The History of the Kruger National Park

Introduction

The Kruger National Park has only been a sanctuary for wild animals and the other forms of life that fall under the area's protection for a brief part of the area's history. To cover the long history of the area, it is necessary to break the history up into various periods, and to cover these periods or major influences upon the region into sub-sections. Below is a list of these sections with links to the relevant chapters in the history of the region. It is a work in progress, so it will evolve as more info is added.

The Stone Age & The Bushmen

The area which is now the present day Kruger National Park has been occupied by humans for about 300 000 years. The first inhabitants of the area lived in the periond which historians call the Stone Age. Towards the end of the Stone Age the area was occupied by the Bushmen, who later left the area when the first black inhabitants started to arrive.

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The Iron Age

About 4000 years ago there was a mass migration of African people who left western Africa, around modern-day Cameroon and the Niger Delta, and started to make their way down south. This period of mass migration was later referred to as the Bantu Diaspora. These early immigrants were agriculturists and stockbreeders, and also brought with them metalworking skills. Their arrival in southern Africa marked a period of transition which brought an end to the Stone Age and signified the start of the Iron Age.

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The Mfecane (Difaqane)

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Nguni tribes occupied the present day regions of Mpumalanaga, southern Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal, but as their populations increased, the demand for territories started to create power struggles among the various tribes. One of these tribes was led by Shaka Zulu, who, through a series of bloody campaigns, started to subjugate and conquer the other tribes. Those who did not manage to flee, were either killed or forced to become part of his army. This period of upheavel, which was called the Mfecane by the Zulus (meaning 'the crushing') or the Difaqane by the Sothos (meaning 'the scattering'), was at its most disruptive phase from 1820 to 1835. Those who managed to escape and flee to other regions in turn also invaded areas occupied by other tribes and subjugated them.

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The Early Trade Routes

Long before the arrival of Europeans in southern Africa, the locals tribes had established a network of trade routes which they used to transport their wares. The trade routes were also linked to the early mines which provided the raw materials which the early metal workers and smelters used to produce their metal wares.

The Arabs started to settle along the coast from around 740 AD onwards and established trading posts down the coast, the southernmost one being at Sofala (Beira). From these trading posts they traded beads and cloth with the locals for gold, iron and ivory.

The first Europeans to establish trade with the inhabitants of southern Africa were the Portuguese, who established a trading post at Sofala (Beira) in 1498. A ship was sent once a year to Inhambane to trade beads and other items for rhino horn, amber, elephant tusks and hippopotamus tusks.

In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded in Amsterdam. The VOC, on 29 March 1721, ordered the Political Council in Cape Town to take possession of Delagoa Bay. A few months later, on 29 March 1721, two ships carrying about a hundred men sailed into the Bay of Lourenco Marques (Maputo).

The Dutch East India Company instructed them to try find an overland route to the goldfields of Monomotapa (Mashonaland), which they had been told was the source of the gold that the Portuguese had obtained from the traders coming from the interior. The first expedition in 1723, which was led by Jan Stefler and Sergeant Eldret Sligting, was not a success, and after an altercation with a Swazi tribe near Komatipoort, Jan Stefler and Sligting were killed. The rest of the party then decided to return to Fort Rio de Lagoa.

A second attempt was made on 18 June 1725, under the leadership of Frans de Kuiper. The party, which were better prepared this time, crossed over the Lebombo mountains through a poort along the Komati River. On 10 July 1725 they crossed over the Crocodile River about three kilometres northeast of the current Crocodile Bridge rest camp, and thus became the first Europeans to set foot in the area that is now the Kruger National Park.

The Dutch had to leave Delagoa Bay in 1732 after a lot of their personnel had died from malaria and blackwater fever. The Portuguese returned to Delagoa Bay after the Dutch had left and established a permanent trading post at Delagoa Bay.

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The Voortrekkers

The journey undertaken by De Kuiper and his men would be the last journey to be undertaken by Europeans into the interior for another 100 years. The next Europeans to enter the region were the group of Voortrekkers led by Louis Trichardt between 1836 and 1838.

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João Albasini

Close to the Phabeni entrance gate are the partially reconstructed ruins of a house which was occupied by João Albasini, who was the first European to settle in the area  that is now the Kruger National Park. João Albasini was an elephant hunter and trader who also facilitated trade between the Boers and the Portuguese on the east coast.

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The Period of Extinction

With the arrival of the Europeans came more sophisticated weaponry and the concept of commerical exploitation of wildlife and the sports hunters who simply shot for the "fun" of it. The years between 1850 and 1900 were particulary destructive, and game populations dropped to a point where some species were lost entirely.

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The Quest for Gold

The search for gold that lay hidden in the interior of the southern Africa attracted prospectors to the northern regions of the Transvaal. Gold was also later discovered further south, and towns like Pilgrim's Rest grew 'overnight' as prospectors flocked to these towns in search of gold. The equipment and supplies needed by the mines was transported to these areas by ox-wagon which travelled along transport routes.

The Johannesburg-Lourenco Marques railway line was completed in 1895 after the Netherlands-South African Railway Company completed the remaining stretch of line linking line from Pretoria to the Portuguese line that linked them to the Portuguese port at Lourenço Marques.

These access routes to the mines opened up the areas around the current day Kruger Park to not only the prospectors, but also to the hunters, who came to the Lowveld in the winter months to shoot the game in the Lowveld. Most of the prospecting occurred outside the area that is now the current Kruger National Park. The Lowveld was avoided due to the prescence of the tsestse fly, which killed their oxen, and malaria which killed the humans.

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Transport Riders, Tsetse Flies and Rinderpest

The annexation of Natal by the British in 1843 made the need to create a route to a port in Mozambique a top priority for the Boers. In December 1843 a commission set off with 16 wagons on a journey to Delagoa Bay to find a suitable route to the harbour and to find a location for a settlement closer to the border. Not too far into their journey, however, a few of them started getting malaria, forcing the group to turn around and go back.

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The Railway Lines & Tourism

The gold rush brought about the need for an improved transport network in the Transvaal. The building of the railway line linking the Selati goldfields with the main Eastern line linking Pretoria with the Portugues port at Delagoa Bay would play an important role in the early development of tourism to the Kruger National Park.

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Emergencies Numbers

SANParks Emergency Hotlines:

013 735 4325
013 735 0197
076 801 9679

Counter Poaching Hotline:

0800 205 005

Crime Line:

SMS: 32211
Call: 08600 10111