The African game reserve Kruger National Park features buffalos, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and lions as well as hundreds more species. Popular for lodging and safaris, you may wish to get a piece of the action with your drone.
Can you fly a drone in Kruger National Park?
Drones are prohibited in South African national parks, including Kruger National Park. The parks are designated no-fly zones and violating the law can result in police confiscation of your drone and imprisonment.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know if you’re planning a trip to Kruger National Park.
We’ll explain why you can’t fly and take a closer look at the consequences, so make sure you keep reading!
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Can you fly a drone in Kruger National Park?
For safari experiences in South Africa, few disagree that Kruger National Park offers the best. Between its tropical forests, bush plains, and mountainous regions all in one park, you can see such an assortment of animals, from birds to mammals.
As cool as it would be to tour the landscape of Kruger National Park with your drone, you can’t. It’s expressly illegal.
That’s not just the case in Kruger National Park, by the way. All national parks throughout South Africa are under a blanket ban.
Here’s a statement from the South African National Parks website about the prohibition of drone activity.
“South African National Parks (SANParks) would like to remind the public that flying of unmanned aerial vehicles which are commonly known as drones is not permitted in any National Park irrespective of what the purpose may be. The practice is prohibited in terms of NEMA Protected Areas Act which states that it is illegal to fly below 2,500 feet above the highest point of any national park with any aircraft/drone without the express permission of the Management Authority of the particular National Park, i.e., SANParks; and therefore they are legislated protected areas with restricted airspace…”
That statement is a touch confusing, admittedly. The first part mentions that drones cannot fly in South African national parks like Kruger National Park “irrespective of what the purpose may be,” but then later mentions that you’d need the Management Authority’s permission to fly per the rules of the NEMA Protected Areas Act.
Based on all the other language we’ve read about flying in national parks throughout South Africa, we’d say you’re better off not trying to get approval. It’s unlikely to happen.
We’ll talk more about this later, but many drone pilots have tried and failed to fly in Kruger National Park, and the incidents usually become news stories.
The area is a designated no-fly zone, so that should tell you enough.
DJI drones won’t bother operating in no-fly zones, and while other drones might not ground you, you still never want to find yourself in restricted airspace, especially knowing it’s restricted!
Why you can’t use your drone in Kruger National Park
So why can’t you use a drone in Kruger National Park or other South African national parks? Ah, let us count the ways.
Besides the fact that it’s expressly illegal, the following reasons ought to motivate you to stay out.
Violates the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act
The NEMA Protected Areas Act, according to this statement, exists “to provide for the conservation and protection of ecologically viable areas in South Africa that characterize the country’s biological diversity and natural land and seascapes.”
As we’ll elaborate on further in the rest of this section, using a drone in Kruger National Park could violate the Protected Areas Act.
Could cause unpredictable behavior in animals
Kruger National Park is like a melting pot of animals since it contains varied landscapes. The opportunities to witness the species that roam here are special, and park visitors cherish those opportunities very much.
The relationship between drone and animal has been well-documented, and unfortunately, it rarely bodes well for the animals.
Birds and mammals alike find drones confusing and threatening.
Between the size, movement, and sounds of the drone, the animal might perceive the drone as another living thing, although we obviously don’t have any evidence of that as of this writing.
What’s far more certain is that the presence of drones can cause animals to behave in upsetting ways. Birds can abandon their nests and animals their young.
This RSPCA article cites several studies that found that drones can increase an animal’s heart rate and change their behavior. That only applies to domestic animals per the study, but if that’s how a domestic pet like a cat or dog reacts, why would a wild animal react all that differently?
More than likely, they wouldn’t.
Might lead to park damage
Kruger National Park consists of a lot of open landscape, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t cause property damage. Whether your drone whings into a tree or you collide your UAV with one of the safari vehicles, it all counts.
This too would violate the NEMA Protected Areas Act.
You’re generally not supposed to fly over moving vehicles
Kruger National Park is full of safari vehicles. Many countries prohibit drones from operating over moving vehicles unless they know the people inside and have their express permission.
Avoiding the safari vehicles would pose quite a challenge when they’re so numerous!
It’s dangerous for you
Last but certainly not least, we have to talk about the dangers you could face as a drone pilot if you used your UAV in Kruger National Park.
The park is not a zoo, meaning the animals aren’t caged up or in enclosures. They’re out free, roaming and doing their thing.
The erratic behavior that the presence of a drone can inspire in a wild animal could potentially inspire an attack.
Kruger National Park has had animal attacks on its grounds, and while they don’t appear to involve drones, there’s a first time for everything.
The animals that live in Kruger National Park are some of the most ferocious on the planet. You’ll recall from the intro that the species include rhinos and lions, to name a few.
Do you really want to tangle with animals like that when you have no form of protection? We didn’t think so.
What happens if you use a drone in Kruger National Park?
You’re not the first pilot who’s considered using their drone in Kruger National Park; far from it. Many have tried before you, and realistically, many more will try after you.
South Africa made major strides as the first country to prohibit UAVs in national parks, and the country takes the crime of flying in a no-fly zone very seriously.
Violating the law could result in these punishments.
Law enforcement has the right to take your drone from you if you’re caught in Kruger National Park with it. By confiscating the UAV, police can ensure that you won’t feel tempted to fly your drone on the premises again.
Could you get your drone back? Possibly, but it’s not always guaranteed, especially if law enforcement takes the drone and has a good reason to.
An appeals process can drag on, and if you’re only staying in South Africa for a few days or weeks, you might not have enough time to see the appeals process through until the end. You’d have no choice but to give up your drone.
Really though, drone confiscation doesn’t sound so bad once you realize that police can arrest you for using a drone in Kruger National Park.
In the United States and many other parts of the world, drone pilots can face prison sentences of 30 days to six months, sometimes longer, for drone crimes.
Permanent ban from the park
A 2018 article from sUAS News reports on a man who got caught trying to bring a drone into Kruger National Park. As you would expect, law enforcement stopped him.
The man ultimately wound up banned from the park for the rest of his life. That’s not so surprising when you consider that the South African police force reported an influx of drones in Kruger in 2018, the year the article was published.
Banning visitors for life will certainly stop drones from entering the park!
Kruger National Park in South Africa strictly prohibits drones; they’re also forbidden in the rest of the country’s national parks.
Although Kruger would make a nice backdrop for capturing shots of wildlife in their natural habitats, using a drone around animals can disturb them and cause behavioral changes.
If you want to enjoy the park, go on a safari, but don’t bring your drone!