While game viewing can never be guaranteed there are some trends in animal distribution, density and occurrence related to habitat types and water availability that allow an overview along the lines of the below. We have focused here on only a handful of species most generally sought after by visitors. Large mammals can be encountered at Pafuri whereas, aside from marine species, the only large mammal to be found at Rocktail Bay is the hippo.
Pafuri is perhaps the best place to view elephant in South Africa. Large herds concentrate on the Luvuvhu River during the dry season with numbers and densities reaching their peak in October each year when there may be as many as 300 elephant in 15km of river. Because the area is open to the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park seasonal movements of the herds take place and elephant viewing in the summer months of December, January and February is only occasional, with just a few bulls inhabiting the area over this period. As summer comes to an end and from March onwards elephant sightings become more regular, building up to a peak in the driest month of October. As is apparent from the graph below elephant sightings here are related to rainfall and therefore available water and forage.
Lion densities in the north of Kruger are lower than the central district, but the Luvuvhu River means that the lion population in the Makuleke Concession is a healthy one. Sightings of the resident pride (1 male, 6 females) are regular and other sub groups move into the area from time to time. The core of the pride’s territory is the area around camp and in the dry months their range is restricted to the area along the river. In the wetter months the pride disperses more widely. Anti-poaching operations in the concession since 2003 have ensured that prey populations have increased dramatically and as a result lion density (and thus sightings) has increased as well.
Leopard density along the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers is high, but leopards are typically elusive with irregular sightings of one particular male and two known females in the area around the camp. With time the frequency of sightings will improve. As guides have got to know home ranges and movements of individuals so the sightings have increased as can be seen from the below graph which shows the improving trend in lion and leopard sightings over the first 16 months of the camp’s operation.
For the most part habitat at Pafuri is not suitable for cheetah, with very developed riverine and woodland communities. Those open plains and woodland mosaic areas suitable for cheetah are more often the haunt of lions, thus keeping the smaller, more specialised predators away. Cheetah are seen fairly frequently however and a particular female is well known to the guides.
Wild dog sightings are more likely to the south of the Luvuvhu where a fair sized pack is resident. Dispersing animals are occasionally sighted on the concession.
A small population of 6 white rhino is resident in the area and is frequently viewed on foot.
Buffalo social structure is based on either larger breeding herds of mixed age and sex, or small groups of bulls. The large herds inhabit large home ranges which need not necessarily overlap the game drive areas on a permanent basis. Large herds do however provide consistently good viewing at Pafuri where 7 herds ranging in size from 60-120 are known to occur and are resident. Groups of bulls are seen on a regular basis throughout all the camps.
Some more specialised large mammal species sought after by visitors to South Africa include Eland, Nyala, Sharpe’s Grysbok and Sable. Nyala occur in perhaps the highest density in Kruger particularly along the Luvuvhu River, while Pafuri is recognised as the stronghold for eland with Kruger … a herd of over 70 being seen on a regular basis, but more normally smaller groups of 5-15 animals. Sharpe’s Grysbok are commonly seen, but sable represent a special sighting with only a handful of animals known to occur in the area.
More common plains game species such as plains zebra, blue wildebeest, impala, warthog, chacma baboon and hippo are present at Pafuri throughout the year and are generally encountered by all guests of the camp.
Species encountered at Rocktail, aside from hippo in the inland pan systems, include vervet monkey, red duiker, bushbuck and four-toed elephant shrew with nocturnal visits from thick-tailed bushbaby, large-spotted genet, honey badger and the elusive bushpig.