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Kruger National Park

South Africa

 
 

The Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then President of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He initiated a drive to create a ‘no-hunting’ zone to protect the wild animals of the Lowveld. Unchecked hunting was decimating the herds of wild game that roamed free at that time.

Kruger’s vision for a protected national Park only materialised twelve years later when the area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers was set aside for restricted hunting. On 31 May 1926 the National Parks Act was proclaimed and the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves were combined to form the Kruger National Park.

Motorists and game enthusiasts were allowed entry to the Park in 1927 for a fee of one pound.

Fast facts about the Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, covering an area of just under 20 000 square kilometres (7 500 sq/miles). It is about the size of Israel, slightly smaller than Belgium and about the third of the size of Ireland.

The Park is wedged between the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the north-eastern region of South Africa, with Mozambique on its eastern border and Zimbabwe on its northern border.

The Kruger National Park is 350 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide.

The Park was proclaimed a ‘no hunting’ zone by the Transvaal Republic government in 1898 and proclaimed a national Park in 1926. It recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, making it the oldest Park in Africa.

The Kruger National Park has over 2 000 plant species, including over 330 plant species. The Park is home to the Big 5 (lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard) and 500 bird species.

The Kruger National Park has suffered terribly from crippling drought on a number of occasions. The driest period recorded was between 1980 and 1997, with the worst year being 1993. The ongoing drought in 2016 led to the culling of hippos by Park management that caused a public furore.

Its borders are marked by two rivers; the Crocodile River creates a border in the South of the Park, and the Limpopo River creates a border in the north. The Lebombo Mountains border the Park on its Western side, dividing the Park from its eastern neighbour, Mozambique.

The Park falls within a malaria zone and visitors are advised to take anti-malaria tablets. The southern regions are not a high risk malaria area but tourists visiting the Park in the wet summer months and those travelling to the northern parts of the Park are advised to be vigilant and take precautions against this life-threatening disease.

EVIDENCE OF PREHISTORIC MAN

There is ample evidence that prehistoric man – Homo erectus – roamed the area between 500 000 and 100 000 years ago. There are almost 254 known cultural heritage sites in the Kruger Park, including nearly 130 recorded rock art sites.

More than 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age man have been found from the period dating back 100 000 to 30 000 years ago. Evidence of Bushman tribes (San people) and Iron Age inhabitants dating back to 1 500 years ago have been found, aswell as the presence of Nguni people and European explorers.

Thulamela and Masorini are two areas where significant archaeological ruins are found, and there are numerous examples of San art scattered throughout the reserve.

EARLY TOURISM

The value of tourism from game reserves as a source of revenue was already cemented by the time the area was officially proclaimed a national Park in 1926. Excursions to the Park and overnight stays had been arranged by Stevenson-Hamilton, Warden of the Park at the time. However, there were no facilities for tourists and they usually slept on the train that brought them down from the Witwatersrand.

A main road was built aswell as a few secondary roads to attract more tourists to the Park, with the idea being that paying tourists would be accompanied by a guide. News reporters were invited to write articles on the reserve to attract foreign tourists and, over time, the Park gained national and international repute.

There was still a problem with the lack of accommodation facilities and, in 1927; the South African Railways (SAR) approached the board with a request to erect quarters that the Park could rent to visitors. A joint venture between the Park and SAR led to the development of much-needed infrastructure and roads. Rest huts and facilities needed for the guides and game rangers started popping up throughout the Park.

In exchange for use of these facilities for their paying tourists, SAR undertook to provide all transport, by rail and road, and launched an advertising campaign, set up catering services and paid the board a percentage of the income received.

Four two-track roads were built initially; from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie, from Acornhoek to the Mozambique border, from Gravelote to Makubas Kraal (near Letaba) and from White River to Pretoriuskop.

The Pretoriuskop area was opened to tourists in 1927 but only on the issue of a permit from the secretary of the board in Pretoria and the game warden on duty at Pretoriuskop. This arrangement was restrictive and confusing and eventually the board appointed an agency in 1931 to issue permits at Numbi Gate.

There were still no overnight facilities built at that time and the general public had to leave the Park before the gates closed in the evening. Hunting by this stage had been strictly prohibited but visitors could carry a revolver on them for their personal protection.

SAR received permission from the board to open the railway bridges over the Crocodile, Sabie and Olifants Rivers for motor vehicles, and to run a train service on the Selati Railway for tourists. The number of visitors to the Kruger National Park steadily grew as it became more accessible and convenient.

GROWTH IN TOURISM

From 1928, the board committed to extensive plans to boost tourism to the reserve. Three rest huts were built at Satara, Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. A year later, two rondavels (round houses) were built at Skukuza, and two were built at Satara. Plans to build more rondavels at other camps were submitted and old ranger quarters were restored and made available to tourists. The Kruger National Park was set to start attracting overnight stays.

The design of the rondavels was in the “Selby” style, named after an American mine engineer, Paul Selby, that was on the board at the time. There was a gap between the wall and the roof for ventilation, and there was a hole in the door that was used as a peephole to see if there were dangerous animals outside the hut. The rest camps were not fenced and animals roamed freely in and out of the designated visitors’ area.

The original rondavels were not well-liked as they were stiflingly hot in summer and mosquitoes came in through the open gaps. From 1931, new rondavels were built that were closed to the thatch roof and had windows in them. The board rolled out further developments which included tented rest camps and traditional huts made form wattle and local cement.

The first ablution block went up at Skukuza in 1932, with four baths and four showers. The rest camps were finally fenced at the same time. New and improved designs were introduced and the Kruger National Park took on a more uniform look, where it was previously quite haphazard. Facilities focused on the comfort and needs of tourists, aswell as their safety.

Hot water for bathing was a luxury in those early days. Eventually the board relented and provided hot running water to the camps on the condition tourists paid one shilling per bath.

By the mid-1930s the demand for accommodation had increased so much so that the board asked the government for a donation of £50,000 and additional beds and rest camps were made available for some 200 visitors.

Things developed from there and the Park received more financial support from the government. Money was spent on luxuries such as mosquito nets, septic tanks and hot showers, aswell as game management programmes.

The board started charging a fee to visit the Park for the first time in 1928 to raise much-needed revenue. A princely sum of five shillings for day visitors and a nominal charge per car was implemented. Visitors could hire a game ranger to escort them through the Park for an added fee. Visitors were also charged to cross the rivers on pontoons that were set up.

The board outsourced the management of the rest camps and refreshment stops for Skukuza and Satara to independent contractors when tourist traffic increased to a point that the Park staff could not manage the demand.

These contractors were responsible for the issuing of permits, supervision at the camps and catering services. The rest camps were only equipped with wood and ‘riempie’ beds and visitors could hire mattresses and linen from the camp supervisors.

The board eventually employed their own management staff to run the rest camps because of the number of complaints from the tourists. The board took over all trade activities and employed the first tourism manager in the mid-1940s. In the 1960s, the first liquor license was issued.

The rules and regulations for the Park when it first opened to visitors were pretty relaxed, except that firearms were strictly prohibited. Tourists had pretty much free range and did not even have to return to the rest camps at night. However, the first list of regulations was published in the 1930s when poor behaviour started causing problems.

Tourists were limited to driving through the Park between sunrise and sunset, and were made to return to their rest camp for the evening. A strict speed limit was implemented and littering was prohibited. The board appointed the Automobile Association (AA) to run a service where patrol cars would monitor traffic on the Park roads.

The only mode of transport when the Park was first proclaimed was the Selati railway line, ox wagons, buggy carts, pack donkeys and horses. There were no roads and no vehicles in the Park in those days.

Bush clearing started in earnest in 1927 and the first roads were put in to create more convenient routes between the ranger’s posts. The construction of roads within the Park for tourists followed a few years later. Three pontoons were built on the main rivers and a new causeway was built over the Sand River and the Letaba River.

The road network that had developed by 1946 was a massive achievement, considering the fact that the Kruger National Park was in dire financial straits, had a shortage of equipment and lacked manpower.

Requests to tar the roads were vehemently opposed, with the thinking that it would turn the reserve into a “glorified Park” and it would lose its natural appeal. Stevenson-Hamilton was strongly opposed to tarring the roads, saying it would result in speeding incidents and the death of animals.

Permission to tar the roads was only granted in 1965 and only for the main strip between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. Today there are more than 850 kilometres of tarred roads in the Park.

HOW KRUGER NATIONAL PARK GOT ITS NAME

The man behind the development of the Kruger National Park was then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He was not a well-educated man, with only three formal months of education spent in a rural farm school, but he grew up in the wild frontiers of the old country and had an enduring love of nature and wildlife.

At the urging of early conservationists who were alarmed at the scale of unchecked hunting in the Lowveld region, he made an indelible mark in history by proclaiming an expansive area would be allocated for the protection of South Africa’s wild animals.

Kruger was born in 1825 on a rural farm. When the Great Trek started in 1836, his father uprooted the family and moved them to what was known as the Transvaal, where they settled in a town called Rustenburg.

At the age of 16 years, he was entitled to choose his own farm and settled on a property at the base of the Magaliesberg Mountains. He married in 1842 and shortly thereafter moved to the Eastern Transvaal. He lost his wife and young infant son to what was suspected to be malaria and re-married a woman who bore seven daughters and nine sons, although many of his children died in infancy.

Kruger showed strong leadership qualities and eventually became Commandant-General of the then South African Republic, later known as the Transvaal. His leadership skills became more prominent when he was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad, the Transvaal Republican Parliament who were tasked with drawing up a constitution.

He resigned as Commandant-General, in 1873 and retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. His retirement was short-lived and he was elected to the Executive Council. Shortly after that he became Vice-President.

Kruger led a resistance movement and became leader of a deputation. The first Anglo Boer war was 1880 and the British forces were defeated in a battle at Majuba in 1881. At this time Paul Kruger was instrumental in negotiations with the British, which later led to the restoration of Transvaal as an independent state under British rule.

In 1882, the 57-year old Paul Kruger was elected president of Transvaal. He left for England in 1883 to revise the Pretoria Convention of 1881, an agreement which was reached between the Boers and the British that ended the first Anglo Boer War. Paul Kruger acquired many allies in Europe during this time. In Germany, he attended an imperial banquet at which he was presented to the Emperor, Wilhelm I, and spoke at length with the renowned Bismarck.

The political climate of the Transvaal changed with the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand basin. It spurred a gold rush and immigrants from around the world descended on the gold fields in search of fortunes.

Kruger’s leadership was put to the test at the end of 1895 when the failed Jameson Raid, led by Doctor Starr Jameson, brought about a breakdown in relations between the British and the Boers. It ultimately led to the second Anglo Boer War, known as the South African war.

Kruger was known as a fierce protector of the Afrikaner nation and on being elected as President of South Africa in 1883, he tirelessly campaigned for South Africa’s complete independence from Britain and the abolition of British supervision.

The South African war broke out in 1899 and Kruger, now 74, remained in Pretoria due to ill health until 1900. When the war swung in favour of the British army, Kruger was forced to flee the capital just days before Lord Roberts occupied the city. He boarded a Dutch warship at Lorenço Marques (Maputo) and left for Europe, where he lived out his remaining years in exile. He died of heart failure at the age of 79 years while still living in Switzerland.

Kruger made allies of the European sovereignty and arch enemies of the British and was regarded as a fierce politician and military man. However, his abiding legacy was the formation of the Kruger National Park.

THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK UNDER THREAT

The Park had a precarious start with numerous factions threatening its survival. Hunters wanted access to the Park; soldiers returning from the First World War expected land for sheep farming; prospectors wanted access to the land to search for gold, copper and coal; and South Africa’s vets were campaigning for a mass slaughter of wildlife to contain the spread of tsetse fly disease.

It was the South African Railways (SAR) that unwittingly saved the Kruger National Park when they opened a new route from Pretoria to Lorenço Marques (now Maputo). The train stopped in the reserve and travellers were allowed to explore the surrounding bush with a game ranger on hand.

Awareness of the Park and growing interest in it empowered conservation lobbyists to secure the future of the Kruger National Park as a tourist destination that would generate revenue for it to be self-sustainable.

Kruger National Park finally received international acclaim when Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret visited the Park on their royal tour of South Africa and stayed in one of the first luxury lodges built in the reserve. By 1955, over 100 000 people visited the Park each year.

The Kruger National Park grew in size when the game fences between the private reserves on Kruger’s western border came down in 1994. In 2001, the fences were removed between South Africa, Mozambique on its eastern border and Zimbabwe on its northern border. This was the creation of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

Known as the Peace Park, it incorporates Parque Nacional do Limpopo in Mozambique and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, making it the largest conservation reserve in Africa. The Park forms part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO ) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.

FIRST WARDEN OF THE PARK

Scottish-born James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed as the first Warden of the Park in 1902 when it was still known as the Sabie Game Reserve. The reserve was later merged with Shinwedzi Game Reserve in 1927 and became the Kruger National Park. His journals are housed in the Memorial Library in Skukuza and make fascinating reading.

James Stevenson-Hamilton (1867-1957) was born in Scotland, the eldest of nine children. He came to South Africa in 1888 as a member of the 6th Enniskillen Dragoons. This is the first time he came across wild game in the bush and he immediately fell in love with the country.

He returned to South Africa during the second Boer War, as a major in the British army. He did not want to return to England at the end of the war and secured the position of Warden of the Sabi Game Reserve. There was no clear instruction on what to do in the position except to make himself “thoroughly disagreeable to everyone”.

Stevenson-Hamilton took his job seriously and when he caught two policemen poaching game he had them arrested and convicted. This incident earned him quite a reputation. Amongst other tasks, he stopped the movement of cattle through the Park and stopped all prospecting for coal and minerals.

In 1914, Stevenson-Hamilton joined the forces at the start of the First World War. He left the management of the Park in the hands of a ranger who ultimately let the administration slide. On his return to the Park, Stevenson-Hamilton found his beloved Park was in a shambles. He fought tooth-and-nail to save the Kruger National Park, as the war had stimulated greedy development of the land for agricultural purposes.

The Selati Railway Line was established and this ultimately saved the Park. A 9-day tour of Mozambique and the Lowveld included a one-night stop at what is present-day Skukuza. Stevenson-Hamilton invited members of the Provincial Council to visit the reserve which helped these influential members of government to understand the value and importance of the proclaimed Park.

Stevenson-Hamilton was called Skukuza by his staff, a Shangaan name meaning either “he who sweeps clean” or “he who turns everything upside down. Skukuza, roughly interpreted, is taken from the Zulu word for “broom”. However, it wasn’t a positive term as the Tsonga tribe was bitter at being deprived of their historical land. The main rest camp at Sabie Bridge was called Skukuza in his honour.

Stevenson-Hamilton remained with the Park until he retired in 1945, on the eve of his 80th birthday.

DEVELOPMENT OF WILDERNESS TRAILS

Dr Player is probably one of South Africa’s most highly regarded environmentalists and a conservationist who led efforts to rescue the southern white rhino from extinction. He was instrumental in developing the first wilderness trails in 1957 in the Kruger National Park.

Player was a game ranger on the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, the oldest nature reserve in Africa. When it was established in 1897, there were only about 50 southern white rhinos left in the world and all of them were on the reserve. The rhino faced extinction as vast numbers of Zulus that were displaced by the government’s land policy had settled on the borders of the reserve and poaching was out of control. There was also the threat of an anthrax breakout from stray infected cattle that wondered into the reserve.

By the 1960s the Umfolozi’s population of white rhino had grown to 600; however, Player realised the danger of keeping an entire subspecies restricted to one small Park and drove a campaign to allow him to move a small herd of rhino to the Kruger National Park. This would ensure the survival of the rhino by establishing a gene pool in other regions of the country.

By this stage, veterinarian Toni Haarthoorn had pioneered a “dope darting” technique that was used in Operation Rhino, one of the most successful wildlife translocation programmes that included moving rhino to other parts aswell as to overseas reserves.

GEOGRAPHY OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

The Park lies in the north-east of South Africa on the confluence of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers converge at Crookes Corner in the Pafuri triangle at the most northerly point of the Park and if you stand in the river bed, you have Mozambique on your right, Zimbabwe straight ahead and South Africa on your left.

The Lebombo Mountains in the eastern region of the Park separates it from Mozambique. The Limpopo and the Crocodile Rivers act as its natural boundaries on the north and south of the park.

The Kruger National Park varies in altitude between 200 metres (660 feet) in the east and 840 metres ( 2 760 feet) in the south-west near Berg-en-Dal. The highest point is a hill called Khandzalive.

Several rivers run through the park including the Sabie, Olifants, Crocodile, Letaba, Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers.

THE GREAT LIMPOPO TRANSFRONTIER PARK

A vision to create what is otherwise known as a Peace Park came to fruition in 2000 when a multi-international agreement led to the fences being brought down between the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, the Kruger National Park and the Makuleke region in South Africa, and Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe.

Fences were removed based on a Memorandum of Understanding that did away with political boundaries that restricted the free movement of animals along old migratory routes. In 2001, the first 40 (including 3 breeding herds of a planned 1 000 elephants) were translocated from the over-populated Kruger National Park to the Limpopo National Park.

The transboundary protected area (TBPA) is an area that spans the boundaries of more than one country, where the political border sections that are enclosed within its area are abolished. This includes the removal of all man-made physical boundaries, such as fences. Such areas are also known as transfrontier conservation areas or peace Parks.

The aim of these transfrontier parks is to preserve traditional animal migration patterns, and ensure there are sufficient food and water sources as the population of animals increase. Peace Parks also encourage tourism and economic development that is mutually beneficial for all parties. It is entirely reliant on the goodwill and integrity of the frontier countries.