family of cape clawless otters fishing in the Sabie River near Skukuza. Check out the video.
Where to look: From the elevated vantage point of bridges in the vicinity of Olifants, Letaba, Lower Sabie and Skukuza.
Aardwolf – Tim Ellis/Flickr
Looking a bit like a small and slight version of the spotted hyena, aardwolf are solitary, nocturnal predators who feed almost exclusively on termites. They are rarely seen before sunset, but may come out during the day to feed when termite hatches occur. Aardwolf seem to be highly adaptable and occur in a variety of environments from semi-arid Karoo plains to scrubby grasslands.
Where to look: Your best bet would be to head out on a guided night drive. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled in areas rich with termite mounds.
Roan antelope - Tamara Krige/Solid Stuff
Similarly to the Sable, Roan antelope were once relatively widespread throughout Kruger, numbering more than 2 000. However, the past few decades saw a shocking decline, with only about 70 now left in the park. Once again the reason for this decline is unclear, but sensitivity to altered rainfall patterns and climate change has been mentioned as a likely factor. As part of a conservation effort, a number of roan antelope are kept in a separate enclosure within the park for observation and breeding.
Where to look: Either in the very northern regions of Kruger, especially close to Babalala picnic spot in the vicinity of Punda Maria, or around Pretoriuskop in the south.
Pangolin – Masteraah/Wikimedia Commons
While South Africans are painfully aware of the terrible scourge of rhino poaching within the boundaries of the Kruger National Park, few may know that the pangolin is facing a similar battle. These strange, almost mythical-looking, armour-plated, ant-eating creatures are considered to be vulnerable species as their scales are sought-after ingredients in traditional healing methods. They are very seldom seen in the wild and if you should be lucky enough to spot one, treasure the moment forever.
Where to look: Similarly to the aardwolf, pangolins are nocturnal and feed on termites as well as ants, so your best bet would be to head out on a guided night drive.
Crested guinea fowl
Crested guinea fowl – Tamara Krige/Solid Stuff
If you have a penchant for ridiculous looking creatures, the crested guinea fowl will make your heart skip a beat. Found only in the northern regions of the Kruger National Park, they’re a true rarity to those who normally do their exploring in the south. Similar in build and size to their much more common relative, the helmeted guinea fowl, these birds have a definitive purplish quaff on the top of their heads that make them look like they just stepped out of the salon.
Where to look: This species is fond of hanging around Pafuri and Punda Maria rest camps and surrounds.
African Rock Python
African rock python - Graham J. Alexander/Wikimedia Commmons
This gargantuan species is found throughout the park, but not often spotted due to their excellent camouflage and tendency to laze about in sunny patches, making them very hard to see. Every now and then, however, amazing video footage – taken and shared by ordinary game viewers like you and I - of a python going about its daily business emerges. Who can forget that humongous snake that climbed right into the hood of the car and warmed himself close to the engine? Check out this video.
Where to look: Pythons are fond of sunny spots on rocky outcrops. If you’re intent on seeing one, make sure you do a good scan every time you pass a likely location.