Clocking in at nearly 2 million hectares (or 20 000 square kilometres), the Kruger National Park is an internationally renowned wildlife sanctuary and one of South Africa’s top tourist attractions. And it’s not hard to see why. This vast reserve is the size of a small country, providing an aegis for the flora and fauna of the Southern African Lowveld region.
In other words, it is one of the regrettably few game reserves on the planet where large herds of wild animals can still be viewed in a more-or-less natural state. As such, the Kruger National Park, being South Africa's premier game reserve, is a globally important environmental asset and a priceless heirloom for future generations.
For South Africans, however, the Kruger National Park is more than that. It’s an evocative symbol of national pride and an integral part of our cultural identity. This is where we go to commune with nature; a place where the spirit of the wild reigns supreme.
Indeed, over the last 75 years, conservation has become a way of life in South Africa and an appreciation of game is a central tenet of our culture (although, paradoxically, so is an appreciation of hunting and biltong). Nevertheless, at the heart of this love of nature lies the Kruger National Park.
This was not always the case. For most of our time on the planet, we humans had a pretty low opinion of wildlife. When we weren’t running away from them in fear, we were hunting them down. And not just as food. In the last few hundred years especially, our strange species also started hunting animals for sport. For trophies? For fun? Accordingly, hunters gleefully shot out the game for meat, hides, and/or entertainment.
Livestock farmers reviled wild animals as either reservoirs for disease, or dangerous predators. And just about everyone tended to view game as a communal natural resource that was there to be exploited, and not always in a sustainable manner. In short, back then, the idea of preserving nature just so you could look at it was considered ridiculous.
Truth be told, nature conservation had a rocky start in South Africa and even the celebrated Kruger National Park has been dogged with controversy throughout its 100-year history. Things were particularly bad during the first 30 years of the park’s existence, when various parties made strenuous efforts to have the reserve diluted or abandoned altogether.
After all, land is a controversial issue and South Africa has always been a country overflowing with controversies. In fact, we are very lucky indeed that we have any game reserves in Southern Africa at all, let alone the mighty Kruger National Park.