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Kruger ecozones

Regular visitors to Kruger National Park will have developed favourite camps and roads that they come back to over and over because they know where to find their favourite mammals, birds and trees along tried and tested routes.  This experience is accumulated over time and is priceless.  But it also risks missing an important question: Why? 

 

Why are those predators found along that road?  Why do the herbivores they hunt live there?  And why do these favourite trees grow here but not there? 

 

The answers to these questions lie in the geology and ecozones of the park.  Everything in nature is intimately linked and understanding the physical landscape around you will help you understand the vegetation that grows there.  This in turn informs which herbivores and birds are able to survive in that habitat, which then explains why certain predators are successful in that area too. 

 

Understanding more about the park around you will undoubtedly enhance your self-drive Kruger safari experience.  We have therefore adopted a ‘ground-up’ approach in the Routes described in the KrugerExplorer App, whereby they all briefly explain the landscape and vegetation you are travelling through to help educate why particular species of animals reside there.

 

This Ecozones information provides further detailed information on the earthly foundations of Kruger National Park for those interested in learning more.  And don’t forget, this deeper understanding will help you pick the right camps and areas of the park to suit your interests and help you to have the most enjoyable trip possible. It just might shortcut the years of experience built up by those regular visitors who know just where to find their favourite animals too! 

All of the information on this page is also found within the KrugerExplorer App, ensuring you can also access it when offline during your Kruger safari.

Kruger ecozones index:

 

Ecozone map overview

​There are 16 distinct ecozones found within Kruger National Park.  Each ecozone is underpinned by different geological rock, soil and sedimentary layer types, which in turn drives the local vegetation to create a distinct ecozone.  Use these maps in conjunction with the descriptions below to learn more about each area of Kruger National Park and the wildlife you are likely to find there.

 

Ecozones of Kruger National Park

A: Mixed bushwillow woodlands on granite

Kruger cover: 11%

Trees: Red bushwillow, leadwood, apple-leaf, knob thorn

Herbivores: Kudu, giraffe, impala, klipspringer

Predators: Lion, spotted hyena, wild dog

 

Gentle undulating hills and large rocky outcrops are common in areas of granite bedrock, slowly carved out over billions of years by water and wind erosion.  The soils produced by granite tend to be sandy and low in nutrients.  The tops of granite hills are often quite bare and exposed, with sour grasses and little large vegetation.  In turn, these nutrient-deficient plants attract only specially-adapted wildlife such as klipspringer.

 

However, further down the hills and in valleys between the hills, the dense granite holds water and the sandy soils washed down from the hilltops start to form soft clays that are more capable of holding nutrients.  The valleys and lower levels of granite hillslopes therefore tend to support taller trees and sweeter grasses, attracting considerably more wildlife. 

 

A particularly dominant vegetation type in this ecozone is red bushwillow.  Its leaves are a favoured food source of browsers such as kudu and impala, which in turn attract apex predators.  The wood of red bushwillow is claimed to be the finest braai fuel you can find in Kruger too! 

 

Within Kruger, this ecozone is most prevalent in the south of the park.  The S36 west of Satara runs through the heart of a long section of mixed bushwillow woodlands and the H1-1 and H3 north of Malelane Gate also traverse large masses of this habitat.  The Napi Trail route is also within this ecozone and the area surrounding the Punda Maria rest camp in the far north of the park is a similar habitat type.

B: Pretoriuskop sourveld on granite

Kruger cover: 3%

Trees: Large-fruited bushwillows, silver cluster-leaf, brack thorn, knob-thorn

Herbivores: Kudu, impala, sable, klipspringer, reedbuck

Predators: Lion, leopard, side-striped jackal

 

This ecozone is an interesting mix of undulating granite hills and valleys with vegetation that has been influenced by humans and their use of the land over time.  Similar to the ecozone A: Mixed bushwillow woodlands, the landscape is formed by water and wind erosion over millennia, producing nutrient-deficient hilltops and rocky outcrops with more fertile valleys and drainage lines either side. 

 

However, this area around the Pretoriuskop Camp was farmed by Europeans in the past, leaching nutrients from the valley and hillslope areas.  Different plant species are able to flourish in these soil conditions, such as large-fruited bushwillow and silver cluster-leaf.  The underlying grasses are sour throughout too. 

 

These plants attract specially-adapted animals such as klipspringers (on the rocky outcrops) and sable antelope (grazing on the sour grasses). 

 

The only example of this ecozone in Kruger is to the north and south of the Pretoriuskop Camp, with the S3, S7 and S10 plus S8 and S14 being the main roads for exploring it. 

C: Malelane mountain bushveld on granite

Kruger cover: 3%

Trees: Red bushwillow, large-fruit bushwillows, apple-leaf, knob-thorn

Herbivores: Kudu, mountain reedbuck

Predators: Lion, spotted hyena

 

This ecozone is a continuation of the A: Mixed bushwillow woodlands on granite but with a mountainous physical profile and drainage system.  The granite mountains produce nutrient-deficient soils and the steep slopes means soil depths are very shallow and stony.  However, the valleys have a greater density of nutrients washed into them from higher slopes, with deeper clay soils and many flowing drainage lines. 

 

While the tree vegetation remains similar to the nearby mixed bushwillow woodlands, the grasses are a different mix of very sour and very sweet, attracting different grazers.  This is subsequently one of the few areas of Kruger where mountain reedbuck may be encountered, along with kudu, reedbuck and sable.

 

The area around and to the northwest of Berg-en-Dal rest camp is the only example of this ecozone in Kruger.  The S110 and S120 are the primary game-viewing roads here, while the southern-most points of the H3 and S114 (only as far as the S121) also traverse this terrain.  The Bushman / Boesman Trail is also based in this ecozone.

D: Sabie / Crocodile thickets on granite

Kruger cover: 6%

Trees: Red bushwillow, sickle bush, flaky-thorn, other dense thorn trees

Herbivores: Elephant, kudu, giraffe, impala, bushbuck

Predators: Lion, leopard, spotted hyena

 

This granite-based ecozone lacks the undulating hills of most ancient granite terrains, having been more evenly eroded by the flow of large rivers over the millennia.  The result is a fairly flat, open terrain that has accumulated sandy clays soils that are reasonably deep but remain limited in nutritional content. 

 

A range of thorny trees and shrubs are best able to take advantage of these soils and grow in dense thicket stands.  The grasses are also sweet in the soft soils. 

 

This habitat is good for a range of browser species including large elephant herds, while water-dependent grazers such as hippo and buffalo are also successful.  These large herbivore populations attract all the major apex predators, making for outstanding game viewing country.

 

This ecozone is best characterised by the veld surrounding Skukuza rest camp.  Much of the H4-1 and H1-2 roads traverse this terrain, as do the eastern parts of the H1 and S1, the northern part of the H1-1 and a number of other ancillary roads including the H12 and S65.

E: Thornveld on gabbro

Kruger cover: 4%

Trees: Red bushwillow, round-leaved teak, knob-thorn, marula

Herbivores: Zebra, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, buffalo, warthog

Predators: Lion, cheetah, spotted hyena

 

Gabbro rock comes from incursions of magma through cracks in the granite bedrock billions of years ago.  Ancient and very hard, the areas of gabbro found within Kruger tend to be quite narrow veins in the midst of granite-dominated terrains. It produces a rolling plains landscape with boulders dotted around.

 

The erosion particles derived from gabbro are very fine and create dark, waterlogged soils that contain good nutrient levels.  This in turn supports excellent sweet grasses that zebra and wildebeest thrive on.  Thorn and bushwillow trees also prosper here and provide good browse for kudu and giraffe.  Apex predators follow and the flattish lands offer good terrain for cheetah. 

 

The distribution of this ecozone is patchy within the park, often only being present in small, narrow sections.  Unfortunately, no road follows the course of a gabbro vein either but, to the west of Satara, the H7 between the S12 and S106 junctions is the longest stretch of road to traverse thorn veld on gabbro habitats.  Additionally, the westernmost 7km of the H7 as you approach Orpen Camp / Gate is also representative of this ecozone.

F: Knob-thorn / marula savannah on basalt

Kruger cover: 7%

Trees: Knob-thorn, marula, leadwood, round-leafed teak

Herbivores: Zebra, wildebeest

Predators: Lion, cheetah, spotted hyena

 

The geology of much of the eastern half of Kruger is basalt rocks.  This soft material is easily eroded by wind and water, creating the vast plains that stretch the length of Kruger to the west of the Lebombo Mountains.

 

Basalt soils are rich in nitrogen and therefore very fertile.  Sweet grasses grow over great expanses although fires prevent significant tree cover from taking hold.  Where trees have developed, knob-thorn and marula is most prevalent, along with leadwood along drainage lines. 

 

The vast grassy plains attract large herds of zebra and wildebeest.  Buffalo and ostrich may also be seen here, while browsers tend to be small, such as steenbok.  The great plains predators follow the herds, including lion, cheetah and spotted hyena.

 

Satara rest camp sits at the heart of this ecozone, with the H1-3, H6 and S100 roads traversing this savannah habitat and offering some of the best game viewing sections of the park.  Lower Sabie rest camp and the excellent H10, northern H4-2 and S28 roads also sit within this ecozone.

G: Delagoa thorn thickets on ecca shales

Kruger cover: 3%

Trees: Delagoa thorn acacia, many-stemmed false-thorn

Herbivores: Giraffe, kudu, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest

Predators: Lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena

 

A narrow strip of geological terrain called ecca shale separates the southern half of Kruger’s basalt plains in the east from the granite-dominated terrains in the west.  Ecca shale is a sedimentary rock formed by the layering of deposits from swamps millions of years ago.  Rich in organic nutrients but very soft, they erode quickly and create a continuation of the flat basalt plains further east.

 

The clay soil created by ecca shale is perfect for the delagoa thorn acacia and the many-stemmed false-thorn, which almost exclusively grow on this soil type.  They are particular favourites of giraffe, plus kudu are common here.  The grasses are sweet and attract buffalo, zebra and wildebeest from the neighbouring basalt plains as well as waterbuck.  

 

All of these herbivores are stalked by the major plains apex predators while the larger trees are used by leopard.  Roads through this terrain are also good for birding. 

 

This ecozone has limited cover within Kruger and is mostly crossed fleetingly by roads.  Between Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge rest camps, the southern half of the H4-2 and all of the S130 traverse this terrain.  The H7 / S12 / S40 triangle west of Satara rest camp also track through these habitats, while all of the roads heading west from the H1-3 cross the landscape for a short time.

H: Riverine communities

Kruger cover: <1%

Trees: Sycamore fig, jackalberry, river thorn, nyala tree, fever tree

Herbivores: Hippos, waterbuck, nyala, bushbuck, duiker

Predators: Crocodile, leopard, baboon, fish eagle

 

Riverine communities are a general ecozone category for the habitats found in the immediate vicinity of rivers and waterways regardless of the underlying geology. 

 

Riverine habitats offer different conditions and nutrients for plant life.  Access to water is hugely important to all the large animals in the park while presenting new predatorial risks from species such as crocodiles.

 

Trees commonly found along riverbanks include sycamore figs, jackalberry, river thorn and nyala tree, with fever tree also occurring in the far north of the park.  The higher moisture content of this surrounding environment permits juicier fruits, which in turn attract mammals such baboon and nyala.  Some of the best birding areas of the park are found in these locations too, with many species largely limited to wetlands. 

 

The major rivers of the park are (from north to south): Limpopo, Luvuvhu, Shingwedzi (seasonal), Letaba, Olifants, Sabie and Crocodile.  All have varying ‘riverine communities’ habitats in the immediate vicinity.

I: Lebombo mountain bushveld on rhyolite

Kruger cover: 8%

Trees: Lebombo euphorbia, Lebombo ironwood, shepherd’s tree

Herbivores: Klipspringer, impala, waterbuck

Predators: Leopard, spotted hyena

 

The Lebombo mountain range forms the eastern boundary of Kruger, as well as South Africa’s international border with Mozambique.  These highlands consist of a very hard and slow-wearing rock called rhyolite. While these are similar characteristics to the granite found in the western half of the park, rhyolite comes from lava that cooled rapidly near the surface of the earth’s crust. 

 

Its soils are rich in silica compounds but deficient in organic materials and nutrients.  The slow erosion of rhyolite and the exposed mountainous landscape also means that any newly created soil is rapidly displaced by wind and rain, leaving little for plants to grow in.  Any grasses that are able to get a foothold in this rocky environment are lacking in nutrients and do not attract many grazers.

 

Despite these challenges, some of the deep gorges may be able to gather sufficient soil coverage and nutrients to support larger trees and sweeter grasses. 

 

Specially adapted flora and fauna tend to live in these habitats, with the Lebombo Mountains hosting locally endemic plant species and mammals such as klipspringer.

 

Virtually no public access roads in the park traverse this ecozone, owing to the difficulties with constructing and maintain roads in such difficult terrain.  The last few kilometres of the H15 approaching Giriyondo Gate and border crossing do cover these habitats, while the N’wanetsi Picnic Site (H6) and Olifants Lookout (S44) are just inside this ecozone too. The Olifants Trail does incorporate this landscape and is a unique experience to undertake.

J: Olifants rugged veld on rhyolite and basalt

Kruger cover: 2%

Trees: Tall common corkwood, knob-thorn, shepherd’s tree

Herbivores: Zebra, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe

Predators: Lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena

 

This ecozone consists of open basalt plains with rhyolite boulders strewn across the landscape.  The basalt is a soft, nutrient-rich rock that erodes easily and forms flat plains.  The rhyolite is much hardier but lacks nutrients and will have been deposited by water and wind movement from the higher nearby Lebombo Mountains which are formed from this rock.  The soil is a stony mix of the two and the result is a habitat that is reasonably fertile but difficult for animals (including humans) to navigate or for plants to take hold.

 

When good rains arrive, grasses burst into life, but this area is otherwise quite barren.  Trees able to prosper here include tall common corkwood, knob-thorn and shepherd’s tree.  Grasses are a mix of sweet and unpalatable depending on the season and quality of the immediate soil.

 

Kudu and klipspringer may browse here, while sufficient graze for zebra and wildebeest is usually available.  Populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena usually follow and the open landscape can offer outstanding game viewing. 

 

Only present in one area within Kruger, the road network to the south of Olifants rest camp traverse these habitats. 

K: Stunted knob-thorn savannah on basalt and calcrete

Kruger cover: 2%

Trees: Knob-thorn, buffalo-thorn

Herbivores: Zebra, wildebeest

Predators: Lion, cheetah

 

In this ecozone, a shallow layer of soft, nutrient-rich basalt sits above calcrete. The latter is a sedimentary substance that forms at limited depths through the leaching of nutrients from layers of soil above or water transpiration from bedrock layers below. 

 

This geology is effective at holding water meaning pans and marshy terrain can appear quickly when rains arrive.  In turn, dense grasses take hold, creating huge meadow-like plains.  Trees are less able to prosper here because of wildfires and the limited soil depth.  Knob-thorn and buffalo-thorn that does grow is stunted in height as a result. 

 

Grazers such as zebra and wildebeest are well-represented in these terrains.  Lion and cheetah may follow.

 

This ecozone is only present in one area of Kruger – the S90 and a section of the H1-4 between Satara and Olifants rest camps traverse the habitat and offers some stunning scenery.

L: Mopane shrubveld on basalt and calcrete

Kruger cover: 15%

Trees: Mopane shrub

Herbivores: Elephant, eland, roan, tsessebe

Predators: Lion, leopard, spotted hyena

 

This is the largest single ecozone in Kruger and will be familiar to any visitors who have explored the region between Olifants and Shingwedzi rest camps.  The Mopani rest camp sits at the heart of this habitat. 

 

In this ecozone, a shallow layer of nutrient-rich basalt sits above calcrete, creating a flat expanse. The calcrete is a sedimentary substance that forms at limited depths through the leaching of nutrients from layers of soil above or water transpiration from bedrock layers below. 

 

Unlike ecozone K: Stunted knob-thorn savannah on basalt and calcrete, the soils here are slightly deeper and form a denser clay, making it easier for mopane shrubs to take hold.  The roots quickly hit the calcrete layer, however, preventing them from extending deeply enough for the mopane shrubs to grow into full-sized trees.

 

The density of grasses able to prosper here is significantly reduced too, although those that do grow have good nutrient content from the basalt. 

 

Specialist browsers are found in this environment, including eland, while some rare grazers are also located here, such as roan and tsessebe.

 

A large number of roads pass through this ecozone within Kruger.  Starting from Olifants rest camp, the H8, H1-5 and H1-6 until Mopani rest camp are exclusively in these habitats.  The S50 combines this ecozone with riverine communities and makes for a very special route.  The H1-7 and H1-8 into the far north of the park also traverse the mopaneveld. 

M: Alluvial plains

Kruger cover: 1%

Trees: Fever tree, jackalberry, sycamore fig, Transvaal mustard tree, apple-leaf, Natal mahogany, leadwood

Herbivores: Nyala, bushbuck, buffalo, waterbuck, hippo

Predators: Lion, leopard, baboon, crocodile

 

Alluvial plains are flat habitats formed by the deposit of minerals from flood waters and are therefore found near major rivers prone to flooding.  The mineral content is usually swept from highlands further up river, adding a different mix of nutrients to the local supply and making for excellent plant growth environments.  The underlying soils are sedimentary and soft. 

 

A huge variety of flora is able to prosper in these habitats including fever trees, jackalberry, sycamore figs, Transvaal mustard tree, apple-leaf, Natal mahogany and leadwood.  Many of the trees produce succulent fruits which attract many bird and herbivorous mammals.  Nyala and bushbuck particularly favour these habitats along with buffalo and waterbuck.  Lion and leopard stalk them. 

 

These habitats can be altered dramatically by flood, sweeping away trees and creating new landscapes.  The ‘velocity’ of recycling nutrients here is therefore very high.

 

There are two main areas of alluvial plains in Kruger, although there are some differences between them as well.  In the far north of the park, the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers form two sections of plains in close proximity.  The Luvuvhu is largely perennial so there is usually a constant supply of fresh water here. 

 

In contrast, the other area of alluvial plains is along the Shingwedzi and Mphongolo River system near Shingwedzi rest camp.  Here the rivers are seasonal but prone to dramatic flooding, creating alluvial plains with some different characteristics. 

 

Both offer areas of outstanding natural beauty, some of the best birding in Kruger and a great variety of mammal species.

N: Sandveld

Kruger cover: 2%

Trees: Lebombo ironwood, white seringa, pod mahogany, baobabs

Herbivores: Nyala, grysbok

 

Sandveld refers to the rugged sandstone hills and outcrops within Kruger.  Here the soils are sandy and poor at retaining water, discouraging grasses from growing but allowing large, deep-rooted trees that are able to access water to prosper. 

 

Lebombo ironwood, white seringa, pod mahogany and mighty baobabs are able to flourish in these habitats but do not provide significant food sources for large mammals. 

 

Despite there being some quite large expanses of sandveld in the park, particularly in the northeast, no public access roads enter these habitats for prolonged distances.  The only example of a road crossing this ecozone is the very end of the S52 near Shingwedzi rest camp for just 4km.

O: Tree mopane savannah on ecca shales

Kruger cover: 1%

Trees: Mopane trees, knob-thorn, leadwood

Herbivores: Elephant, kudu, buffalo, impala, grysbok

Predators: Lion, spotted hyena, wild dog

 

Ecca shale is a sedimentary rock formed by the layering of deposits from swamps millions of years ago.  Rich in organic nutrients but very soft, it erodes quickly to create flat plains.

 

The clay soil here is deep and holds water well.  Pans and waterholes form quickly on the surface and the landscape is able to support large flora, with the mopane bush able to grow beyond shrub size and into full trees.  Grass cover is usually quite dense and the grasses are sweet.

 

Elephant, kudu, buffalo, impala and grysbok are attracted to these habitats.  Major predators follow them. 

 

This ecozone has a limited footprint within Kruger, with much of its range present to the east of the Punda Maria rest camp.  The H13-1, S58, S59, S60 and S61 all traverse these habitats.

P: Mopane / bushwillow woodlands on granite

Kruger cover: 15%

Trees: Red bushwillow, mopane

Herbivores: Elephant, kudu, impala

Predators: Lion, leopard, spotted hyena, wild dog

 

Gentle undulating downs are common in areas of granite bedrock, slowly carved out over billions of years by water and wind erosion.  The landscape is flatter than the A: Mixed bushwillow woodlands on granite ecozone.

 

The soils produced by granite tend to be sandy and low in nutrients but can gather in valleys to form clays capable of supporting dense vegetation.  In this fairly flat landscape, the high points don’t lose their soil as quickly, but nor do the low points build up as much soil, giving a quite even spread of vegetation. 

 

A particularly dominant vegetation type in this ecozone is red bushwillow.  Its leaves are a favoured food source of browsers such as elephant, kudu and impala, which in turn attract apex predators.  The wood of red bushwillow is claimed to be the finest braai fuel you can find in Kruger too!

 

Within Kruger, this ecozone dominates the great tracts of the northern half of the park, particularly in the west away from the Lebombo Mountains.  The H9 and H14 roads heading towards Phalaborwa Gate take you through some of the best parts of this landscape.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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