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... the bush, done properly   

Elephants were first offered sanctuary in the Umbabat, Klaserie and Timbavati Game Reserves, following the erection of the Kruger National Park's western fences in the 1960s.

At that time they were shot on sight in the neighbouring farms of Rhoda, Doreen and Skoongesigt, amongst others.

The prevailing policy was orientated towards the protection of farmed agriculture.

Since 1993, with the dismantling of this perimeter fence and the re-alignment of the veterinary "Red Line" defence against the spread of tuberculosis, there are in excess of six hundred elephant found seasonally in this area of about 3,500 square kilometres.

You can even see them wondering around private property surrounding the Phalaborwa mine.

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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.

Kruger National Park takes shape. Expropriation in 1923 of 928,000 hectares from the Sabie Game Reserve.

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 impact of fences

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.

Veterinary fencing erected since the 1960s included by 1995 an additional 400,000 hectares within the Greater Kruger ecosystem.

Historically, herbivore distribution within the area that now comprises the Kruger National Park was strongly influenced by seasonal change. During the summer rainfall months, the shallow seasonal pans dotted throughout the area took on water, drawing large numbers of herbivores away from perennial water sources. As the season progressed these areas became highly nutritious and dotted with adequate water, creating ideal conditions that could support herbivores for the entire summer. The seasonal movement of game afforded the entire area a rest period either during summer or winter and an opportunity to recover from the impact of herbivores and so minimised overgrazing. A case study on habitat destruction is here.

A stylized rendition illustrating mobile clusters and aggregations of various mammal species of the Eastern Savannah Ecosystem.

With the onset of winter, the shallow pans began drying and with this game were forced to move towards the perennial rivers. It was in close proximity to these rivers that the animals then spent their winter. Historically, large numbers of wildebeest and zebra concentrated in the area of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve during the dry winter season. Then, after the first summer rains these species would disperse in group migrations north to the dolerite and gabbro habitats of the Manyaleti and west to the adjoining Timbavati and Klaserie Private Reserves and beyond to Hoedspruit and Grovedale.

Not only were the wildebeest and zebra migrations disrupted, the fences precipitated a collapse in both species' population numbers by fragmentation of their habitats. The unity of the Central Lowveld and Drakensberg Escarpment ecosystems had been severed. This disruption of this ability to migrate massively increased the pressure on populations of tsessebe, sable, and roan and eland populations and accelerated their decline.

Mammal movements indicating a Complete Ecosystem of the eastern savannas and Escarpment in demise from the 1850s.

Artificial fencing in and around the park, overgrazing by cattle, and unnatural fire frequencies caused by man's intervention between the forties and the eighties has created successive vegetation changes, rendering habitats now unsuitable to the latter four ungulates. The proliferation of artificial water points has further modified the landscape. The habitat has been substantially changed to the detriment of certain species.

Conversely, certain species thrived in the new conditions (e.g., impala, whose numbers exploded- there are in excess of 150,000 in the regions described).

In 1993 the western boundary fence of the national park was removed from the areas adjoining the private nature reserves. In effect, this largely restored the ecological integrity of these ecosystems. However, the disruption of the intervening 22 years led to many changes in the composition and structure of vegetation, and consequently the density and distribution patterns of animal populations.

Restoring the ecological patterns existing before the introduction of the fence is both a vision and a management priority. Considerable ecological value has been restored in terms of biodiversity and formerly fragmented habitats by the removal of these western fences.