Spring comes to the Greater Kruger National ParkSpring has sprung in the bushveld
There’s a saying that you can feel spring in the air. Perhaps it’s true, because although the bush of the Greater Kruger National Park is currently as dry, dusty and thirsting for the November rains, there are signs of new life everywhere. Fresh green leaves are sprouting on acacia trees, the first blades of grass are trying to push their way out of the parched earth and the knob-thorns have already blossomed, along with the bush willows, with their fluffy flowers puncturing the sparse landscape with welcome colour and texture.
The impala lilies are pushing through their bright pink flowers and their namesakes are preparing for the birth of their young, which should coincide with the first real rains. At the moment most of the mature female impala you will see have nicely rounded bellies – signs that their unborn lambs are growing steadily. They will give birth at around the same time, and after a few days the lambs will form creches on the understanding that there’s safety in numbers.
The zebras too are heavily pregnant as all life in the bush gets ready for the downpours that the annual rains bring. There is no guarantee that November will bring the much-needed rain, but this is the time of year when first rains generally fall, so we can only hope that the winter drought is broken on time this year, as there is very little left for the animals to eat.
Every day in the build-up to the rains is a challenge, as the bush becomes painfully sparse, offering little in the way of either food or shelter. The heat also gathers momentum, with each day getting a little hotter as the hours of sunlight lengthen towards their summer peak and the sun moves to its zenith. Occasional cloud cover promises relief, but brief showers do little to help, with whatever rainfall they provide evaporating before it can soak into the ground.
Waterholes and dams are literally lifelines for our wildlife at this time of year. And this is where you will generally find the largest concentration of animals on game drives and safaris as all creatures great and small gather to quench their thirst and search for the inevitable greenery that grows close to permanent water. These are hotspots for predators too, as they wait patiently for opportunities to ambush animals that come down to drink. Inevitably some animals lose condition over the winter. Food is hard to come by and as they lose condition they can become susceptible to illness and disease. These animals become targets for hungry predators like lion and leopard.
In spite of the challenges this time of year brings, it is usually a great time for a safari, as the bush is at its thinnest making game viewing much easier and with a lot of animals staying close to water, stopping for a while to watch what happens at the waterholes and dams can yield some amazing sightings.
It often seems strange to visitors from Europe and the US that those of us here in Africa are so fixated on rain, especially those of us who live and work in the bush. Well, rain literally is a life-bringer here in Hoedspruit, the home of African Trilogy, so we do tend to count the days until it is scheduled to fall, often praying for its early arrival as the temperature soars and the dry season hits its climax. So yes, we are very much obsessed with our rains and if you visit us during the dry season (May to the start of November) you will soon understand why.
If our rains arrive on schedule all life changes for the better, but especially life for our wild fauna and flora. Once the first proper rains fall, the bush in the Greater Kruger region is transformed virtually overnight, as trees burst forth with lush foliage and grasses sprout everywhere. Bullfrogs that have remained dormant over the winter in their underground mucus capsules dig their way out of the ground and find their way to pools of water where they begin their distinctive calls for mates. Soon the pools fill with tadpoles of all varieties, and insect larvae too.
Seasonal rivers begin to flow, filling up oxbows and long-deserted, dried-out dams which soon attract hippos and crocodiles. Barbel come back to life after secreting themselves under the mud in mucus cocoons – their way of surviving periods of drought, aided by their rudimentary lung which allows them to breathe air.
The bush is soon filled with baby animals everywhere – from the young impala and zebra to wildebeest and, eventually, buffalo, who generally calve from January onwards. It’s a time of plenty, when there is enough for everyone, wildlife and human alike. In our local communities people become busy with their farms, growing the vegetables and maize which are staples of their diet. Their livestock also thrive on the fresh vegetation and life becomes much easier for a brief period in time.
So forgive us for our obsession, if you can! We do love our rains, and have been known to run out into the first major downfall and have a little dance by way of thanks!
Come and visit us soon, and dance with us if you like!
3 Antwerpen, Balule Nature Reserve, Limpopo Province, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa