Light has recently been shed on a blog done by Gerry van der Walt back in July of 2014. The blog was titled “Do you still believe in the Kruger?”.
Gerry & his wife visited Kruger and it was their first visit back after a long time away. He had heard several negative reports from friends that had visited before him, yet he kept an open mind & decided to visit regardless and see for himself if the “old” Kruger of days gone by still existed.
On this occasion Gerry was left wanting more, he was left disappointed. This is not because the animals had changed or perhaps the scenery was less striking. No, there were other factors at play, more of which I will discuss below.
You can read his full blog by CLICKING HERE.
Gerry and I did a video blog about this post a couple of weeks ago, and we shared our current thoughts on Kruger in there. We spoke honestly about some of the changes that had come about in Kruger over the last decade or so and in the end it boiled down to one thing.
View the PODCAST discussion between Gerry and I, by CLICKING HERE.
What left a sour taste in our mouths was not that Kruger had changed. No, there were a select number of happenings within and around Kruger that affected the way people visited & also made use of the park.
Now let me start off by saying that I am a Kruger-lover through and through. I try and take my family there as often as time allows, and it’s just such a joy to spend time in this iconic park. I grew up next to Kruger & have such fond memories of the park. My dad was involved within the safari industry and this saw me going to Kruger atleast twice a month as a kid. Even as I grew into a teenager, my love for Kruger never dwindled and I would still spend as much time possible in the park with my dad.
Below are a few pictures from my recent visit to Kruger with my family.
One of my very favorite things to do in the park is actually just to spend time in the rest camps (or lodge-area). I enjoy getting back from the morning game drive (you drive in your own vehicle) and having a brunch with my family in the main area of the camp. I love the birds that come and inspect your table for a morsel of food. Anything from doves, barbets, starlings & hornbills could arrive at your table. They are not shy & offer great entertainment.
I equally love returning from the afternoon drive & doing a little shopping in the park store. Getting back to your rondawel (chalet) and lighting that fire outside is priceless. In no time you’ll be sitting next to the fire with some meat on the grill, cold drink in your hand and your family by your side listening to the night sounds around you.
It truly is a magnificent haven for wildlife. To be able to drive through such a wilderness in the comfort of your own vehicle is a very special thing. The park is well maintained and managed & this makes it even easier to explore.
It’s a special place, of that I have no doubt! Many a family vacation has been spent here, it’s a true jewel of South Africa and it’s loved by all!
One of my Wild Eye colleagues also just returned from a short visit to Kruger with his wife. They had an enjoyable experience and you can read more about it in a blog post he compiled. You can see this post by CLICKING HERE.
I also want to make it clear, that the point of this blog is not to portray Kruger in a negative light. Absolutely not. Gerry had someone question Kruger as a potential safari destination after hearing how fondly Gerry spoke of the private reserves adjacent to Kruger as premier photographic destination. Ben was uncertain of a trip to Kruger & questioned Gerry’s blog from 2014, largely to try and establish if Kruger is worth visiting or not.
Now let me clearly state. YES, Kruger is worth visiting.
Ben wanted to compare Kruger to the adjacent private reserves & that formed the basis of our podcast discussion. The fact is, Kruger can’t consistently compete with that the private reserves offer. It’s just a different league all together. One would also not expect the “private reserve experience” in Kruger and that’s okay. We still love to visit and the beauty of Kruger is that anything can come across your path at anytime.
Yes, we love 5* camps like Mala Mala & Londolozi. It’s incredible to stay in these luxurious safari camps & to be treated like royalty. You have access to the very best guiding teams in the world and they ability to leave the road in pursuit of a select group of animals is special & allows wildlife photographers opportunities of a lifetime.
That said, Kruger is STILL worth visiting.
So, why this blog then?
I feel I need to shed some light on a few things that bother me personally about Kruger, changes that have come about in the recent decade that just does not sit well with me. Maybe these issues simply come along as Kruger changes over the years, or maybe there’s still a chance that they can be fixed.
Sightings can get crowded.
Yes, sightings that tend to last for a few days can often be a little crowded & that’s nothing new for Kruger. Think of lions feeding on a carcass close to the road. Many people will pass by & will be aware of that, and the story will also be shared with other folk. No problem at all. It’s great to see this & no doubt that there will be some traffic on the road seeing as there’s only so much space to park & view. So, what’s the problem then you might ask?
Well firstly, what’s compounded the traffic is the fact that the news now spreads much faster thanks to mobile apps pinpointing the position of the sightings as soon as a member of the app shares it, and secondly the number of safari operators in converted game viewers arriving by the dozens.
Do I hate these mobile apps? Absolutely not!
Mobile apps that share all the live locations of sightings as they unfold are a great development. It’s similar to the sightings update boards in the park’s restcamps, except more accurate & LIVE. I have no issue with this whatsoever as people have an idea of where animals are, and it allows you to plan your drive & allows you a better opportunity to see the animals you would really love to.
The largest issue for me with this is the WAY people respond to these apps & sighting updates.
People end up rushing to where the sightings are, often breaking the speed limit in order to do so. There’s now less viewing along the way as you know you’re headed to a leopard up a tree with a kill, or lions next to the road. All of a sudden you have a group of people all with the same intention, which is to get to the sightings before everyone else in order to get the best parking position & view of the animal/s. I am sure that this is not what the creators of the app intended, but it’s what has happened since & it no doubt has a negative affect on other visitors to the park & also clashes with the spirit of game viewing in Kruger – drive, enjoy the experience & see what you’ll find & discover along the way.
SANParks themselves have on several occasions released statement dissuading people from using these apps. They too feel that the app has a negative impact on people’s behaviour & the spirit of Kruger.
Here’s an excerpt from one of their statements…
“The introduction of mobile applications designed to share information on interesting animal sightings in national parks, particularly in the iconic Kruger National Park, has become a major cause for concern for South African National Parks (SANParks). The rise in the use of these applications has resulted in an increased rate of lawlessness in the Parks including speeding, congestion at sightings as well as road kills caused by guests rushing to and congregating around these sightings.
This is according to SANParks, Managing Executive: Tourism Development & Marketing Hapiloe Sello, who said SANParks has been inundated with scores of customer complaints emanating from the use of these mobile applications.
According to Sello since the arrival of these mobile apps, authorities have received a considerable increase in reports of speeding cases, road kills as well as road rage incidents at sightings. “As an organisation we appreciate the fact that technology has evolved and that guests are taking advantage of it, however this is compromising the values of good game viewing in national parks.”
She said SANParks holds a leading position globally in the conservation of bio-diversity and the management of eco-tourism; it would therefore be regrettable for SANParks to turn a blind eye to trends that reverse the gains made in these fields.”
“Most guests appreciate the leisurely drive through the parks and the potential reward of a good sighting as a key element of the visitor experience. This is an experience that SANParks commits to protecting and therefore the usage of these mobile applications is in direct contradiction to the ethos of responsible tourism espoused by SANParks.”
“We at SANParks discourage the use of these mobile applications as they tend to induce an unhealthy sense of eagerness for visitors to break the rules and, we are exploring legal mechanisms to curtail the use of sightings apps,” concludes Sello.“
CLICK HERE to see part of this statement on the SANParks website.
If I was the only one concerned about the effect of mobile sightings updates, I would understand your dismissal of my write-up here. Clearly though other visitors too are aware of the disturbance, and so are the park authorities.
The thought of people racing from one sighting to another, potentially killing innocent animals along the way as well as wrecklessly speeding past other cars, is a harrowing thought. It goes against everything that Kruger National Parks stands for. SANParks view it as a “direct contradiction to the ethos of responsible tourism espoused by SANParks”.
Clearly the use of mobile apps within the park needs a rethink.
Another major issue and area of concern for me, is the number of operators within the park driving modified game viewers. Again, this is a great form of business & generates revenue for the park as well as private companies. That said, the manner in which the majority of the operators conduct themselves and the level of professionalism displayed by the “guides” driving them is utterly poor at best.
All of these vehicles are in communication by radio and are able to communicate sightings to each other. This results in something similar described above – game viewers flocking to high profile sightings, en masse. Many of these operators feel that they have right of way when it comes to sightings, and you’ll often see them occupying the very best positions. These vehicles are also large & easily obstruct the view for many others around them. The guides driving them are more often than not less-than-professional and I often think of how poorly they portray themselves to international visitors and what a shame it is that guests should get their first impressions of a safari under these circumstances.
I have also seen these very operators make use of the sightings-apps, merely confirming my fears mentioned above. You now have the public as well as these private operators making use of pinpoint locations of high-profile animals. Yes, you can guess the response.
Surely this is not healthy for Kruger & for it’s die-hard & faithful visitors seeking an enjoyable getaway? Surely this has a negative effect?
Again, let me state that I am not looking to give Kruger a bad reputation here. I am merely pointing out issues that have come to bother me in a personal capacity.
It’s always easy to point out the problems, but what about the solutions?
The fact is that solutions do exist. They are out there & will no doubt restore balance back to the Kruger experience. What are my thoughts on this?
Firstly, if you’re still reading along and visit Kruger from time to time, I’d urge you to consider how your actions can impact on the experience of those around you. Some of the concerns I mention above won’t be much of a factor if we all simply took a step back, looked at how we interact with Kruger, and then proceed in the correct manner. Kruger is there to be enjoyed by everyone. We should not be reminded of basic etiquette.
Do not litter in the park. Do not play your music loudly. Do not speed. Do not feed the animals. Be mindful of fellow visitors. These are basic things expected of you & they are certainly not asking too much of us.
By all means, make use of techology mobile apps bring to you. It’s a great way of staying updated with regards to locations & interesting sightings. If you follow these apps regularly you’ll know that they’ve shared user footage of fantastic animal behaviour, much of which would have gone un-shared had it not been for these platforms.
In the same breath, try not to rely too heavily on these live updates, so much so that it ruins what should have been an adventure of discovery.
One of the best things about game drives in Kruger is the fact that you don’t know what you’ll come across next. It could be anything from a herd of impala to a crash of rhinos. How exciting is that not?
It should be an adventure, an experience.
Absolutely do not speed from one sighting to the next. You’ll end up endangering the lives of small animals such as mongooses, snakes, ground-dwelling birds and more. Slow-flying birds such as rollers & hornbills can’t get out of the way in time and often fall victim to speeding vehicles.
I’ll never forget when a supply vehicle to Skukuza Camp – the main camp in the park – killed no less than 7 impala. He was undoubtedly speeding & the horrific scene afterwards paid testament to that. His vehicles brake-marks were clearly visible. A vehicle traveling at the correct speed would NOT commit such an injustice. The company responsible claimed the driver was not in the wrong, but the evidence clearly suggests otherwise.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see this and it’s something that could have been so easily avoided.
If you’ve not yet done so, you need to spend more time in the north of the park. It’s a less-visited region of Kruger and therefore far less vehicles are seen when out and about on game drive. Yes, there are fewer of the big 5 and other animals everyone loves to see, but you’ll discover a different side to Kruger. It’s crazy beautiful up there and if you enjoy the experience for what it is, you might just see your favorite animals too & have them all to yourselves.
Also, why not consider visiting outside of popular periods. School holidays in the park can be an absolute nightmare. Similarly public holidays and long weekends can also be rather crowded and booking your safari experience to Kruger outside of these will not be the worst idea.
I also had a brief discussion with Jono Buffey, and both of us agree that Kruger’s entrance fee’s are too low. Yes yes, I know all South Africans will hound me for saying this, but if you compare what Kruger charges versus any other park in different parts of Africa, you’ll notice a massive price gap. Kruger is cheap!
Entrance into the park for 2 of you & your vehicle will cost you less than $25. Per day to be in the park is no more than $8. If you compare this with the rates of parks such as Chobe, Mana Pools, the Serengeti or the Mara you’ll soon see that Kruger is dirt-cheap! I do think that there’s a debate worth having around raising the costs of being in the park, or in the least bit the entrance fee itself. It’ll mean not only fewer visitors to the park but also more funds to fund the existence & everyday running of the park itself.
At the end of the day, it’s a park steeped in magnificent history. It’s a park built for the enjoyment of the people. We all have the responsibility of preserving it’s reputation, it’s heritage.
I still believe in Kruger. I still yearn to visit & try and do so as often as I can. I have the fondest of childhood memories of Kruger. I can even say with absolute certainty that if it were not for Kruger, I would not have been where I am today. Kruger laid the foundation for what was to become my career as a safari guide & wildlife photographer.
So yes, I still believe in Kruger, but if change does not come about who knows what conversations we’ll be having a decade from today.
Thanks for reading this far. I’d love to hear your thoughts, regardless of what they are. Comment below and I will reply soonest.
Gerry’s blog – Do you still believe in the Kruger.
Podcast between Marlon & Gerry discussing Kruger as a photographic destination, and comparing it to private reserves as a photographic destinations, as asked to do by a guest.
Trevor’s recent visit to Kruger.
Till next time,