Park Under Pressure
The generation of leaders after Paul Kruger did not have the benefit of foresight in appreciating the importance of the land protected by Stevenson-Hamilton to the maintenance of viable populations of a wide range of species.
In 1923, a large portion of the new Sabie Game Reserve was expropriated and returned to the use of mankind. This included the preferred habitat of a number of endemic antelope - roan, sable and tssessebe. This land was simply fenced out of the Park and turned over into public hands. Efforts were subsequently made to ranch cattle on much of it.
The area removed from protection amounted to almost a million hectares in extent, and included the areas known today as Numbi, Mkhuhlu, Thulamahashe, and Acornhoek. These rare hoofed animals' (ungulates') viability was particularly affected by the reduction in land available to them.
Most of this land was turned over to farming, and distributed to white settler families. Before modern settled farming, the entire region extending from the Lebombo mountains to the Blyde River witnessed an age-old migration phenomenon. Literally thousands of Wildebeest, Zebra and Tsessebe (together with Roan and Sable) were seen, seasonally, on the plains in the Essex, Moriah and Madrid districts close to Mariepskop and the Blyde River. This area remains today largely an intensive sub tropical fruit growing region surrounded by protected areas.
In 1961/62 a 460km game-proof fence was erected on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park amidst considerable opposition from conservationists. Another 350km fence was erected in 1973 on the Kruger’s eastern boundary. The fences comprised the final coup-de-grace to the ecosystem.
The fences introduced in the nineteen sixties and seventies were intended to arrest the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, in particular, and any other contagious diseases, in general, from wild animals to domestic stock. To a large degree the fence succeeded in its purpose. However, by curtailing animal movement one of the spectacular natural phenomena of the Central Lowveld and Escarpment ecosystems was disrupted.