Apart from the famous Big Five safaris that the Greater Kruger is world-renowned for, our Reserve also contains countless other amazing animals you’re likely to come across.
Let’s introduce you to seven of these fascinating creatures!
Unfortunately for these solitary, mostly nocturnal and utterly unique creatures, they are amongst the most trafficked animals on earth. Rather like rhino horn, their scales are foolishly believed to have medicinal properties. Their meat is also deemed a great delicacy in several Asian countries.
This has brought pangolins to the brink of extinction despite the fact that they’re the only ‘armoured’ mammal as they’re covered in scales. When they’re threatened, they roll up into a ball which is impregnable to most predators – except humans, alas.
Pangolins are important to the environment – with their long, sticky tongues that can hoover up vast numbers of ants and termites which help to maintain a natural balance. Let’s hope that the belief prevalent in Zimbabwe -where pangolins are seen as a symbol of good luck and there’s an absolute taboo on killing them- soon becomes more widespread!
Occasionally weighing in at up to a hefty 30 kg (or 66 lbs) porcupines are Africa’s largest rodents. They are quite plentiful in the Greater Kruger, but aren’t often seen because they are largely nocturnal. They generally spend the day in a burrow and only come out in the evening to forage on bulbs, tubers, roots, fruit and bark, and will also gnaw on bones to ingest calcium.
They have long and mobile whiskers and a blackish-brown coat of coarse, bristly hairs. Their most unique feature is the crest of spines and quills they have on their backs and flanks. These white and black quills and spines can be erected and rattled when the animal is threatened. Many a predator has regretted tangling with a porcupine as they’ve been spiked by these very sharp weapons!
Hyenas are a keystone species, and are strong, intelligent, tough, opportunistic predators that both hunt and scavenge very effectively. Most of the hyenas in the Greater Kruger are spotted hyenas.
They are very distinctive with their thick spotted coats, sloping backs, strong bulky shoulders, incredibly powerful jaws, and characteristic ‘laugh’, which is one of about ten different vocalisations they use.
Hyenas are indefatigable hunters that run down their prey with a tireless pace that they can maintain for kilometres. Their prey includes antelope, wildebeest and even occasionally buffalo. They’ve even been known to take fish during drought conditions!
Hyenas are social animals with very close bonds to their young which are normally reared in a communal den. Every hyena clan is led by a large dominant female. Hyenas play a vital role in returning calcium and phosphorus to the environment.
Though there is never a guarantee of finding one of these beautiful spotted felines, the Greater Kruger is a stronghold of this endangered creature. Built for speed, with long legs, lean bodies and small heads, cheetahs can sprint at speeds of up to 75 mph or 120 kph.
They use their incredible acceleration and speed to run down their prey like impala, duiker, steenbok, reedbuck, warthog, zebra, waterbuck, kudu, duiker and scrub hares. Cheetah males are typically significantly larger than females, so they tend to go for the larger prey.
Climate change, pressure by humans and habitat destruction all threaten the cheetah’s survival. They are also low on the predator totem pole, so lions, hyenas and leopards often chase them off their prey. Their low reproductive rate further complicates their continued existence.
This beautiful ‘masked cat’ is seen fairly regularly on our Reserve, most usually during an evening game drive. They aren’t cats at all, though, but are most closely related to the mongoose and have their own unique genus.
They have short, thick, greyish fur with rows of black spots, an erectile dorsal crest, and non-retractable claws.
Their omnivorous diet includes insects, rodents, birds, eggs, reptiles, frogs, crabs, carrion, and even fruit and berries. They have up to three litters per year of up to four precocial ‘kittens’ that can start catching prey by the age of only two months. \
They live in both wooded and open areas, but like tall grasses and thickets for safety during the day. These African Civets are usually found close to water and even swim well!
The fearless honey badger is probably Africa’s toughest, feistiest, and most aggressive creature. They’re given a wide berth by anything with a lick of sense, and that includes lions! They will quite literally attack anything if they’re in danger. Their remarkably powerful bite for their modest 12-14kg body size can crush the shell of a tortoise.
With powerful claws they’re superb diggers, and their loose rubbery skins allow them to escape from any grip. Their remarkable problem-solving abilities were amply proven by Stoffel at an animal sanctuary in Hoedspruit.
Their diets are omnivorous as they feed on eggs, small mammals, roots, fruit, insects, reptiles, larvae, grubs – and honey! Honeyguides, pale chanting goshawks, and spotted eagle-owls often follow badgers to take advantage of their hunting activities and share in the spoils.
These little mongoose-like creatures are fascinating to watch. They live in large extended family groups of up to 30 individuals in burrows that they dig with their powerful claws and teeth.
During the day, they take turns on sentry duty while the others forage or sunbathe. The sentinel gives a warning call if predators, such as eagles or snakes, are spotted. The meerkats will immediately dive into their burrows for safety.
When they emerge, they’ll often do a little ‘meerkat ballet’ where they stand on their hind legs and put their front paws in the air to check that all is well! They are very social animals and will groom each other to reinforce social bonds.
As you can see, there are many interesting and unique creatures that call Thornybush home! Be sure to keep an eye out for them – as well as the elusive Shy Five – when you’re out on a game drive or bush walk.