Zirk Kruger was the Manager Mechanical Workshops in the Kruger National Park; he retired from the S A NATIONAL PARKS service during 2001 after 30 years service except for 2 years at Tsitsikamma all was spent in the KRUGER NATIONAL PARK.
Zirk who whore a beard was aptly called Madeve – “voice in the bush” by his staff.
His predecessor was Jan van Achtenberg where Zirk started as an artisan in 1972; he was paid a monthly salary of R210.00 per month.
Being involved in the workshops of a large organization as the National Parks at a place called SKUKUZA was quite eventful as life was tough and equipment was exposed to much more wear and tear than in a city, to keep the wheels turning required much ingenuity, resourcefulness and cooperation from all.
During the culling season there was a lot to repair, animals were culled during the day, normally early afternoon and then transported to the abattoir at SKUKUZA during the cool of the night. Many accidents occurred and broken down vehicles had to be promptly repaired, to avoid the flesh of the culled animals being spoilt. Members of the Veterinarian staff inspected all meat prior to processing. Spoilt meat was buried in the veldt.
Three large lorries were full time allocated to transport culled Elephant and Buffalo carcasses from the Satara and Letaba area to the abattoir.
The National Parks Board built the roads up to the Letaba River while the Transvaal Roads Department undertook to build and maintain the roads between the Letaba and the Levhuvu Rivers.
The short wave radios were always close by and whenever a call was made, all who were able to assist scrambled and helped, no one waited for another to go.
Zirk mentioned that no matter who you were, the Warden, the Game Capture Team members, the Scientists, the Fitters or the Mechanics, or the Pilots or the Engineers or the Storemen or the Tourist Officers or the Shop Staff or the Petrol Attendants or the Caretaker of a lonely picnic spot, all had one thing in common, in their hearts they were all NATURE CONSERVATORS, although there was not much financial reward, they got tremendous job satisfaction and spiritual reward. Everyone just seemed to be too willing to make the KRUGER NATIONAL PARK the best place on earth.
Zirk told about how Hippos were culled or darted for capture and translocation. The “other people” – the Field, Veterinarian and Scientific staff would plan the task and Technical Services would assist also allocating drivers.
The strategy was that Hippos would be identified and then chased from the water, using a grader.
A group of Hippos were identified in a deep pool of the Sabie River and all set out on their allocated duties. A Hippo was darted and it disappeared into the pool, fearing it drowning, the grader driver was promptly told to drive into the river to recover the stricken animal, no one was aware of the actual depth of the pool and the grader disappeared into the deep waters, fortunately the driver escaped unharmed.
Hennie Carlson previously mentioned had to dive into the pool with a heavy chain and tie it to the sunken grader, eventually the chain was tied and the grader recovered. Jan van Achtenberg then decreed that none of his graders would be used as recklessly as this in future.
Zirk really is a hive of interesting stories.
He tells of once when something went wrong in the electronics of a road grader, near Lower Sabie on a dirt road. Zirk sent out the technician – Nico van Niekerk with his assistant Sam to attend to the stricken grader.
Nico was quite a big man with a small heart who spoke a lot.
Nico parked their bakkie about fifty meters from the grader and him and Sam went off to the grader which was parked a little distance from the road.
The electronics of the road grader were underneath the floor boards of the cab. The floor boards were stripped and Nico was now working on the intricacies – standing feet on the ground while Sam rendered assistance as required, passing on tools and fetching from the bakkie as required.
Nico heard a rumbling sound and as they had left very early the morning, long before breakfast time imagined it was the stomach of Sam that was rumbling. Sam was asked whether he was hungry and replied that it was not the case, however the rumbling continued. A little while later Nico told Sam to fetch some tool from the bakkie and also to have a bite to eat as his stomach was still rumbling.
Sam left and did not return, Nico called and told Sam to hurry up. No one hurried up. The rumbling continued, eventually Nico got down and called to Sam who was now sitting wide eyed in the bakkie with the windows wound up. Nico shouted at Sam to hurry up, eventually a window of the bakkie was wound down a little and Sam yelled something inaudible, Nico called again and from the sounds coming from the bakkie made out the following – “look behind the front wheel”. He looked behind the front wheel, and there was a Lioness lying in the shade of the grader purring – source of the rumbling sound mistaken for that of an empty stomach.
Needless to say Nico disappeared into the grader cab post haste and spent most of the day there, in the blazing heat while the Lioness was taking an early morning siesta just moving along in the shade of the grader together in coordination with the sun on its daily travel towards the west.
While the construction team was building the Piet Grobler Dam in the Timbavati Area, they as usually built camp where they used to enjoy the cool of the evening around a fire, sharing the day’s experiences and spending a few yarns.
The dam builders heard something in the surrounding bush, they soon realised that it was a royal family, more logs were added to the fire and pairs of little red lights from the dark reflected the glow of the flames. The group eventually decided it would be safer in their tents than here n the open.
Hardly in the tents, the royal group came to inspect the camp site and made themselves at home and very comfortable. There was a lot of yawning and purring and grunting and sometimes a snarl, eventually they road makers heard a clattering sound and the family disappeared with the clattering sound continuing and eventually stopping.
The following morning the dam builders scrutinised their camp site and when found safe enough, went out and found that water bucket was missing. It was eventually found far off in the bush, they suspected that a Lion may have gone for a drink of water and stuck its head into the bucket and got stuck, the animal then carried it of and must have bumped into a few trees along its way, judging from the few fresh dents in the bucket.
Zirk tells of the SKUKUZA children who seemed to have no fear of Lions.
One morning during 1972, the children went off to school, early as usual, one of the parents on his way to work noticed the children standing at the fence and peering into the school area. He drove closer and enquired what was going on and was casually told that there were Lions in the School Grounds and they thought it safer not to enter. Getting out he noticed the Lions stretched out on the play grounds, fortunately the gate was closed. The children were removed and of the conservation staff called to remove the four legged pupils. The two legged pupils quite enjoyed the day with the school starting a bit later than usual.
One Sunday afternoon Zirk and wife Annemarie went for a late afternoon stroll along the SKUKUZA golf course. They noticed their children Yvette and Emiël with many others playing on the edge of the course, and decided to go and see what they were up to. They got to the children and watched a little while and then they noticed some golden bodies not fifty yards away, they realised LIONS, the children were called together and told to go home, on reply to their question why this interruption to their fun, they were told about the LIONS, the rather annoyed reaction was that the LIONS had been there all afternoon and no one was bothering anyone, all was OK until now this interference.
Fortunately the children were very wary of Buffalo and Elephants – one less concern for the parents.
Zirk tells the story of how he one day impressed Ranger Ampie Espag, while working in the Satara area. Oom Ampie asked him to join him as he was on his way to shoot something as rations for his staff. Zirk eagerly joined and the two set off.
While travelling along a firebreak Oom Ampie saw some Impala and requested Zirk to take a shot. Zirk hesitantly took the rifle and aimed and fired. The group of Impala disappeared and Zirk realised he had missed.
All of a sudden the two Field Rangers on the back of the back of the bakkie jumped off and opened Zirk’s door and shook his hand indicating that he was marksman par excellence, Zirk did not say anything – he was too embarrassed.
The two Rangers asked Zirk to join them, they walked off and two hundred and fifty metres further they found a huge Impala ram dead in it’s tracks – shot through the neck as only expert marksmen can. Zirk never told them that he had been aiming at an Impala that was grazing much closer and missed it completely.
Zirk tells that during 1976 all were very concerned about a possible terrorist attacks. One evening about 21:00 while he was busy in his home workshop he heard a noise on the roof and saw the corrugated iron give a little as the source of the noise moved on. He carefully went to the door and peered out into the dark and saw nothing.
The noise stopped and he stealthily left the workshop and made for the kitchen door, the night was not very restful, following morning he went outside and found large Leopard paw marks in the garden.
Zirk mentioned that he would often hear the Leopard on the workshop roof, it was then chased off by hammering a broom against the roof, it would then jump off and go elsewhere.
This Leopard spent many nights in the Kruger garden either in their rockery or on the reed pergola for more than a year.
This Leopard caught 76 domestic cats in the staff village at SKUKUZA within a period of twelve months.
Zirk tells that Casper Visser and his wife had two domestic cats. Each evening Mrs. Visser would put out two saucers of milk for them outside on the veranda. One evening she again put out the milk with the two cats in attendance, as she turned she heard a noise and saw a Leopard disappear into the dark; both cats had disappeared and were never seen again.
Zirk also told of a visit to his in laws in the Cape, one evening something was heard walking on the house roof, his experience with Leopards at SKUKUZA immediately sprang to mind, father in law was quite surprised at the reaction of his daughter and her husband from the KRUGER PARK . . . . . .
Times in the staff village at SKUKUZA were good, they were a close little community who cared and shared.
Electricity was available from 06:00 to 21:00, resulting in peace and quiet settling after the generators had been switched off.
Fresh bread was available once a week.
Much time was spent with the family and with neighbours and other friends. Zirk mentioned that his neighbour was Oom Don Lowe, this contributed to much peace and quiet in their area. Oom Don never lost any arm wrestling match at the Boeresport often held at the Church Hall.
The SKUKUZA Primary School catered for Grade 1 to Grade 5. Miss. Nicky Schoeman the school teacher taught up to three grades in one class.
Members of the SKUKUZA Community took turns to pick up and fetch the surplus children to the White River Primary School, Mrs. Henriette Botha, wife of Doctor Botha at SKUKUZA played a leading roll in this activity.
Mrs. Oelofse the wife of Deon one of the SKUKUZA staff was expecting a baby, when the time came, the two set off with Doctor Johan Botha, to the Nelspruit Hospital more than 100 km away. Not many Marula trees away, the time came, Deon parked under a Marula tree and healthy twins were born next to the H1-1, 5 km from SKUKUZA, under a Marula tree.
Zirk mentioned that a team went out twice a month to collect any litter along the roads; he remarked that never was as much litter collected then as is now visible while driving along the roads of KRUGER PARK – people seemed to have had more respect for nature then.
Zirk and Annemarie Kruger retired to Struisbaai in the Western Cape, where he was for a long period involved with the Management of the Aghulas National Park.
Zirk mentioned that he is a very happily retired man, he has very fond memories of that wonderful place and the Kuschkes, and the van Achtenbergs, and the Bothas and the Lowes and the Minnies and the de Vos’ and the . . . . . . . . . , where they could laugh and joke and share and mourn, where their children could grow up together, as if on a farm . . . . . . .
I participate because I care - CUSTOS NATURAE
Convenor of the AIKONA Group.
No to Hotels in and commercialization of our National Parks.
Done 141 visits to National Parks.
What a wonderful privilege.