Kruger National Park is South Africa’s first national park and one of the largest game reserves in the world. Every year, it hosts millions of visitors from all over the world anxious to go on an African Big Five safari tour and see the continent’s most celebrated, majestic wildlife. The efforts the South African government and local private reserve operators put in also make Kruger one of the most convenient, comfortable and easy-to-reach destinations for Big Five safari tours.
The current success and popularity of Kruger would never have happened without the hard efforts of past South African government officials and passionate conservationists. Learn more about the park’s history and how it came be one of the most popular wildlife preservations in the world by reading on.
Small Beginnings: The Sabi Game Reserve
The Sabi Game reserve was established in 1898 by the former South African Republic. Early park commissioners established a general area equivalent to just over 4,000 square miles. Soon after the game reserve lands were declared, the Second Boer War broke out. A resulting British victory caused all of the formerly Dutch-held Transvaal lands to be transferred to British rule.
The British appointed several wardens to the reserve, and the third one, James Stevenson-Hamilton, became successful at expanding the role of park management. He appointed his own game rangers, assigning them territories to protect within Sabi and surrounding areas. By 1903, a new reserve was established nearby, the Shingwedzi Game Reserve. In 1906, the first hunting ban was enacted between the Olifants and Letaba Rivers.
Around 1916, some within the commission in charge of operating the reserves began to request that the boundaries be shrunk to make way for industry, hunting and exploitation of resources. A report was conducted to study the effects, but when it was released in 1918, it firmly established that not only would the reserves remain intact, but that they would be developed for visitation and easier access to game wardens.
As the report wrote: “The provincial administration should be directed toward the creation of the area ultimately as a great national park where the natural and prehistoric conditions of our country can be preserved for all time.”
The Formation of Kruger National Park
Tourists first began to visit the Sabi reserve in 1923 as part of South African Railways’ renowned “Round in Nine” tours. At the time, park visits consisted of a short bush walk while escorted by armed rangers. These walks proved so popular that the efforts to expand them hastened the establishment of the reserve area as a true national park.
The park was officially proclaimed in 1926, and it was named after the former South African Republic president Paul Kruger, who governed from 1825 to 1904. The first game three tourist vehicles wound their way through Kruger in 1927. Visitors then had to establish their own camps in the bush since the park was devoid of any amenities.
Road construction began that same year, and by 1929 over 383 miles of road were created. In 1948, the park hit a new record of 58,739 visitors. However, the first sealed tarmac roads were not created until 1965. The park was seeing around 300,000 annual visitors by that time.
Visiting Kruger and Big Five Safari Tours Now
Today, Kruger remains one of the most popular natural destinations in the world. Over 1.6 million visitors came to the park in the 2014/2015 season, with 382,396 guests staying overnight.
Big five safari tours and game drives remain one of the most popular attractions in the park, with dozens of comfortable safari lodging options to accommodate a wide variety of budgets and preferences.
If you are interested in visiting Kruger on a safari tour of your own, we offer many different South African safari tour packages to choose from. You can select from a range of amazing and transformative experiences, or you can create your own custom safari tour package when you contact us today!
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui