Kruger's buffalo were almost completely wiped out by excessive hunting and the rinderpest plague at the end of the 19th century but within 50 years their numbers had built up significantly. Buffalo suffered another calamity in 1992, when the drought almost halved the population. An estimated 15 000 buffalo died of hunger and thirst during this time.
Orpen Gate leads one directly into lion country. The open grasslands stretching through to Satara and on to N'wanetsi are one of the best places in the Park to see lions and other predators. That's because of the large herds of grazing animals found here. With such a readily available supply of food it is not surprising that this is a popular environment for lions.
Orpen Gate Explorer Options
- Main Road to Satara (H7); (48km; 2 hours) tar road; mixed woodlands leading into savanna grasslands; excellent game country; good for buffalo and lion;
- Talamati Drive (S140); (38km from Rabelais Hut and back again; 1,5 hours); dust road through mixed woodlands to upper catchment area of N'waswitsontso watercourse; very good sunset drive with many lion prides in the area;
- Timbavati River Road to Bobejaanskrans then on to Olifants (S39); (60km; 2,5 hours); dust road; one of the best drives in Kruger, a road of surprises with diverse species, habitats and geological zones along the Timbavati River; lots of good views over the riverine bush;
- Muzandzeni Road from Bobbejaanskrans to Tshokwane (S36); (65km; 2,5 hours); mixed bushwillow and acacia savanna with patches of dense woodland and several good water holes; good for raptors;
The reason for the abundance of game in this area is that Orpen sits on the edge of a continuous band of sweetveld that stretches from east to west across Kruger. Elsewhere in the Park the sourveld dominates the west, while the sweetveld is confined to the eastern plains.
The Orpen sweetveld sits on gabbro rock, which forms intrusions such as Masala Koppie (500m) some 14km from the gate. The gabbro is similar to basalt in that it retains water and doesn't leach easily. The mineral-rich soils support nutritious grasses which are favoured by buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, impala and warthog. Because the grazing is good all year round, there are almost always animals visible from the road in the Orpen area.
Knob-thorn and buffalo-thorn are the most common acacias in the Orpen thornveld. There are also marula, round-leaved bloodwood and magic guarri in the woodlands, which become thicker along the drainage lines where large jackal-berries and sycamore figs occur.