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Early Kruger Park History   

In 1884, Transvaal President Paul Kruger's government declared Africa's first nature reserve, Pongola, close to the border of Swaziland in what is now northern KwaZulu-Natal. As the land had already been hunted to extinction, this "gameless" game reserve was a curious project, bravely supported by a handful of courageous politicians and conservationists for fourteen years.

These early conservation efforts were motivated by the need to protect some resources for later exploitation, rather than a desire for their outright protection on any sort of idealistic basis.

For many years it had been apparent that wildlife, which formed a key part of the Boer Republic's economy, was dwindling. The Volksraad, the governing body of the ZAR, was empowered to declare areas of state land closed to hunters. The primary reason for the proclamation of this reserve was to allow wildlife the chance to breed so that it could later be shot.

However, the act did lay the foundations for what is today a network of protected areas sprinkled all the way across the continent.

Hunting party in the Sabie area in the 1880s.

Soon afterwards, a contemporary European's report, written in 1894, concluded that a complete natural ecosystem was contained within the area between the Lebombo mountains and the Drakensberg Escarpment.

Abel Chapman reported that the area was already extensively over-hunted, and the game was in rapid decline. He proposed setting it aside as a protected area in its entirety in order to conserve the natural diversity.

He thereby anticipated part of the rationale for today's Kruger to Canyons Biosphere.

However, by the time he delivered the paper to the International Convention for the Preservation of Wild Animals in London in 1900, Kruger's government had pre-empted his recommendation by protecting a rather smaller area.

One quarter of a million hectares of Lowveld land was set aside as a 'Government Reserve' on 26 March 1898. The fledgling reserve was given the name the Sabi Game Reserve. This area remains at the core of today's Kruger National Park.

Rendition of Abel Chapman’s proposal for a big game sanctuary presented in London at the International Convention for the Preservation of Wild Animals, 1900.

In the grand style of traditional governance inherited from the British colonial system, two policeman were put in charge of the entire Reserve. However, the Boer War ensued, and any semblance of order broke down.

After a bitter peace was negotiated in 1902, a former Intelligence Officer of the Sixth Inniskilling Dragoons, James Stevenson-Hamilton, was appointed as the Sabi's Reserve's first Warden.

In 1903, Stevenson-Hamilton oversaw an extension of the Sabi Reserve twenty kilometres or so back towards the Drakensberg Escarpment. He was also put in charge of a new Reserve established that year, the Shingwedzi, comprising an additional half a million hectares of land to the north of the Sabie.

At this time, he displayed an example of the foresight that earnt him the local name of Skukuza - "he who sees far" or "he who sweeps clean". He negotiated with the private landholders to lease the property between the two reserves in order to join them together in a contiguous whole.

And in another, unpopular, fit of prescience, he developed an uncompromising set of measures to curtail hunting in the newly expanded region and punish its perpetrators.

The 1926 Addition to the Kruger is now the subject of a Land Claim by the Ba-Phalaborwa Tribe.

In 1914 Stevenson-Hamilton rejoined the British Army in France for the duration of World War I. During his absence the Union government deliberated on the future of the reserves.

Since hunting was no longer a mainstay of the economy, the justification for the game reserves had evaporated, and there was pressure to make the area available for farming. The reserves were expensive to maintain, generated no revenues, occupied land potentially useful for other purposes and harbored dangerous animals. Pressure mounted to have them de-proclaimed.

The survival of the Sabi and Shingwedzi Reserves ultimately came down to an aesthetic, rather than economic, rationale. Upon his return to South Africa, Stevenson-Hamilton, impressed by the success of National Parks in the United States of America, had been lobbying for more permanent protection for these parts of the Lowveld.

He carried with him the South African public, who quickly became enamoured with the idea.

In 1926, today's current boundaries were settled with the expropriation from the baPhalaborwa tribes of the areas between the Letaba and Olifants rivers (the subject of a current land restitution claim).

The Kruger National Park was formally promulgated in the same year.

The twentieth century saw renewed pressures on the Kruger, with land removed from the Park and the introduction of a series of fences which wrought havoc on the ecosystem.