What on Earth is “Veld”?


by Peter Ruddle

Many hunters who are only making their first steps in the field of African hunting are enchanted and confused in equal measure by the exotic language spoken by more experienced hunters and outfitters. Take, for instance, “veld”. From context it is clear that the word refers to some kind of terrain – but what kind of terrain is that? Is “veld” and “veldt” the same thing? What difference is there between just “veld” and “bushveld” or “highveld”? Let’s get this straight.

Veld, also spelt veldt, is a word from Afrikaans, the language of the Dutch colonists in South Africa. This word is used to describe a wide open grassland landscape. Words like prairie, pampas, outback, and steppe from around the world all have a similar meaning. A good alternate word often used to describe this habitat type in Africa is “savanna”, sometimes also spelt “savannah”.

The word veld literally means “field” and has military connotations, a legacy carried over from the Anglo-Boer War, where the English had Field Marshals and the Boers, Veldkornets. Today the word is loosely used to describe certain types of habitat, e.g. Renosterveld (Rhino Field). It is often used in combination with other words, to highlight the differences in habitat in various regions, brought about by altitude and rainfall.

Recognizing different kinds of habitat is important for a hunter, because it is often linked to historical natural distribution of certain wildlife species – i.e., where they existed before game ranchers introduced them to areas outside of their natural. Some species are adaptable but others cannot survive outside of their specific habitat, because they can’t handle temperature fluctuations or diseases carried by parasites that only survive in warmer habitats.

The following regionalised habitat types are used to describe various locations in South Africa:



Highveld is found in the interior provinces of the Free State, Gauteng and portions of the Mpumalanga and North West Province in South Africa, and consists of a high grassland plateau, 500–2,100 m (4,900–6,900 ft), virtually devoid of any indigenous trees. Temperatures are warm in summer and cold at night. Overnight frost can be expected with temperatures below freezing on a winter’s morning.

Some species of animals like Eland would migrate into these areas for summer but then return to the lower altitudes, where browse and grazing quality is much better, in winter. Species like Roan and Sable did not originally occur here, but animals like Blesbok and the now extinct Quagga (Zebra) roamed this region in great numbers. Today, Black Wildebeest and the Common Springbuck are found here; these species cannot survive in the Lowveld.



“Lowveld” describes the lowlands in the Northern Limpopo and Mpumalanga, a region that lies below circa 500 m (1,640 ft) in altitude, stretching from the borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique borders through the Kruger National Park to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). This is an open woodland area where you can find some of South Africa’s iconic trees mentioned in many hunting books, namely, Baobab, Mopane and Fever Trees.

Historically, the region was well known for its stock diseases, which prevented the introduction of cattle until the Tsetse Flies were wiped out. Today, Foot and Mouth (Hoof and Mouth) is still prevalent in the region and one is encouraged to take malaria prophylactics when hunting in the Lowveld.

This area is well known as a “Big 5” country and plains game species like Giraffe, Kudu, Nyala, Waterbuck, Blue Wildebeest, Bushbuck, Warthog and Impala. The majority of these species are browsers and cannot survive under Highveld conditions. Hippos and Crocodiles are abundant in the area so stay out of the water.



Bushveld is the transition zone between the Kalahari Desert, Highveld and the Lowveld. This encompasses the bulk of the Limpopo Province and a small portion of the Western North West Province where the elevation ranges from 750 – 1,400 m (2,450 – 4,600 ft). This area usually sees more rainfall than the dry arid western regions of the country.
The word bush is translated from the word “bos” in Afrikaans as the region becomes more densely wooded from the grasslands of the Highveld. The region encompasses some impressive mountain ranges and has a wide assortment of trees.

This habitat is suitable for multiple species, including Black and White Rhino, Buffalo, Giraffe, Kudu, Impala, Gemsbuck, Blue Wildebeest, Sable, Roan and Tsessebe.


Thornveld is more of a habitat type than a region. These semi-arid savanna grasslands are dominated by thorny trees, formerly known as Acacia trees. This includes the well known Umbrella Thorn. The landscape that they cover ranges from plains to rolling hills.
This is obviously a favourite habitat type for all browsing species like Kudu, Nyala, Eland and Bushbuck.



Sandveld is another habitat type, characterised by dry sandy soils typical of certain areas in South Africa. These well drained soils are inhabited by hardy plants and grasses that grow in clumps with exposed patches of soil exposed on the surface.

Shepherds Trees are frequently found in these habitats along with the more desert type wildlife species, like Gemsbuck, Springbuck, Red Hartebeest and the adaptable Blue Wildebeest.



Hardeveld is a term that describes the mountainous region of the Northern Cape. These areas have an abundance of stones and pebbles, making for difficult walking conditions whilst hunting. Hardeveld is a greater diversity of trees than the surrounding semi-desert landscape with many rocky outcrops; it is a favourite habitat for Klipspringer.


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