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 Post subject: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:16 pm 
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In September, 2011 I spent 10 days touring Kruger from Satara to Crocodile Bridge. Previous visits were in: 1982, 1970, 1966 (twice), 1964 (four times) 1963 (twice) and 1962. I lived in Johannesburg from 1950 to 1970 so the 1982 and 2011 visits necessitated travelling from abroad.

I thought that the Forum participants, (and especially the virtual rangers!) might be interested in some observations of the changes over that period.

To put things in perspective: During my earliest visits, the Selati rail line was still active (hot coals spewing from the aging steam locomotive caused innumerable veld fires) and the northern section of KNP was closed during the summer months as the conditions were regarded as too inhospitable (due more to the heat and lack of staffing than to Malaria... the disease didn't become a major problem until after Mozambiquan independence in 1975)..

The most serious and most disturbing change was with the weather! On three different days in Sept 2011 the winds were very strong especially during the morning. I had never experienced more than brisk breezes in KNP during September in those earlier years. Worse, the daytime temperatures ranged from 31 deg C to 39.5 deg C!! Never had I encountered such blazing heat in early Spring! At first I thought that my recollection was faulty, but I checked with one of my 1960s KNP tourist guidebooks (cost 25 cents!!) and that map cum information booklet confirmed that in southern KNP maximum temperatures for September could be expected to range from 70 deg F to 76 deg F (i.e. 21 deg C to 24 deg C). An irrefutable example of climate change!

I well remember that in 1959 the PUTCO Bus Company requested permission from the Transvaal provincial government to discontinue service between the Hazyview area and White River due to the very low population on that route, numbering less than 100 persons (permission was refused). On my 2011 visit I was amazed to discover literally thousands of houses now carpeting the landscape especially between Legogote and Hazyview!

Always a feature of the drive from White River to Numbi Gate were the "dassies" (hyraxes, rock rabbits) which were abundant and easy to see around the area we called Bushman's Rock. Sadly, I didn't see a single one on either the 1982 or 2011 trip. Also absent in the later trips was any sign of wildlife on what is now called the R538. In the 60s I saw Giraffe, Mongoose, Steenbok, Duiker and Vervet Monkeys on the stretch between White River and the turn off to Numbi Gate.

In Kruger Park itself the main winners over the 50 year period seemed to be the bird population! During all the 1960s trips I saw just two francolins (now called spurfowl) and one koorhaan. Last year I lost count of the numbers of these game birds easily viewed from my car. Likewise, Lilac Breasted Rollers - just one seen from a great distance in the 1960 decade but literally scores observed at relatively close quarters in 2011. Any bird that I had observed in the 1960s was now present in much greater numbers. The only exceptions seemed to be Crowned Cranes (I didn't see any last year, but several in the 60s) and the Guinea Fowl population seemed to be unchanged.

Another noteworthy change was the decrease in herds of wildebeest and zebra. I don't know if the total numbers of these animals have decreased but the large herds seemed to have all but gone! During the 60s one often encountered small groups of zebra and wildebeest, numbering from three to eight animals (I still saw such sightings last year) BUT when one came upon a herd it usually numbered from 50 to as many as 300 animals. And such herds were fairly common. Last year the only large animal herds that I saw were of Buffalo. I never saw a herd of more than 24 Zebra and even fewer wildebeest. And the populations of black wildebeest, Sable and Roan Antelope (never very numerous) seem to have deceased quite markedly.

Additionally, in 1970 and 1982 I saw some fairly large herds of elephants (25 to 40 animals) and males with very large tusks were much in evidence. Last year I seem to have missed both the herds and the large tuskers... was that just bad luck or are other forces at work here?

Finally, I have to say that the quality of the restaurants seems to have declined (or at least certainly not improved!) over the past 50 years. Although the shops carry far more comprehensive wares, there is a great emphasis on commercialisation and extracting as much money from tourists as possible as opposed to educating the visitors and the world at large. The Park authorities do seem to be doing their best to maintain some standards under difficult circumstances.

I'd be interested in comments from the Forum members who may have similar recollections.


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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:49 pm 
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Welcome to the forums! :gflower:
Quote:
I well remember that in 1959 the PUTCO Bus Company requested permission from the Transvaal provincial government (...)

Eh... I am far from the youngest member here, in fact the word pension is starting to get a nice ring to it, but in that year I wasn't even being built.... :D

So I am hoping that you were happily using a camera then, and can show us some of the photos.
That must have been quite a different experience then. There is a topic here already, of the Kruger from bygone days,but maybe you can add to it?

It would be nice if you gave us a tripreport, comparing then and now?

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:25 am 
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Nsmnsi :D a very warm welcome to you.

What interesting contribution. I was particularly interested in your observations about the animal and bird populations. Goodness, and the Seleti line. 8)

I had to smile at your observations of the bird life. I am an avid collector of out of publication second hand books. They give such a pertinent window into various periods.

Piet Meiring, in his 1976 book on Kruger Park writes, "Not all lovers of the Game Reserve are lovers of birds in song"... how we too have changed and see the bird life as one of the central attractions of the Park.

Thank you for your very enlightening post. I do hope that we see a lot more of you.

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:32 am 
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Thank you so much for sharing nsmnsi !!! :clap:

I also believe that 50 years or more could be .. the open veld you see on the way to Mlondozi on the H10 you would see Mopani Forests .. now it's just grasslands mostly there ...

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:19 am 
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Nsamnsi welcome to the forum.

Things have indeed changed, we still see large numbers of Zebra and Blue Wildebeest, however maybe not as many as in the 60s.

Sable and Roan were most definitely present in larger numbers than presently.

The Elephant population has more than doubled, and of course the Rhino numbers have increased as they were only re-introduced in the late 60s.

I also remember the Hyraxes at the Drum Rock area.

Maybe the many wet seasons have contributed to the increased number of bird species and the numbers of birds in the KNP. There were dreadful droughts during the period 60s to early 80s. Maybe we now are just more aware that birds are also on the "to find" list in the KNP.

You mentioned Black Wildebeest, I think there is a bit of a confusion here.

According to the scientists the Satara area is the windiest in the KNP.

Enjoy your visits, the KNP will always be very special. :)

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I participate because I care - CUSTOS NATURAE
No to Hotels in and commercialization of our National Parks.
No to Legalized Rhino and Lion trade.
Done 144 visits to National Parks.
What a wonderful privilege.


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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 11:57 am 
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Thank you for your post. For an international visitor it is really fascinating to get some insight as to how the park and region was in the past. :D

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:10 pm 
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Hi nsmnsi and welcome. Well I remember the old days. The restaurants were of a much higher standard and the quality of food was great and affordable. When we were in Skuks in 66 the restaurant was run by a Swiss couple. I remember the Sable and roan antelope which I haven't seen of late.

Your memoirs brought back lovely memories.

Thanx


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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:23 pm 
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Thanks for a trip down memory lane nsmnsi!! :thumbs_up:

I can't go back as far as you, but have been visiting since the early 70s, have witnessed some of your ovservations.

I was very interested to hear about the climate changes, I can see that things have definitely changed :thumbs_up:

I also think the restaurant quality has deteriotated, and at inflated prices. :cry:

I am ashamed to say that until I joined the forums, I had no interest in birds :redface: so wouldn't be able to comment on that, but I'm just glad that there are plenty there now, as it's my main reason for visiting the park these days (though I'm also very happy to see the animals as well!!)

You must also have seen other changes like more people getting out of their cars when they shouldn't, speeding and littering.................but that's another story. :whistle:

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:15 pm 
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Welcome to the forum msnmsi. Great first post.

I have been going to Kruger since 1956, but had a 'gap' from about 1960 to 1980.

I recall being told the 'north' was closed because of malaria in summer. Does anyone remember exactly where it was 'blocked off'? Joep maybe?

There were no tar roads and far fewer camps. There was an AA garage in Skuk and assistance in other camps.

I don't recall any night drives or walks in those early days.

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:37 pm 
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The northern area of the KNP was closed to tourists during the summer months because of the threat of Malaria. The period being end October to end March/April.

Orpen Gate and Orpen rest camp were opened throughout the year as from March 1972.

Satara was also opened to the public all year round in 1973.

The restaurant in the Letaba rest camp was also kept open throughout the year as from March 1972, the accommodation was made available throughout the year as from September 1973, after ESKOM electricity was installed.

Shingwedzi and Punda Maria were opened on an experimental basis all year round in July 1977, this was widely publicised but after two seasons it was recommended to the Board that the two camps be closed during the summer, due to the low occupancy rates. However the Board decided that the two camps remain open and that they be run by a skeleton staff during the summer months, reduced rates were also offered during this period.

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I participate because I care - CUSTOS NATURAE
No to Hotels in and commercialization of our National Parks.
No to Legalized Rhino and Lion trade.
Done 144 visits to National Parks.
What a wonderful privilege.


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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:44 pm 
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Very interesting gmlsmit. :thumbs_up:

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 6:25 pm 
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Welcome to forum nsmnsi

Very interesting article, maybe you have more information and photos to share with us.


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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 11:16 pm 
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Thank you all for your responses to my posts. I can reply as follows to those of you who had suggestions:


DuQues and Foxy - I do have a few (black and white) photographs of dubious quality that I'll scan and post in the next week or so. Most of my photos have been lost over the years as I've moved around the world; what remains is a rather poor record of the times.

gmlsmit - I remember the hyraxes at Drum Rock (quite a few miles south of Bushman's Rock)... there was a beautiful hotel built at Drum Rock around 1962 or 63. That's long gone, replaced by government buildings now housing some or other official agency. You are quite right about the droughts in the 60s... whatever the reason for the dramatic increase in the bird population, I'm very pleased to see it! Ironically, I didn't notice any wind during my two days at Satara! The very strong winds that I mentioned in my post occurred around Numbi, Pretoriuskop and the Lower Sabie area, on three different days over a 10 day period. Also - and I didn't mention this in my post - on my day of departure, the afternoon winds at KMIA were so strong that I was very concerned that my flight to JHB would be cancelled and I'd miss my connection back to the USA!!

Pops - I remember fondly the "white tablecloth" atmosphere of the restaurants during the earliest days ('62 to '66). Both Skukuza and Pretoriuskop dining was excellent but seemed to deteriorate at the end of the decade. By my visit in 1982 the service and food had declined noticeably while the cost had increased out of proportion to inflation.

Crested Val - despite the fact that KNP is much more popular now than it was back then, people's behaviour has changed very little as far as I could tell. However, litter on the roads immediately outside the Park is extremely bad now! The area around Hazyview and even Malelane needs a roadside clean up! The road from Paul Kruger Gate to Hazyview in particular is so bad that it almost reminds me of the rural roads in the Bahamas - Bahamians have the reputation of being the world's worst litterbugs!

Bush Baptist - a special thank you to you for two reasons: (1) your visits to Kruger started even before mine!! and (2) I thought I recalled the absence of any tarred roads, but couldn't be sure ... you confirmed my recollection. And yes, there are now [i]many more[i] roads and camps. There certainly were NOT any night drives or bushwalks.

gmlsmit - thanks for correcting me on the malaria question and supplying dates and details about the opening of the northern area during summer. I had wondered when this started.

Also, as an addendum to my original post, I should mention that the carnivores seem to be much more numerous now than back in the 60s. During a total of eleven visits of varying duration back in those days I saw lions only three times and a leopard once (and a lucky sighting of a Cheetah kill a few hundred meters from Pretoriuskop in 1982). However during the visit last September I lost count of the number of lions that I saw and I even managed five sightings of leopards!

I'm sure Bush Baptist will remember the wooden road signs atop long wooden stakes... these were often knocked over by boisterous elephants or the occasional large herbivore (Buffalo, Zebra or Kudu) scratching its rump. They were quickly and efficiently replaced by the present stone cairns with carved wooden direction markers, the transition starting as early as 1963 if I recall.

I'll try and get those photos scanned and posted ASAP.


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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:36 am 
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Good Stuff Nsmnsi
Takes me back to my youth.

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 Post subject: Re: Observations over 50 years ....
Unread postPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:17 am 
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Thanks for a very interesting post nsmnsi. I only made one visit in the 70s and started visiting regularly from 1982 so I cant comment on your early recollections, but i do find them fascinating. Would love to see some BW pics! The av temp in Kruger seems to have increased (in the winter months particularly) even during my 30 years of visiting. To experience temps of 38C in May and June as we have done is surprising to me. Regarding numbers, we do still see some large herds of zebra and wildebeeste, but not in the south. There are larger groups in the central regions. We have also on a couple of occasions seen groups of 70 + elephant and this year we sat stunned at a waterhole whilst buffalo moved in continuously for 2 and a half hours. there must have been more that 2 000. I think, too that there are greater numbers of tuskers as you move further north.Good to hear that the bird life has increased in numbers and variety.


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