7 Weeks in Kruger: Berg-en-Dal - it's a family affair!
Updated: Mar 10, 2019
I feel like I’ve gotten into a habit of starting these blog posts with an apology! The hours are still being poured into getting the KrugerExplorer App launched in the coming weeks and so – get ready for it – my apologies that the blog posts have been a little slower than hoped!
Our daily social media posts are hopefully keeping everybody entertained in the interim and, once the App is launched, we should be able to get into a better routine with blog posts too.
Our target for the KrugerExplorer App launch is still March 2019 although it will be towards the end of the month. A few unforeseen challenges to solve, plus adding some extra elements to make the App even better for users, have probably put us back a couple of weeks but I’m really hoping we’ll get it out during March. Fingers crossed for the final push!
If you haven't already, then you can add your email address to our Learn More page and we'll let you know when the App is available to download.
Many thanks to lots of you who have kindly supported our project with photos too. The App is going to look absolutely stunning and we couldn’t have done that without friends and followers contributing images to fill the last few gaps in our catalogue. We’ve also had the pick of some of the very best scenic Kruger shots that we’ve come across on Instagram and Facebook too – we’ve been overwhelmed by the support!
Early thanks to Bernard Dupont, Carol Stewart, Chanél Kyriacoudes, Derek Keats, Glynn Harrington, Helen Olive, James Bourassa, Jordi Woerts, Julian Regamey, Matteo Massacra, Nicolas Nel, Nigel Voaden, Peter Pribylla, Ron Jacobson, Serene Chew, Colin Taylor and Vaughan King - we’re excited to feature your photography in the App!
But back to my 7 Weeks in Kruger trip…!
After the amazing sightings from Lower Sabie, I was down to just two more rest camps to go and it felt like the end of the trip was nearing. Berg-en-Dal was the first of the final two camps, located down in the southwest of Kruger.
Berg-en-Dal is a novelty among Kruger rest camps because it is situated within a series of rising hills. This is an entirely different landscape to that found in much of the rest of the park and offers both an unusual safari experience and exciting local wildlife.
I have to say that it rained heavily – a lot – while I was in Berg-en-Dal, which curtailed a few days of game driving, but I did have some incredible encounters between the downpours!
The very best, and a highlight of the entire trip, was watching the sun go down with a family of lions. I rounded a corner on the S114 and at the James waterhole found two cubs drinking at the waterhole. Then a third, and a fourth and then mum emerged for a simply breathtaking sighting!
There’s a lot of images here and I will let them speak for themselves….
There are so many interesting things to note about this family group. It is unusual to see slightly older cubs with just a single lioness – the adults are usually either all off hunting (leaving the cubs hidden), or the whole pride is together.
All five of them were underweight and malnourished too – you can see the outlines of bones plus the fur is ragged in places. The cubs in these images are several months old at least, but don’t appear to be part of pride that is successfully hunting sufficient food.
All this got me thinking… Lionesses leave the pride to give birth and raise the cubs for the first two or three weeks. What would happen if during that period, a new dominant male took over the pride that the new mother had recently left? Would she return, knowing the new king would kill her cubs as they were the offspring of his predecessor, or would she remain independent and try to raise the cubs without support?
We asked a Kruger lion expert contact who said, "It is possible for a female to raise cubs on her own and it probably happens more than we think. In some cases, females also raise the cubs of other females if the mother has died while the cubs were still young."
Hugely interesting stuff and we certainly learnt something too! Intrigue aside, it was a wonderful sighting and an absolute privilege to be close to a family group of lions and cubs going about its business. Unfortunately, the sun was dropping in the sky and I had to leave the sighting to get back to the camp before gates closed.
What brings lions to this corner of Kruger is the range of local herbivores that can become prey. This includes herds of wildebeest and their lambing season had just begun when I arrived in Berg-en-Dal.
The calves are an entirely different colour to the adults but are born within the herd and are able to run within minutes to ensure they can keep up. This junior even has the remnants of the umbilical cord still attached to its belly but it is absolutely able to move around with the herd in an effort to avoid predators.
The roads around Berg-en-Dal are also superb for smaller critters including birds, small mammals and reptiles. These next two exotic-looking species are in the same bird family and are called the white-crested helmetshrike and the Retz’s helmetshrike…
The prominent feature on both is the brightly coloured skin wattling around the eyes. The vivid yellow or red skin lacks feathers and looks like amazing eyelashes. The purpose of these is purely ornamental and used to attract mates, while making for an extraordinary-looking bird!
I loved this next image of a sabota lark. They are the most common of the lark species found in Kruger and its habit of sitting in the top of a short bush or tree and mimicking the calls of other birds makes it rather conspicuous. The range of vocal sounds and mimicry is astounding. Interestingly, it appears that the individual in this image has a tick on the other side of its chin – parasites in the wild are a challenge for all sorts of animals, big and small!
The reptile sightings around Berg-en-Dal were colourful too. I encountered this flap-necked chameleon crossing the S110 road.
They are simply amazing creatures. The skin colours of the chameleon change depending on the environment and whether it feels threatened. Most photos in Kruger tend to be of chameleon crossing the road and show as very bright green with dark brown or black stripes - this seems to be a response to both being exposed in the open and against the unnatural / man-made backdrop colour of a tarred road. When seen in vegetation, they tend to be much more subdued shades of green and brown which acts as a very effective camouflage.
The incredible colour changes are made by a layer of microscopic crystals situated beneath the surface of the skin. Passing energy through these crystals alters their alignment and structure, which then changes the frequencies of light that are absorbed and reflected by the skin and makes the colour of the chameleon appear to change. This is actually very close to how an LCD television or computer screen works, LCD meaning Liquid Crystal Display!
The eyes are also quite remarkable, being situated on turret-like muscles and moving independently of one another, giving the chameleon a full 360-degree vision at all times.
Another colourful reptile is the southern tree agama. The male is this striking blue colour while the females are much more muted and camouflaged browns.
They are insectivorous and lie in wait of prey on tree branches before ambushing a target. Common around camps within Kruger, they are excellent sightings to check out while walking around.
So the trip has one more rest camp to visit - Pretoriuskop and its wonderful neighbouring road network of many small and hidden loops!
Do tune in for more and we'll keep everyone updated on progress with the final push on the App and its launch date! Exciting times.
As ever, thanks for reading
Danny & Charlotte
We'd be thrilled if you followed our journeys in Kruger and even bigger journey getting the KrugerExplorer App off the ground: