Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa. It is roughly the same size and shape as Wales. It covers 18,989 square km (7,332 sq mi) and extends 350 km (217 mi) from north to south and 60 km (37 mi) from east to west.
To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is Mozambique. It is now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Kruger National Park with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
The park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve (the "Biosphere").
In 1896, the Rinderpest virus wiped out most of the region's game and cattle. Aiming to preserve game animals for future hunters, the Transvaal Volksraad voted in favour of a small government game reserve. Funds for the Sabie Game Reserve were allocated in 1898, but war broke out. After the Second Boer War, Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed the first warden in 1902, and a few months later the area from the Sabi river to the Olifants river was added.The far north area gained protection in 1903 as the Singwitsi Game Reserve. This area included Crook's Corner, a small triangular tongue of land between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers, where the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet.
In the 1900s this area was a safe-haven for gun runners, poachers, fugitives and anyone else dodging the law. It was an easy hop across the river whenever police from one particular country approached. There is a large plaque here commemorating the legendary ivory hunter Cecil Barnard (Bvekenya), who hid on an island in the middle of the Limpopo to avoid being tracked down by pursuing rangers and police in the 1920s. Ironically, Barnard later became a ranger himself. A police station was later built here.
As a result of nearly a century of unbridled hunting, there were virtually no animals in the reserves, and with the reputation of the malarial Lowveld as a white man's grave, Stevenson-Hamilton removed all human inhabitants from the reserves. In addition, he and his assistants began shooting all predators in order to "bring up" the antelope herds.In 1912, a railway line was routed through the reserve. Stevenson-Hamilton successfully used this to get tourists to stop over for lunch.
By 1916 a government commission was appointed to assess the future of the reserves. In 1926, as an act of reconciliation, the British administration officially renamed the reserves after Paul Kruger, and declared it to be South Africa's first National Park. In 1927, the park was opened to the public who where charged a £1 fee. Only a handful of cars visited the new park that year, but in 1935 some 26,000 people passed through the gates. Today the number is around one million per year. Stevenson-Hamilton was surprised when lions became a key attraction, and he stopped the indiscriminate shooting of the predators. Stevenson-Hamilton retired in 1946, and he died in 1957.
In the 1960s, in an effort to boost game numbers, the Water for Wildlife project was started and erected about 300 windmills in the park. The waterholes attracted game into the area. At first this seemed a good thing; only decades later did the results show that with the impalas and zebras the waterholes attracted also brought more predators into the area. Before the waterholes, these dryer areas supported roan antelope, which are much easier for lions to catch — the roans weren't able to compete. The park has started to close the waterholes, and let nature take its course.In 1991,
Robbie Robinson became Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the South African National Parks Board. Robinson began the transition of the park into the new South Africa. One of his many accomplishments was removing the fencing that separated the park's western border from numerous small, private game reserves, thus allowing the animals to roam freely between the private game reserves and Kruger National Park.In 1998, the Kruger National Park's first black director was elected. David Mabunda is now CEO of the South African National Parks Board.With the forming of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, large, unsustainable herds of animals in the Kruger National Park can now be translocated to near-virgin bush. The war ravaged 300 km² Limpopo National Park in Mozambique (formerly known as Coutada 16) started receiving animals in 2001.On October 21, 2002, the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport was opened near Nelspruit, some 63 km from the closest park gate.
The airport is intended to increase accessibility to the park from major South African centres, namely Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Despite the name, the airport does not handle notable volumes of international traffic at this stage. Indeed, the airport is not especially commercial; with only South African Airlink and two other small operators running commercial flights.