Guest Blog: The Kruger Experience – Private vs National Park

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Private concession vs. Kruger National Park: A personal experience

After taking part in the Wild Eye Kruger Photo Safari hosted by Johan van Zyl this August (see Johan’s blog post on this unique experience) I continued my trip into the public area of Kruger National Park.  As I didn’t want to “Ferrari-safari” through the legendary park I only stayed in its southern section at three different rest camps: Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie and Berg-en-Dal.

It was a completely different experience to visit the public area – I will try to frame my experience with these two safaris from the photographical point of view leaving aside the high quality guiding and photographical assistance as well as the high quality of the lodge during the Wild Eye safari, which were really unique!

First of all it seems important to mention that the private concessions are not fenced against the national park. Animals roam freely between the areas and there’s quite a high chance to encounter the same individuals both in the private and public areas. Species diversity also is equal although I saw a few species more in the national park due to the higher variety of habitats covered by my self-drive game drives.

Lion sighting in the Kruger National Park


Lion sighting in a private concession within Kruger

Private concession in Kruger

Private Concession in Kruger

Private Concession in Kruger

The main difference for me was the quality of the sightings of large predators and other highly sought-after species: While the sightings in the private concessions are managed – which means there won’t be more than just a few cars at a special sighting – guest and tour guides in the national park struggle to get the best places at a sighting and it can get really crowded. And not everyone by far is sticking to whatever code of ethics at sightings – there seem to be many people in the public area who don’t have any idea of animals and their behaviour as well as requirements of other guest, just trying to tick the Big Five in a possibly record-breaking time. Thoughtfulness and cooperation seem to be a foreign concept for some of these visitors.

 

Private Concession in Kruger

As the special sightings are not managed in the national park it is strictly prohibited to go off-road, even for official guides. Even if a sighting is really great it can be very (!) far away from the roads offering nice views with a binocular, but really inappropriate to create proper images or – even more – intimate close-ups.

I have to admit that my experience value in the national park dropped dramatically sometimes, e.g. seeing a leopard just through open windows of three other cars or lions on one of the main bridges near Lower Sabie in a traffic jam. Therefore I decided to change my strategy focussing on the smaller, ‘unspectacular’ animals and side roads within the park.

Kruger National Park

This strategy proofed to be golden – I really experienced nice sightings of all the smaller antelopes, different bird species and even wild dogs at one occasion (of which I only managed to get a proof shot though). And the best thing about it was: At these sightings I didn’t experience any disturbance by bustling “Big Five twitchers”. Sometimes there were no other visitors around and if so, they were also in a very relaxed mode spending much time on single sightings without rushing to the next spot.

Kruger National Park 

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park 

Kruger National Park

To come to a conclusion: I clearly preferred staying at the private concession, but being on my own in the public area of Kruger had its advantages, too, e.g. spending more time with species not of special interest to most guests. Regarding wildlife photography the preferred destination depends on the kind of images you want to create: Proof and documentary shots can be taken in both areas, but it becomes more sophisticated if you want to create storytelling or abstract images. I’m quite sure you can get these in the public area, too, but it will take a lot more time and your frustration tolerance has to be rather high sometimes.

I will return to Kruger National Park next August to focus on landscape, the smaller animals and special bird species.

But – I have to admit – I will be on the Chitake Springs and Mana Pools safari with Wild Eye before “relaxing” in the Kruger.

Manfred Foeger

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