The Kruger (A brief Summary)……
Old Africa was an evocative place. Massive herds of wildebeest, elephant, zebra and buffalo traversed the vast savannah, unchecked by fences or political borders. This was the way Africa had always been, until rampant hunting severely depleted wildlife numbers. With dwindling game counts, swift action was needed to conserve this rich natural heritage.
This was the talk back in the late 1800s. The outcome was the proclamation, in 1926, of South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park – a mega wildlife reserve named in honour of Paul Kruger, for his contribution to its creation
Today the Kruger National Park stretches for 345km from north to south, with an average breadth of approximately 54km. Bordering the national park to the west are several private game reserves and in the north is a contractual park, cumulatively allowing game to roam through 2.3 million hectares of prime wilderness area. This area is colloquially known as greater Kruger.
The Kruger (A brief Summary) contiued……
People have always felt a mysterious attraction to the greater Kruger area. Long before it had a name, the region was a stomping ground for ancient tribes who left intricate artwork and metallic relics of their existence. The Stone Age Bushmen fashioned ingenious hand implements from stone for use in their daily lives. They hunted and gathered for survival and lived in natural caves and overhangs, decorating them with intricate rock paintings and engravings telling of their lives and deep spiritual connection to wild animals. For thousands of years these people lived in harmony with nature and her creatures. Little did they know that up north, people were on the move, nguni speaking tribes were filtering down through Africa, bringing with them their herds of livestock, these new Iron Age migrants built permanent dwellings, planted crops and were remarkably adept at metal work. They smelted iron, copper and gold and even had primitive mining operations. Unfortunately the tsetse fly pestered their cattle and predators depleted their stock numbers, so they hunted for supplementary meat and in doing so, slowly displaced the Bushmen from their traditional hunting grounds.
Even more changes were imminent in the area, as trading routes opened up between the interior and the east coast of Africa. Arab and Portuguese traders had already settled along the eastern seaboard and were doing a roaring trade in both ivory and slaves. Gold trading with today’s Zimbabwe was also in full swing and transport routes were being forged through the Lowveld and coastal areas in Mozambique. To compound this further, when gold was found at Pilgrim’s Rest and Barberton in the late 1800s, both fortune seekers and rogues flocked to the area settling high on the edge of the escarpment to avoid the deadly malaria of the steamy Lowveld below. In their spare time they hunted for hides and meat while professional hunters were rapidly depleting elephant populations to supply the lucrative ivory trade.
Not surprisingly, wildlife numbers dwindled as hunting forays went unchecked, until eventually legislation was prompted, although collecting species for museums was still condoned and rampant. To add to this, another blow struck the wildlife. ‘The Rinderpest’ epidemic on the continent reached Southern Africa in 1896, killing all cattle and wildlife in its path. Game populations were seriously threatened and buffalo faced extinction. This now caused great concern amongst the general public, especially as the hunting laws had done little to stem the widespread destruction.
The idea of state game reserves had long been debated by leaders of the day, with the purpose of restoring wildlife populations by banning both public access and hunting. With this in mind, a stretch of land between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers was earmarked for proclamation as a wildlife reserve in the area then known as the Transvaal Lowveld, thus in 1896 the Sabi Game reserve (known officially as the Sabi Wildtuin) was born. It was the first step to preserving the remaining wildlife of the area and would ultimately form the core of the Kruger National Park. Quite ironically, Col. James Stevenson Hamilton (1867–1957), an obstinate Scot not a South African would play a pivotal role in stabilising and restoring the Lowveld’s vulnerable wildlife population, and he would also be instrumental in the establishment and management of the Kruger National Park – today being one of Africa’s greatest wildlife reserves..
Biodiversity reflects the full palette of natural life – from the ant to elephant, frogs to falcons and including vegetation, soil and rivers. All these elements are included in today’s conservation plans and principles and now the iconic Kruger National Park and its surrounding area has certainly come of age, with wildlife populations now surpassing numbers even before the era of excessive hunting and trade in ivory and skins. Fauna and flora live in peaceful harmony with humans, who now come to commune with nature, to see and feel her mystery and embrace the ‘green gold’. Its density of permanent game is unrivalled with hundreds of different species; 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians!
Few visitors leave South Africa without visiting this enormous and magnificent park or one of the private reserves along its borders as this area is still that evocative place and the manifestation of a visionary idea for the ultimate conservation of African wildlife.
Information Collated & Written by Chris Edwards