A dazzle of Zebra in the Kruger early morning light. Photograph by James Souchon
Most people have heard about the Kruger National Park in South Africa as it prides itself on being one of the most famous game reserves not just in the country, but also in the whole of Africa. The Kruger National Park was officially proclaimed in 1926. It was the amalgamation of two game reserves that had been established to try and control hunting in the region and to protect the different species of animals whose populations were decreasing. The reserve now covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres, extending 360 km from north to south and averaging 65 km in width from east to west. To put this into perspective, the Kruger National Park is approximately the same size as Wales or about the same size as the state of New Jersey in the US!
The early days of Kruger Park self-drive safaris. Photograph by krugernationalparksafaris.blogspot.com
What makes it even more exciting is that the Kruger is also part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which is an exciting project to join up other game reserves in the neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. If all goes according to plan over the next few years there could potentially be a game reserve covering an area close to 100 000 square kilometres, which is more than 5 times the size of what the Kruger National Park is today.
The proposed Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The dark green areas are already protected game reserves and the light green areas are the proposed areas to be included in the park. With an area of wilderness that big it meant that animals could now travel further and wider in search of food and water when the conditions got tough. Territorial predators like lion and leopard could disperse as young males and moved away from the dominant males in their areas and set up territories of their own without encroaching onto neighbouring farmlands. Grasslands weren’t getting overgrazed because wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and rhino could move on to new areas, giving depleted grasslands a chance to recover.
It is not uncommon to see herds of elephant making their way through the Sand River. The Kruger National Park is vital to conservation in South Africa not just because of the wilderness area it preserves but also as an educational tool. It is the most accessible game reserve to get to for a large number of South Africans as well as the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit South Africa each year. About a million visitors go through the gates of the Kruger Park annually. School trips with the Good Work Foundation and family holidays to the Kruger each year play a big role in shaping the young minds that will be our future conservation heroes in the years to come, when preserving our wild areas is going to be even higher up on the agenda than it is today.
The children of Tfolinhlanhla Primary School get ready for their first ever game drive with “Kids in Parks” Facilitator, Oriel Mhlongo (centre back). Of the 40 children who were part of this outing, not one had ever visited Kruger. Photograph by Accolade Ubisi
People can choose to experience the Kruger in a host of different ways, depending on their preferences and budgets, and whether it is a camping, self-drive holiday where you explore the reserve on your own with the help of a map, or visiting an exclusive concession within the reserve with an experienced guide who takes you around, the reserve has something for everybody. It’s a part of South Africa’s heritage and has provided countless campfire stories for millions of people across the world since it’s proclamation. Some of my fondest childhood memories are helping my Dad pack the family car and heading off for a holiday to Kruger. We would ‘braai’ (barbecue) each night and then my sister and I would fall asleep staring into the burning embers of the fire as the adults continued to chat around it. Each morning we would be queuing at the camp gate with flasks of coffee waiting for the guard to open it so we would get out and start searching for animals. It was those trips to the bush in my early years that made me decide that I wanted to live and work out here.
My best memories from family holidays to the Kruger National Park are sitting around the campfire at night cooking dinner and listening to everyone’s stories. Photograph by James Souchon