Approaching Dangerous Animals

For people considering a self-drive in Kruger National Park without a trained professional Field guide, we strongly suggest that you read this post regarding approaching dangerous animals in Kruger National Park by car.

Field Guides have studied the behavior of animals in Kruger National Park for several years and have gained experience, valuable knowledge, and insight on how, or rather what is the best and safest way to approach certain species by car, to ensure the safety of the animals as well as the guests’ safety.

It is always advisable to do your research on safety rules & regulations before going to Kruger National Park on your own in a private car, without a Field Guide or safari vehicle.

We strongly suggest that you rather go on a safari with a trained Field Guide than doing a self-drive the first time you visit Kruger National Park. Of course, the choice is entirely yours.

It is far better to avoid a dangerous situation than to have to face the consequences of a confrontation.
Below we have a list of the most dangerous animal in Kruger National Park, and perhaps in Africa, but please do remember that all animals from mice to warthogs and impala are considered dangerous as they all equipped with sharp claws, hooves, horns, teeth, they can bite, kick, and charge at you if you are not careful.

Important points to take into account with regards to dangerous animals in Kruger National Park

Remember that all wild animals have an instinctive fear towards humans. When you approach them, they will almost certainly run away but should you catch them off-guard and surprise them when approaching them, they will probably attack you.

When you visit the Kruger National Park, you have to realize that you are not the only visitors to Kruger and that Kruger is the animals’ home and you are only guests.

If you are uncertain about how to approach any animal, it is always the best practice to approach slowly and with caution and keep a safe distance.

Take a moment to think about the situation and what could go wrong if you approach certain animals.

Always remain calm, or at least try to remain calm.

Approaching dangerous animals in Kruger with your vehicle

Always keep to the speed limit which is 50 km/h on tarred roads and 40 km/h on dirt roads. Drive slowly and with caution, keeping your eyes on both the road and your surroundings. Keep in mind that small things like chameleons and tortoises might also be crossing the road, so keep an eye out for that too.

When you have encountered an animal; firstly, stop a good distance away and assess the situation. Take a second to think about what you are seeing and take in the surroundings and think of the things that could possibly go wrong and how you will try to avoid that.

Scan the area around your vehicle and see if you can count all the animals around you. Try to assess the mood of the animals at the sighting before approaching them. Start to approach slowly and continue to look for any early warning signs whilst moving into the sighting. Make sure that you have an exit strategy in case something goes wrong and you suddenly have to move your vehicle.

This is important, especially at a sighting where there are elephants and multiple cars at the sighting.
Never block the way of an elephant and always maintain a safe distance between you and all elephants, as well as the cars parked around you. If an elephant charges, you will need to maneuver your vehicle quickly and swiftly to a safe position, so never stop tail on end with another vehicle at an elephant sighting.

If you are approaching any of the big cats in long grass, approach very slowly, looking out for adults and cubs as well as for a carcass that might be lying right next to the road. You don’t want to drive over anything. Remember, you are not allowed to drive off-road in Kruger National Park. Stick to the rules.

If you find a group of cats with both males and females, try and assess if they are mating. If this is the case, be careful as males tend to be very aggressive if there is an estrous female around. Always maintain a safe distance. Never lean out of your vehicle or get out of your vehicle. Should a lion be walking in the road and pass by your vehicle, make sure all your windows are closed as a Lion and a Leopard can drag you out of your car through an open window.

Always expect the unexpected.

Approaching a Lion in Kruger National Park

Most important: Keep a safe distance and remain in your vehicle at all times. Do not roll your window down if you are close to lions or when a lion/s walks past your car.

If you are too close, the lion will feel threatened and will most probably behave in the following way; the lion will do a low growl and this is an indication to you, telling you that they are aware of your presence and warning you that you are too close. Sometimes they simply turn and run away. This will ultimately spoil the sighting, not only for you but for the other people at the sighting as well.

Warning signs from lions

• Firstly, the lion will crouch low, with its ears flattened backward.
• The tail will flick from side to side.
• The teeth will show and the lion will growl or snarl, combined with a lowered head and hunched shoulders.
• If you ignore the secondary signs, the lion may attack.
• A mock charge is usually given by males and is often indicated by a stiff-legged run, accompanied by growling. Lionesses are less likely to mock charge and are generally more dangerous than male lions. A lioness with cubs is a fearsome animal and confrontation with them should be avoided at all costs.

Approaching a Leopard in Kruger National Park

These very shy animals will seldomly represent any sort of threat to field guides and their clients. In fact, leopards are known to keep a safe distance away from people or vehicles. Most of the time you will see them cross the road, or take a short stroll down the road and disappear.

But, when you deliberately approach leopards with great speed or are too close to the animal, the scenario can quickly change and can become dangerous for you as well as the leopard.
Leopards are very stealthy, masters of camouflage, and are very athletic. This all adds up to a very dangerous animal. Unlike a lion, a leopard will usually give no warning prior to charging. This is also another example of why you are never permitted to get out of your vehicle in Kruger. A leopard could be lurking in the long grass right next to you and it will attack you.

When the charge comes, it is from very close quarters and it’s only then announced by coughing, spitting, or growling sound. If you get to a sighting of this animal, and it runs off into the bush and then crouches down into the vegetation, be very alert! Do not go any closer, as this will almost certainly result in a serious charge that can hurt the animal and damage your car.

Warning signs from leopards

• The leopard will crouch down low with flattened ears and head held up, staring straight ahead and showing teeth.
• It will snarl.
• When a leopard rises slowly whilst staring right at you, followed by a few quick steps towards your vehicle, and then halts abruptly, the animal is telling you that you are too close.
• It is important to note that when dealing with lion and leopard if they do charge the vehicle, you should try and back the vehicle up as fast as possible to a safe distance between you and the animal. If it still shows aggression signs, rather let it be and move on, leaving the sighting completely.

Approaching Buffaloes in Kruger National Park

Buffaloes, even though they look like normal cattle, are extremely dangerous and unpredictable animals. In a herd situation, buffaloes are generally skittish and behave much like a herd of cattle. They will generally move off if approached by a vehicle. If they are accustomed to vehicles, they are generally very relaxed.

Be careful of a herd of buffaloes being chased, as they can stampede your vehicle in order to run to safety.

Be careful of injured buffaloes and single males, as they don’t like company or attention. Take extreme caution when driving next to a river or an area where there are reeds, as old buffalo bulls may often be found in this type of habitat. They will charge if they feel threatened and cannot get away from your vehicle in any other direction.

Warning signs to look for with buffaloes

  • Watch out for ears pushed forward and the head held high. This is normally a sign that the animal is trying to get your scent.

  • Be careful of a buffalo snorting, stamping, or pawing the ground with its hooves or trashing nearby vegetation with its horns/boss. This often indicates some form of heightened aggression. Be careful in these situations.

  • Once again, be very cautious of mothers with calves. More than a few groups of clients on foot have found themselves climbing trees in a hurry to avoid an angry mother. Assess each situation carefully, approach with caution, and have a contingency plan.

Approaching Elephants in Kruger National Park

Warning signs to look out for:

  • The head will be held high with ears facing forward and open.

  • If you are unsure about the mood of an elephant or a herd, rather move away and drive on.

  • Females with young can be very aggressive and over protective.

  • The trunk is raised to get your scent.

  • The shaking of the head is normally a sign of annoyance but can be meaningless.

  • There is trumpeting and lowering of the head several times in your direction.

  • The animal lowers the head with the trunk curled up the side of the face, growling and/or squealing. If an elephant starts to charge, in this fashion one must anticipate a very serious charge.

  • There will be times when a female will give no warning at all that she intends to charge.

  • The bulls will generally give a mock charge and make an exhibition of the charge, but seldom carry it through. On some occasions, however, they will charge.

  • Female elephants are known to fully charge rather than mock charge and can chase cars for a couple of kilometers.

  • Be very careful of a mature bull elephant in musth; musth is a state of heightened sexuality, competed with frustration and aggression. Stay well away from these guys.

  • Remember, elephants are bigger than us humans and the cars we drive. They can cause great damage that can be fatal. Respect elephants at all times.

Approaching Rhino Species in Kruger National Park

You get the White Rhino and the Black Rhino in the Kruger National Park. The White Rhino is more relaxed and less aggressive than the bad-tempered Black Rhino.

Rhino warning signs

  • Cows with calves may be dangerous. Cows are usually very nervous, especially if the calves are very young.

  • Watch for the ears held forward, with the head raised high and the tail curled up as a sign of annoyance.

  • The rhino will bounce around if agitated, lowering and raising its head if unsure of the situation.

  • When upset, rhinos may make snorting and puffing sounds.

  • Watch for pawing of the ground with the head lowered, facing in your direction, this may result in a charge.

  • Be very careful not to get too close to rhino bulls who are in a bad mood or are having an altercation with another bull.