Spotting the Big Five in Kruger Park

Buffalo Kruger Park

Before I went to Kruger National Park – my first ever safari experience – I was excited to see ANY wild animals. I had heard of “The Big 5” but wasn’t even sure which animals were labelled within that group. We learned from a guide during one of the organized walks that this term originally comes from hunters. As a result, hunters considered the biggest animals the most important for their trophy cases and thus the Big 5 designation was created. We tried to spot the Big five in Kruger Park, with some success.

It is a goal for many safari goers to see all of “The Big 5.” While this wasn’t my goal, the whole park experience pushes that as a priority. Each campsite has a couple of boards where people can mark their daily sightings of these most wanted wild animals, plus some other rare and interesting animals. Except the rhino. Due to these beautiful animals being close to extinction, the park will not advertise sightings of rhinoceros as a way to protect them against poachers. Because of this, a rhino sighting is a tough find.

For the most part, we drove around, did a couple of game walks in the bush, and just enjoyed our sightings of all the animals and birds. But in the back of our minds, especially as the days passed, we did still hope to see all of the Big Five.

Here’s a rundown on our Big Five sightings in Kruger National Park:

The Big Five: Buffalo

This was an animal I hadn’t even thought of before coming to Africa. I was excited for giraffes and zebras, which aren’t even in the big five, and buffalo didn’t cross my mind. I have been educated. These are cool animals.

The South African buffalo is well known as the Cape Buffalo, and they are big animals. Bovines, so related to cows, you can see the similarity in their cud chewing. They also reminded me a little bit of moose. I know, my Canadian is showing!

We saw buffalo almost every day we were in the park. They are herd animals so when we saw one, we knew there were more nearby. Buffalos liked to cross the road and we let them. They are very cool, almost gangster looking, animals and we always got excited when we saw them even though they were fairly common. I read a quote online: “It is said that Buffalo look at you as if you owe them money, and this is an appropriate description if you should ever come across them on foot in the bush” Hilarious description and it fits!

Buffalo Kruger Park
Buffalo look at you like you owe them money!

The Big Five in Kruger Park: Elephant

We saw a lot of elephants also crossing the road, drinking at watering holes, and generally owning the park. They too are herd animals, and their big ears are even bigger in person! We got to see a lot of baby elephants with their mamas too, which was absolutely adorable.

Elephants Kruger
Mama and Baby elephants


We did not think we were going to get to see a leopard, and then, one very early morning, we drove onto a side road and saw a lot of cars at the side of the road. Seeing all the cars stopped, we joined them, discovering a pair of leopards eating a wildebeest. The leopards were close enough to the road that we didn’t even need our binoculars to see them. It was fascinating.

By the time we arrived, the cats were finishing up their meal. After a few minutes, the two cats started grooming each other, licking the blood from each other’s faces. After that, we all watched as they loped off into the sunset together, satisfied with their post Christmas dinner.

Leopards Kruger Park
Leopards Grooming each other in Kruger Park


This was our weakest sighting. We only “saw” one lion and it was from so far away we could barely see it even with our very powerful binoculars. I saw something light yellow, and apparently that was the lion. No photos!


Rhinos are an endangered species because of persistent poaching. We knew this going in, so expected them to be very difficult to see. The sightings boards at Kruger don’t even allow people to post rhino sightings as a form of protection. But, we got lucky! It took a few days of being in the park but we saw quite a few white rhinos. No black rhinos, but lots of white rhinos.

The first time we saw the rhinos, we were on an afternoon walk with guides from our last night’s camp, Skukuza Rest Camp.  The rhinos were impressive to say the least. The next day, on our last drive out of the camp, we were lucky enough to see several more along the roadway. Not sure if they are just more populous in the southern part of the park, but we were thrilled to see these magnificent animals!

White Rhino Kruger Park
White Rhino by the side of the road in Kruger National Park

It was an amazing trip! Lots more photos to come!

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

One thought on “Spotting the Big Five in Kruger Park”

  1. So glad you had such a wonderful trip! Reminded of my time in Africa and going on safari. I loved all these magnificent animals!

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