Weekly magazine & best blog posts  Subscribe
Close Bar
Open Bar
Africa Geographic Blog 
Journeys with Purpose
Photographer of the Year Competition

The effects of drought in Kruger

Written by: Brass Brassett

South Africa is currently in the grip of one of the worst droughts in decades. There is no way to sweeten the bitter harvest of a very strong El Niño – the weather phenomenon that brings hot, drier conditions to South Africa. 

In Kruger National Park, large dams that should be full by this time of year are dry and lush, and thick, green vegetation has given way to a harsh winter’s landscape. There is no grass, and the dry, barren landscape is reflective of the lowest rainfall in South Africa since records began in 1904.

Mazithi Dam as it should look in summer

Mazithi Dam as it should look in summer

Mazithi Dam as seen in November 2015

Mazithi Dam as seen in November 2015

The effects of a drought are far reaching with the lack of grass not just affecting herbivores. Sightings of birds that eat grass seed have been low – red-billed queleas, blue waxbills, etc. Little to no rainfall has reduced the number of insects and that, in turn, has reduced the number of spiders and insect-eating birds.

With no other body of water nearby to support him, a hippo holds on to the last drop of moisture at Mazithi Dam as vultures and Marabou stork feed on barbel around him

With no other body of water nearby to support him, a hippo holds on to the last drop of moisture at Mazithi Dam, as vultures and Marabou stork feed on barbel around him

In times of drought, animals would naturally move with the weather, following small pockets of rain in a bid to get the new shoots of food before a lack of water and the harsh African sun dries the shoots out and kills them off. In a drought it is not the lack of water that kills the animals, but the lack of food.

Nsemani Dam as it should look at the end of summer

Nsemani Dam as it should look at the end of summer

Nsemani Dam as seen in November 2015

Nsemani Dam as seen in November 2015

Areas of truly free-roaming animals are far and few between. Animals are restricted in their movements by man-made barriers: fences. Their natural instinct to move to rivers are also influenced by man-made waterholes, which keep animals in a barren area with no hope of food and no chance for the land to quickly recover.

With rivers and dams dry, hippos are taking to man-made and pumped water holes in a vain bid to survive

With rivers and dams dry, hippos are taking to man-made and pumped waterholes in a vain bid to survive

It is difficult to witness these tough times.

Recently on trips into Kruger National Park I have seen emaciated impala and hippo, dead hippos and buffalo, zebra with floppy manes (as hindgut fermenters, zebra always look fat and healthy, but the only visible sign of sickness is their mane, which flops when fat reserves are depleted).

An emaciated impala

An emaciated impala

A zebra with a floppy mane

A zebra with a floppy mane

On the other hand, predators and scavengers are flourishing – they have a choice of carcasses to feast upon, and weak animals are easy prey. Some predators just stay around the very few dams that are still holding a rapidly diminishing body of water, knowing that water dependent animals need to drink. For these prey species the price of staying alive can mean death.

Hyenas and vultures feast on a hippo that was killed by lions

Hyenas and vultures feast on a hippo that was killed by lions

In my last days in Kruger I saw lions on a buffalo, which was killed as it made its way to water. I also saw lions on a kudu bull, which was killed as it drank. And at one small dam, I saw crocodiles snatch an adult impala and later an impala calf.

A crocodile takes an impala ram at Sweni Bird Hide

A crocodile takes an impala ram at Sweni Bird Hide

With the drought expected to last until August, I know that this is just the beginning of a harsh winter ahead; a very harsh winter.

Guest Blogger

In the Guest Blogger profile, you'll see fresh and exciting content from a range of contributors who have submitted their content to us on a once-off or temporary basis, including press releases, campaigns and exciting adventure and travel tales!

  • Ray S

    very harsh to see. with fences in places such that animals cannot move to wetter areas such as towards magoebaskloof side, and man made watering points in dry areas which lure animals to water but in areas with no grass for food.. how can animals survive such a very harsh drought?

Newsletter

Subscribe to receive our online magazine and most popular blog posts via email

Follow us on Social Media

AG Kruger photo safari
Africa Geographic