Updated date:

National Parks in South Africa -A Brief History of the Kruger National Park

Wild life enthusiast and keen birder.Travelled extensively in the USA and Southern Africa.

The biggest of the Big Five

The biggest of the Big Five

Most common antelope - Impala

Most common antelope - Impala

Another of the Big Five

Another of the Big Five

Not so common of the 500 birds -an African Wattled Plover

Not so common of the 500 birds -an African Wattled Plover

 A Black Collared Barbet a common resident

A Black Collared Barbet a common resident

Typical Camping!

Typical Camping!

The King is on the prowl

The King is on the prowl

At present South Africa has 18 National Parks and over 25 major Nature Reserves; not counting the many smaller nature reserves that are found in many areas and towns around the country. These areas which have been set aside as nature conservation areas comprise only a small area of the total land space available in South Africa -between 2-3%. This is well below the percentage that is suggested by world-wide nature conservation experts. Ownership of land remains a pressing question in South Africa and so obtaining more land for this purpose would be difficult.

There are basically four arguments that are made regarding the need to have areas set aside for preserving the wild-life, fauna and flora, and historically important areas. These reasons are ethical, aesthetic, economic and ecological. At times these factors compete with each other and at other times they supplement each other. It is interesting to take a closer look at the history of the establishment and growth of the Kruger National Park in South Africa over the years. This is a good example of this battle for conservation verses other uses for the land.

Kruger is considered to be one of the major National Parks in Africa and even in the world. At present is comprises about 20 000sq kilometres and extends for about 60 km from east to west and for about 350km north to south. It is situated on the NE boundary of South Africa and borders Mozambique in the east and Zimbabwe in the north.

The Kruger National Park is named after an interesting historical figure, Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, a member of the Voortrekker movement. These were people who left the Cape Colony to look for a new world where they could farm and live their lives away from the British rule in the Cape. Kruger became the President of the South African Republic and persuaded his “Volksraad”(Cabinet) in 1898 to set aside a tract of land between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers in the Eastern Transvaal as a protected area.

During the Anglo-Boer-War not much happened in the area that Kruger had set aside and both Boer and English soldiers hunted for game there at this time. An important milestone in the future development of the Park was in 1902 when after the war, the British Colonial Government appointed Major James Stevenson-Hamilton to take charge of the area in the Eastern Transvaal then known as the Sabie Game Reserve. He filled this position for 44 years. His previous experience in the field of nature conservation was as a hunter in areas to the North of South Africa before the war. It was under his guidance that the Kruger National Park expanded and developed into the area that it is today.

When Stevenson-Hamilton began his work as the “head ranger” the conditions in the area were terrible. In 1903 he managed to add the area between the Letaba and Shingwedzi Rivers to the Sabie game reserve. During the First World War he left the Game Reserve to join the British forces and on his return found everything he had worked on in a mess. So he set about the task of getting organized again. He proved to be a good choice for the task of managing the establishment and development of the Kruger National Park. He fought battles on many fronts; against poachers, competition for land from mining operations, farmers and a general apathy towards conservation. In this he proved to be a good organizer and shrewd politician. He found support in government in the form of Piet Grobler, the then minister of Lands, and Paul Kruger’s grand-nephew. In 1926 Piet Grobler presented the National Parks Act to the Union Parliament, where it was passed.

The local people named Stevenson-Hamilton Skukuza, “he who turns everything upside down”. Today the main camp in the Kruger National Park, Skukuza, is named after him and there is a museum in that camp that honours his contribution. He retired in 1947 at the age of 80.

Today the Kruger National Park is visited by more than a million people every year and makes an important contribution to research on many different areas. It also contributes largely to the economy, both regionally and nationally. There are 24 rest camps that are available for visitors with various types of accommodation. A well developed road system makes it possible for visitors to travel by car and to look for the over 145 mammal wild life species and over 500 bird species than exist in the park. The rest camps cater for visitors with shops and restaurants in the larger camps. Hides and view points are provided near water sources. Organized hikes under supervision of a game ranger are possible. Most camps also offer game drives during the day and at night.

Kruger can be considered the flagship of the National Parks in South Africa but many of the other National and Regional Parks in South Africa open up the natural resources of this beautiful country for the local and overseas visitors. With its variety of different natural regions including a long and beautiful coast line, a marvellous mountain landscape, a long coastal plain and the large bush veldt area it is a must visit country for every nature lover.

References:

National Parks and Nature Reserves – A South African Field Guide. Struik Publications

The National Parks of South Africa. Struik Publications

Wikipedia

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on September 23, 2021:

This is an interesting and informative article. I had heard of the Kruger Park, but I have learnt a lot from this article. The photos are great too.

Related Articles