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Kruger National Park highlights for 2004

Date: 2004-12-10

By Raymond Travers

It has often been said that the forces of nature are never truly predictable. And this maxim was particularly true for the Kruger National Park.

South Africa’s biggest national park went through a year of considerable changes, and challenges, but it is believed that SANParks’ beloved Kruger has conquered most of the obstacles in the path to yet another successful year.

The first major event that caught everyone’s attention was the appointment of the new KNP Executive Director, Dr Bandile Mkhize. This was announced by the then-chairman of the SANParks Board, Mr Murphy Morobe and KNP staff eagerly awaited his official first day.

This came relatively quickly. Dr Mkhize was officially handed the “key” to his new position, a .375 rifle, by the former KNP Executive Director (and now SANParks Chief Executive) Dr David Mabunda on March 1, 2004.

Just before this happened, there was another cause for celebration when South Africa’s largest beer company, SABMiller and KNP concessionaires Nature’s Group and Tiger’s Eye presented the KNP with the last instalment of a R53 255,80 donation. This interesting promotion saw 10 cents from each can of specially marked “Big Five” Castle Lager sold in the KNP being donated to Kruger.

Following closely on the heals of a badly researched article in an Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, which claimed that KNP rangers were badly trained, two field guides saved the lives of their tourists by shooting an elephant at close range. The field guides – Gordon Ramsden and Mphadeni Nthangeni – had obviously not read that particular article and showed the world that KNP rangers and field guides can truly hold their heads up high!

As ever, the tourist boom continued and visitor statistics climbed from 1 059 122 (2002/2003) to a whopping 1 336 981 (2003/2004) people. Although accommodation figures eased slightly, the increased daily visitor statistic is probably attributed to the Wild Card, a product that has become immensely popular in the areas surrounding Kruger.

Realising the importance of good community relations, Dr Mkhize and the KNP’s People and Conservation Department presented Matikwana Hospital in Mkuhlu with 40 indigenous trees. This was an effort to try and involve the community of this town – which lies between Hazyview and Paul Kruger Gate – in conservation of biodiversity.

“If people in this area are not aware of conservation,” Dr Mkhize said, “they may pollute the Sabie River and this pollution will then be transported to the KNP. I thus call upon all of us to take conservation very seriously and to play an active role in the conservation efforts of our environment.”

And relationship building with the communities living alongside the KNP did not stop there. Both the region’s radio stations, Ligwalagwala FM from Nelspruit and Munghana Lonene FM from Polokwane sent their outside broadcasting units to Skukuza and entertained their listeners from Skukuza at different times during May. During these broadcasts, various KNP officials were able to stress the importance of conservation to this huge group of people.

Other important community projects included the continuation of the KNP/Coin Africa Security High School Soccer and Netball Tournament and the donation of indigenous trees to traditional healers. The contractor’s development programme, which sees emerging contractors from the local communities being trained to become fully-fledged contractors, also entered its third cycle with another batch of keen learners beginning their three-year course during early November.

While SANParks colleagues in Cape Town were battling with the Tahr issue, an African returned to her routes from a zoo in Germany. She has since, of course, crept into the hearts of all who visit her at the Skukuza Game Capture Boma. Her name is Hama and she is, of course, a black rhino and she will eventually be translocated to Marakele National Park.

Speaking of translocations, certain species of animals were again moved to the KNP’s Mozambican transfrontier conservation area partner, the Limpopo National Park and various other game farms and reserves. There were also translocations to Mapungubwe and other sister National Parks thanks to the indefatigable KNP Game Capture Team.

On the conservation and scientific side of things, 2004 can probably be called the Year of the Indabas. Among other subjects brought to the table included Rare Antelopes, Biodiversity, Fire as a Management Tool and the ever-present Elephant Debate.

The annual census of general game, elephant, hippo and the BTB buffalo census was backed up by a joint SANParks/EWT Cheetah and Wild Dog count in which the public are asked to submit photographs and video clips of these two species in order to try and count their numbers. This census is still going on and will end on April 30, 2005.

While this was going on, our athletes were getting fit in preparation for the 2004 Comrades Marathon. This world-renowned sporting event saw all 11 athletes from the KNP (actually Kruger Park Marathon Club) receiving medals for their efforts.

Various other projects also saw completion during the year. This included the upgrade of Pafuri Entrance Gate, the upgrade of the road network in the North and Far North of the KNP, and the upgrade of Punda Maria Camp and Entrance Gate. Most of these projects are part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park initiative, which will see more developments over the years to come.

And just before it honoured it’s own achievers at the 2004 KNP Achievement Awards, the KNP itself received two prestigious Professional Management Review (PMR) Awards. One of them was a Diamond award “First – Game Parks” and the second a Gold award for Joint Overall for the KNP’s contribution to Black Economic Empowerment.

The year effectively ended with the above-mentioned Achievement Awards. Pretoriuskop received the Camp of the Year Award, Shimuwini received the Bush Camp of the Year Award and Phalaborwa Entrance Gate received the Entrance Gate of the Year awards. Letaba Ranger Station received the Best Ranger Station Award and Samuel Mashimbye – a field ranger from Phalaborwa Ranger Station – received the Kruger Cross for bravery after he saved a colleague’s life during an elephant attack during a patrol.

As the Christmas and New Year season looms closer – with its additional challenges and influx of tourists – KNP management and staff wait in anticipation of the challenges of 2005 and wish all the rest of SANParks a wonderful Christmas and an incredibly successful New Year!