The Kruger National Park is commemorating 120 years of conservation since the park’s predecessor, Sabi Game Reserve, was proclaimed in 1898. To find out how things have changed, we go way back in time to bring you some vintage Kruger trivia.

As an extra special Heritage Month celebration, Wild puts the spotlight on the Kruger National Park. For millions, Kruger is a wild sanctuary bar none, a place where Africa’s iconic animals can still roam free. For others, it epitomises family holidays and adventurous getaways with loved ones. Some even call themselves Krugerholics. This year the world-famous destination is celebrating 120 years of conservation.

#1: Long before Kruger was declared a national park in 1926, the first seeds of conservation were planted in the Sabi Game Reserve. In September 1898, an area west of the Lubombo Mountains, from Crocodile River in the south to Sabi River in the north, was set aside for the protection of wildlife. In the early days it wasn’t a game reserve as we think of it today, but rather a protected breeding ground for big game. The thinking was that once wildlife numbers recovered, the reserve would be opened for controlled hunting. Fortunately, the warden, James Stevenson-Hamilton, took a different view. The book Fair Game describes how his vision of a national park came into being.

#2: “What? Look at your old wildebeests?!” That was the reaction when Stevenson-Hamilton first suggested that guests on the Round in Nine railway tour visit the reserve. The warden prevailed and the tour included an overnight stop at Sabi Bridge, where visitors gathered around a campfire and enjoyed a guided bush walk. The game reserve soon became the most popular stop on the tour, paving the way for the proclamation of the Kruger National Park in 1926.

#3: In the early days travellers used oxen, horses and pack donkeys to traverse this piece of wilderness. They even had to pack their own rifles for protection against wild animals. With the arrival of motor cars, things changed quickly and dramatically. In 1927 three cars per day were recorded; by 1953 some 5,000 visitors spent the night at camps from June to October. Initially the park wasn’t open to guests in summer due to the threat of malaria.

Pafuri Camping-Kruger past-min

In the 2016/2017 financial year, the Kruger National Park saw a grand total of 1,817,724 guests.

#4: After Kruger’s proclamation, the value of tourism became quite apparent, leading to many a heated debate about amenities. One concerned the issue of hot water at ablution facilities – apparently an “unnecessary luxury”. After much reluctance, Punda Maria and Letaba rest camps finally got four baths each in 1939.

#5: Already in 1936 park management alerted visitors to curious cats: “Don’t become alarmed if lions stand and stare at your car. They have probably not seen one before and are naturally overwhelmed with astonishment.”

#6: To cross the park’s treacherous Crocodile, Sabie and Olifants rivers, pontoons were made available to vehicles and pedestrians in the 1930s. The cost? Fifty cents per vehicle – valid for any number of crossings over the same pontoon for seven days – and 25 cents for a group of up to five travellers on foot.

#7: It’s hard to believe that Kruger’s first road was tarred only in 1961 – a one-mile stretch from Skukuza Rest Camp. Today, the park boasts 850 kilometres of tarred roads. Did you know that the park is 320km long and 65km wide?

Including roads, less than 5% of Kruger is developed. The international guideline is capped at 10%.

#8: Hungry? In 1978 a dinner at Skukuza Rest Camp cost R2,50 per person. The spread included vegetable soup, savoury fish salad, bobotie with rice, three types of cold meat, six salads, banana split and, to end off, a cheese board and coffee or tea. Talk about value for money…

#9: As visitors to the park increased, a set of strict rules and regulations had to be drawn up to protect the park’s precious fauna and flora. In The Kruger National Park – A History, Dr Salomon Joubert, Kruger’s chief executive director from 1985 to 1994, highlights some of crucial regulations: no plants or park property were to be damaged, littering was not allowed, unattended fires were not tolerated, and a speed limit of 40 km/hour was introduced.

Responsible tourism-Kruger past-min

#10: Kruger’s approximate two million hectares encompass some 300 archaeological sites of cultural and spiritual importance. Three of these, Albasini Ruins, Masorini and Thulamela, are accessible to visitors. What many visitors to the park might not realise is that there are several examples of ancient rock art within its borders. Standing next to these fascinating and unique works of art is really something else. The San called Kruger home from about 20,000 years to 150 years ago. They left nearly 130 rock art sites behind.

#10: It’s impossible to visit Kruger without coming across impala, but that wasn’t always the case. “At Pretoriuskop I saw no impala for about 35 years,” noted legendary ranger Harry Wolhuter. The antelope were the casualty of intensive hunting during the construction of the Selati railway line. But they bounced back and by 1968 numbers already exceeded 100,000. The autumn 2017 issue of Wild declared the impala the perfect antelope and even former South African president Nelson Mandela sang its praises. “My favourite animal is the impala because it is alert, curious, rapid and able to get out of difficult conditions easily – and with grace.”

View this post on Instagram

In the immortal words of @chrisdeburgh_official —There's a #Spanish train that runs between Guadalquivir and old #Saville And at dead of night the whistle blows And people hear she's running still …. well there is an old #railway track that runs from #crocodilebridge in the #krugerpark To #skukuza #safari #camp -along the safari tracks where #wildebeest #migrate #elephants roam and #lion stalk the #trains as they glide along the rails … aaah but your land is #beautiful …. here sitting at the #river #riverbank watching nighfall and the #evening #birds in full #song the old railway #bridge of the old selati railroad dominates the #AFRICAN #bush. #southafrica #krugernationalpark #animals #animal #animalkingdom #wildlife #game #nationalgeographic

A post shared by Howard Sackstein (@howie_sackstein) on

Additional sources: Kruger Self-Drive: Routes, Roads & Ratings, HPH Publishing, 2015;; Stuart’s Field Guide to National Parks and Nature Reserves, Chris & Mathilde Stuart, Struik Nature, 2018; In the Words of Nelson Mandela edited by Jennifer Crwys-Williams, Penguin Books, 2009.
Compiled by Arnold Ras and Magriet Kruger