Kruger Park Birding by Region -
Olifants, Letaba and the Southern Mopaneveld

© Image: Olifants Rugged Veld

The Olifants River is generally accepted as the dividing line between southern and northern Kruger.


It is a river under threat because of circumstances beyond Kruger's control. Water quality is deteriorating because of pollution by mines and industries in the river's highveld catchment area, and the river no longer flows all year round because of increased usage upstream. This problem also affects the Letaba River, which is the other main watercourse in the southern Mopaneveld. The two rivers join in the Lebombo just east of Olifants Camp, and this part of Kruger is an important waterbird breeding site.

North of Olifants, there are two main habitats. To the north-east is Mopane shrubveld and the open plains of basalt grassland that stretch to the Lebombo. To the north-west the Mopane grows taller and occurs with bushwillow and Knobthorn woodlands on granite soils. Most animal activity is in the riverine and Apple-leaf woodland around Letaba camp, where winter game viewing is especially rewarding.

South of Olifants Camp is a harsh, mountainous thornveld environment of dark basalt rocks and tangled vegetation known as Olifants Rugged Veld. Characteristic trees here are the usual acacias and combretums, Purple Pod Cluster-leaf (Terminalia prunoides), Tree Wistaria (Bolasanthus speciosus), Long-tail Cassia (Cassia abbreviata) and White Syringa (Kirkia acuminata) on the rocky outcrops. The best birding in this area is Engelhard Dam, as well as in Letaba and Olifants camps.

Habitat Pointers

Extensive Mopane and mixed woodlands to the west; stunted Mopane woodlands around Letaba; Olifants Rugged Veld around Olifants Camp and Balule and rocky Lebombo ridges to the east.

Olifants and Letaba challenge

Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)

One of Kruger's more easily seen rarities, this boldly coloured stork often occurs singly or in pairs along the major watercourses. There are less than 100 breeding pairs in the Park. They are most often seen along the sandbanks of the Letaba, Olifants, Shingwedzi and Luvuvhu Rivers.

Black Stork (Cicona nigra)

The glossy Black Stork is even rarer than the Saddle-billed with only 10-20 breeding pairs in Kruger. It has black upperparts, a white underbelly and a bright red bill and legs. There is a breeding colony on the Olifants River near the camp; also seen on the Letaba, Shingwedzi and Luvuvhu Rivers.

African Scops-Owl(Otus senegalensis)

Letaba Camp is known for its owls. Listen out at sunset for this little dove-sized owl, which repeatedly utters a loud, single kruup, often for minutes at a time. Although it is found throughout the mopaneveld, it's rarely seen by day.

Bronze-winged Courser (Rhinoptilis chalcopterus)

This large, red-legged courser roosts in dense woodlands during the day and feeds in the open at night. Although it is a Kruger resident, it appears to be nomadic and is most often seen during summer in the southern mopaneveld. It can be seen at dawn or dusk along the roads around the Olifants and Letaba Rivers as well as in the Mopani Camp vicinity.

Where to Stay Around Olifants

Best Birding Guide to Kruger Park