After crushing drought conditions in 2016, the future for plants and wildlife in the Kruger National Park has improved and just got a lot greener. Now, two months after more rainfall, luscious hills set the backdrop for grateful animals and birds quenching their thirst. By Arnold Ras

For fauna and flora alike, the summer rains in the Kruger National Park couldn’t have come at a better time. For two years in a row the park had much less rain than usual, but now the revitalising element is working its magic.

“The grass cover and quantity in the veld has improved – for wildlife this of course means more forage. More grass cover also curbs surface run-off thereby reducing veld erosion,” explains Navashni Govender, Senior Manager: Conservation Management at SANParks.

Since the rain, a number of animals such as warthogs, impala and wildebeest have given birth. There are a lot of babies running around!
– Navashni Govender, SANParks conservation manager

Kruger National Park All Photo's Copyrighted © Dee Roelofsz African Visions Photography 2017

15 December 2016, 16:16: Playing hide and seek perhaps, or just appreciating a water source filled to the brim? This buffalo was seen taking a dip at Ampie Waterhole on the S118. Picture by Dee Roelofsz

But has the recent rainfall been enough? “With regard to the elimination of drought conditions, no. It will certainly be a few years before we see full recovery of the plant and animal life in the Kruger,” says Navashni. “There are often lags in the effects of drought. Although the veld is green, the grass still has to recover in quantity and quality and this affects animals and other processes, such as fire. There are a number of catchments outside the park that are still unable to contribute to river flows due to insufficient rain. Finally, it is also not only the amount of rain that is important, but the timing of the rainfall events.”

Kruger rains-Joep Stevens

1 January 2017, 07:42: This playful and upbeat zebra made a patch of greenery on the S143 near Tihongonyeni Waterhole his playground. Just the way to ring in the new year… Picture by Joep Stevens

Lynette van Schalkwyk, weather expert and anchor for news channel eNCA, says the northern and southern parts of the Kruger National Park received more than the average expected rainfall. “This said, during December last year rainfall figures for Skukuza were below average. Skukuza measured in at 43mm, although its average rainfall for December months is usually 105mm.”

What affects rainfall in Kruger?

Kurger rain-Marijke Arends-Meiring-2

7 January 2017, 13:25. Heaven! A sub-adult Speke’s hinged tortoise in the Lower Sabie area wastes no time to take a sip. Picture by Marijke Arends-Meiring

Lynette says during 2015 and the beginning of 2016 a strong El Niño weather system was responsible for the low amount of rain over South Africa’s summer rainfall regions and the Lowveld. “La Niña conditions contributed to the high rainfall figures for December 2016 and January 2017. Tropical weather systems are quite usual for SA’s northern parts. And due to high moisture volumes of tropical air, heavy rains can persist for long periods of time over one region. This of course causes floods.”

Kruger rains-Dianne Tipping-Woods

16 January 2017, 09:17. A marabou stork patrols soaked grass near Punda Maria on Mahonie Loop. Picture by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Kruger National Park All Photo's Copyrighted © Dee Roelofsz African Visions Photography 2016

15 December 2016, 06:53. Now this is one happy elephant snapped at Gardenia Hide on Mlambane Loop (S119). Picture by Dee Roelofsz

Kruger rains-Jackal with impala lamb after rain-Thinus Schoeman-2

29 December 2016, 07:06: After some 120mm fell at Lower Sabie the previous night, a wet black-backed jackal protects its kill as some light rain continues to drizzle down. Picture by Thinus Schoeman

Kruger rains-Sudhir Misa

7 January 2017, 12:15: With grey and heavy clouds over Kruger, this was the view from the Biyamiti River Bridge between Malelane Gate and Afsaal. Picture by Sudhir Misra

Kurger rain-Marijke Arends-Meiring-1

8 January 2017, 10:09: A jeep crosses the Skukuza Low Water Bridge on the H1-2. Picture by Marijke Arends-Meiring

A look at the weather systems

What is El Niño, La Niña and neutral conditions? Lynette explains:

  • El Niño: When the temperature of the ocean’s surface around the equator over the central and eastern Pacific Ocean reaches 0.5˚C higher than normal for longer than three months.
  • La Niña: When the temperature of the ocean’s surface around the equator over the central and eastern Pacific Ocean reaches 0.5˚C lower than normal for longer than three months.
  • Neutral conditions: When the temperature of the ocean’s surface around the equator over the central and eastern Pacific Ocean is not higher or lower than normal.

Click here to stay up to date with Kruger’s weather forecast.

*Banner picture by Marijke Arends-Meiring taken on the H1-4 north of Satara on 13 January 2017