Game Drives around Engelhard Dam
Letaba Camp to Mozambique
Letaba to Mopani
Letaba to Olifants
Palaborwa Gate Area
Phalaborwa to Letaba
Phalaborwa to Mopani
Elephants have traditionally been hunted for their ivory, so those animals with great tusks have been prime targets for poachers and hunters. Kruger is famous for seven elephants with record size tusks that have become part of the Park's folklore. The term "Magnificent Seven" was coined by former Kruger head Tol Pienaar who borrowed the name from the 1960 Hollywood western of the same name. The biggest tusks ever recorded are from an elephant shot on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa. One tusk weighed more than 100kg.
- Mafunyane (The Irritable One), pictured above - whose perfectly matched tusks, each weighting 55,1kg, scraped the ground as he walked. Mafunyane had a fist-sized hole on the top of his head which was either from an old gunshot wound or a fight with another elephant, and this healed injury may have accounted for his bad temper. He occupied the Pafuri district and died of natural causes in 1984;
- Joćo (named after the famous Portuguese ivory hunter Joćo Albasini) had a left tusk of about 55kg and a right one of about 45kg before they broke off in 1984. He was frequently seen in the Shingwedzi area and survived an attack by poachers in 1982. Park authorities treated his AK-47 wounds, which appeared to have healed completely. He is believed to have died in 2000, but his body was never recovered;
- Kambaku ("Big Elephant") had a left tusk of 63,6kg and a right one of 64kg. He appeared to have the widest territory and was seen between Satara and Crocodile Bridge. He eventually was put down by rangers in 1985, after being shot and crippled by an irate farmer whose fields he'd strayed into outside the Park in the Crocodile River area;
- Ndlulamithi ("Taller than Trees"), had a left tusk weighing 64,6kg and a right one of 57,2kg, and occupied the area around Shingwedzi. He died of old age in 1985;
- Dzombo (named after the Dzombo River near Shingwedzi where he roamed), had a left tusk weighing 55,5kg and a right tusk of 56,8kg. He was shot by poachers in 1983, but his tusks were recovered;
- Shawu (named after the Shawu River near Shingwedzi, which was his territory) had the longest tusks so far recorded in the Park (the left being 3,17m and the right being 3,06m), although they were not the heaviest (52,6kg and 50,8kg respectively). He died in 1982, possibly of complications from an old gunshot wound inflicted by poachers;
- Shingwedzi (named after the camp where he was often seen) had a left tusk weighing 58kg and a right tusk of 47,2kg. He died of natural causes in 1981, and was found in the Shingwedzi River bed on his front knees with his tusks embedded in the sand.
The tamboti (Spirostachys africana) is a tree of mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is poisonous to humans - eating meat cooked over a tamboti fire will result in severe stomach cramps (in some cases even death) - and the latex can cause skin blisters and diarrhoea. Sawdust from the tamboti (which makes excellent furniture) can cause blindness.
However, porcupines love tamboti bark, the leaves are eagerly eaten by most of the browsers, and the fruit is a eagerly eaten by francolins, guinea fowl and doves.
Letaba River Loop (S47)The Letaba River Loop north-west of Letaba Camp follows the river for 19km to Mingerhout Dam before cutting back southwards through the mopaneveld. In the spartan north, the best way to view game is to follow the rivers. Most herbivores don't stray much more than six kilometres from water, so the chances of interesting sightings are far greater along the Letaba than in the broad swathe of mopaneveld to the north.The S47 winds between the edge of the mopaneveld and the well-established gallery forests of sycamore figs, tambotis and sausage trees that line the wide, sandy Letaba river bed. There are usually impala along the road and the browsers most often seen are elephant and kudu. There are usually waterbuck in the river bed.Mingerhout Dam is a long, wide finger of water on the Letaba alongside an attractive, low range of well-wooded sandstone koppies. The dam wall is more than half-a-kilometre wide and the dam stretches several kilometres upstream. Hatlani (291m) is the highest of the koppies that mark the watershed between the Letaba and Tsendze rivers. Note how the bush around the koppies is a diverse, lush tangle of species typical of sandveld vegetation.
Compare it to the somewhat mono-dimensional mopaneveld a few hundred metres away. Mingerhout is a recommended winter game-viewing spot because it is a permanent water hole in a region where water is scarce in the dry season. There are usually crocs and hippos above the dam wall. Herds of animals usually come to the water from mid-morning until mid-afternoon when predators are at their least active.Martial Eagle Martial eagles are among the heaviest flying birds in the world, weighing up to six kilograms and with a wingspan of two metres. They are found throughout Kruger and are particularly partial to leguaans as well as young antelope, mongooses and smaller birds.The S47 south of Mingerhout is a dull drive. The tree mopane soon gives way to scrub mopane. There is rarely much animal activity along this road, nor on the S131, which is an alternative route back to Phalaborwa Gate.
The Letaba area is known for good owl sightings. Verreaux's eagle-owl and the pearl-spotted owlet are often seen on the roads in the area. Owls are regarded with suspicion in many traditional African cultures, as they are seen as the purveyors of evil. Nonetheless they are prized as ingredients for muthi because of their perceived wisdom, hunting skills and remarkable eyesight.Matumi - the Woodworker's Friend
Mingerhout is the Afrikaans word for the matumi tree (Breonadia salicina) which is common along watercourses where they cut through rock.
It has distinctive thin and pointy, shiny leaves and grows along rivers where the terrain is rocky. Outside the Park, many of the lowveld's tallest matumi trees were cut down after World War II to be turned into railway sleepers for the country's expanding rail network.
Fortunately, the matumi is now a protected tree, following the wanton pillaging of lowveld matumis during the mid-20th century. Its problem is that it is a very durable wood that can be worked well - in central Africa it is the favoured tree for making dugout canoes, while, back home, it has a reputation for making good, solid building beams and parquet flooring.
Local healers say a concoction made out of the bark is an effective treatment for stomach disorders.