Skip to Content

Media Release: Former SANParks CEO passes on

03 February 2011

12 August 1930 – 2 February 2011

In his description of the late Dr Pienaar, Dr Mabunda said…”He was a dedicated conservationist who will long be remembered by his colleagues and many conservationists throughout the world”. At the age of 81 years and only days before his death, he was still writing letters on conservation matters.

Dr U. de V. (“Tol”) Pienaar studied at Wits Medical School where he graduated in 1953 with a PhD. in histology and embryology.  He then worked as a lecturer in histology for two years in the Anatomy Department under the world famous anthropologist, and then head of department, Prof Raymond Dart.

However, he had an inborn love and passion for nature, and continued applying for conservation posts in South Africa and Namibia. He was successful, when, on 1 December 1955 he started as a Junior Ranger in the Kruger National Park based at Kingfisherspruit section. This was only after convincing the then Chief Executive Officer of SANParks, Mr Rocco Knobel, not to hold against him the fact that he was “overqualified” for the post.  It was during his time as ranger on 21 July 1956 that Dr Pienaar survived being attacked and bitten by a wounded lioness close to the Roodewal camp along the Timbavati River.

Dr Pienaar quickly rose through the ranks, was appointed as Assistant-Biologist and promoted to Biologist in 1961. Then he was later appointed as Assistant-Director of Conservation in 1970, and then Director of Conservation in 1974.  In 1978 he was appointed as Park Warden of the Kruger National Park and in 1987 as Chief Director of SANParks. He held this post until his retirement on 30 March 1991 after 35 years of service, 32 of which were spent in the Kruger National Park.

Dr Pienaar was an excellent naturalist with a wide scientific interest, and was largely responsible for guiding research directions during a long and influential era. He established the Reference Museum in the Skukuza area of the Kruger National Park and started inventorising plant, fish, reptile, mammal, amphibian, insect and bird diversity in the Park. Dr Pienaar also played a leading role in research on chemical capture and immobilisation techniques of wild animals. He wrote numerous scientific papers and reference books, as well as two books about the history of the Kruger National Park, namely “Neem uit die verlede (1990)” which deals with the early history of the Kruger National Park until 1946 and “Goue Jare (2010)” which covers the era from 1946 until his retirement in 1991.

He was the driving force behind ‘pragmatic management by intervention’, and campaigned tirelessly to improve the worsening water situation in Kruger National Park’s perennial rivers. During his tenure a large number of boreholes were sunk and dams built to stabilize and improve the water situation in the Kruger National Park.  He was also instrumental in improving the conservation and tourism infrastructure in the park, and during his tenure a total of nine new ranger posts, two large tourist camps (Berg-en-Dal, and Mopani), nine private & bushveld camps, seven picnic sites, six walking trails and two entrance gates (Kruger Gate & Pafuri Gate), as well as a number of new tourist routes, were developed and came into use.

Dr Tol Pienaar will rank amongst those who have had the most influence in shaping the Kruger National Park into the world renowned conservation icon that it is today. Dr Pienaar built up the scientific capacity of SANParks, achieved accolades for the organisation’s management excellence and leadership, and foresaw and began responding to South Africa’s river crisis. His foresight and action laid the foundation for much of SANParks’ current successes as a conservation agency and host of popular ecotourism destinations.

Dr David Mabunda, the SANParks Board, and staff, extend their deepest sympathy to Dr Pienaar’s wife Annette, their two sons Danie & Pierre, their wives and the four grand children. Dr Pienaar has left deep footprints and he will long be remembered by SANParks, the organisation he so proudly served.

Issued by:
SANParks Corporate Communications

For media enquiries contact:
Reynold Thakhuli, GM: Media, Events & Stakeholder Relations, Tel: (012) 426 5203 / 073 373 4999 or e-mail:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google+

Return to News

View Archive

Online Bookings

Browse accommodation and activities availability, and book online via our secure payment system and get 5% discount (excludes activities)


Get a Wild Card!

One year's unlimited entry to 80+ National Parks, Reserves and Resorts around Southern Africa. Membership is valid from date of purchase for 365 days and is available for an individual, couple or family, as well as international guests. Read more...

Purchase Membership

Join our Forums

Connect with over 30,000 members in our popular forums.