Kruger Park History

Nick CoetzerBlog


Stone Age

The Stone Age was a very broad period during which various types of stone were used to make implements with a point or an edge. Artefacts unearthed in the park indicate the earliest humanoid to live in the area was Homo erectus, in the latter part of the early Stone Age, about 200 000 years ago. There is ample evidence of Stone Age inhabitants spread throughout the Kruger Park & evidence of the tools they patiently chipped lay scattered at various vantage points, a silent testimony to human life long gone.

Evidence found by archaeologists indicate a marked improvement in the design of arrow points and spearheads toward the end of the early stone age, about 125 000 years ago. During this transitional phase, it is suspected that Homo sapiens rhodensis was the humanoid present.
The Bushmen or San were the last people in South Africa to possess a pristine Stone Age culture. Their presence in the Park has been discovered in over 100 rock painting sights which are one of the great archaeological wonders of the world. There is an ancient red ochre mine near Malelane that is regarded as one of the oldest mines in the world.

There is evidence that the San people mined at this site for centuries, creating the ‘paint’ used for the rock art we now see.

The Iron age

The arrival of the bantu nations from the North brought with them sophisticated ways of making weapons and tools – from metal. The new arrivals also brought with them livestock and the ability to cultivate crops. This different lifestyle slowly replaced the more primitive ways of the San hunter gatherers. One of the benefits from the ability to cultivate crops meant the tribes could establish themselves in an area and begin to create large settlements, eventually opening trading links to the Indian ocean. 

The bantu tribes settled along the Limpopo, Shingwedizi, Luvuvhu and Letaba rivers and slowly made their way South to the Crocodile and Sabi rivers where they separated and moved up into the highlands of the Drakensberg, into what is now Lesotho. The rest of the group moved further West and eventually became the Tswana of the Northern Cape, North West and Botswana. The Nguni groups also began moving, some moved south to Kwa Zulu Natal where they became the Zulu nation, while the other portion moved East where they still live today as the Xhosa.

Coming of the white man

The first known European to enter the region was Frans De Kuiper, who in 1725, led a band of men from Lorenco Marques (Mozambique). They were looking for a route to the mines in the interior. They had trouble obtaining a local guide and when they eventually succeeded, they were attacked by the warriors of chief Dawano and were forced back into Lorenco Marques. It would be nearly a century until the next European set foot in the region..


In the Cape Colony, a large part of the original Dutch speaking settlers were growing tired of life under British colonial rule and in 1835 they decided to venture North into the interior of modern South Africa to establish themselves under their own rule. This event became known as the Great Trek and the participants are known as the Voortrekkers (pioneers). This event later resulted in the establishment of various boer republics. The Kruger Park fell under the South African Republic, commonly called the Transvaal.

In 1836 a Voortrekker party under the leadership of Hans Van Rensburg set foot in the region. Their goal was to reach the coast of Portuguese-ruled Lorenco Marques (Maputo) and the quickest way to the coast included traversing the land in what is today part of the Park. The party met a devastating end as they were all massacred by local inhabitants. Further expeditions attempted to find a route to sea but it wasn’t until 1838 when Louis Trichard managed to find the way and arrive in Delagoa Bay with his party. The journey took a great toll on the Voortrekker party, in the space of a few days after arrival several members of the group died, including Louis’ wife. He himself would fall 6 months later, from malaria.

The very first European settler in the area was the well-known Joao Albasini (1813-1888) who set up various trading posts in the Southern Section of the Park. Born in Portugal on the 1st May 1813, he arrived in Mozambique in 1831 to manage a trading post belonging to his father. He was highly regarded by the native tribes and set up a large network of trading posts, reaching into the Transvaal. His in-depth knowledge both geographically and of the native tribes was instrumental in establishing a well-marked trading route with Delagoa Bay, now known as the Voortrekker road in the Kruger National Park.

Gold & the transvaal

The Transvaal Lowveld was practically unknown to the white settlers of the republic and went largely unnoticed. It was a harsh place, plagued with malaria and tsetsi fly. When gold was found in the Lydenburg district in 1869, people flocked to the region and the Kruger Park area became a popular hunting ground. Many saw the potential profit in big game hunting and soon seasoned ivory hunters were operating in the vast wilderness. Naturally, because of the hunting activities over the years, animal numbers started plummeting at a rapid rate. The president of the Transvaal, Mr Paul Kruger, in 1884 proposed that a protected area be set aside to conserve the diminishing herds of the eastern Transvaal. Sadly, this was ignored as many people were profiting on hunting and the public opinion was not favourable. It wasn’t until 1889 when Mr Kruger pushed the idea that all state-owned land in the republic be closed for hunting and steps be taken to conserve the wilderness for future generations. The eventually led to the establishment of the Pongolo Game Reserve in 1894, this was a start. In 1895 the idea of setting aside an area in the Lowveld was accepted but unfortunately this didn’t happen straight away because of two major disasters. The first was a raid launched by Dr Leander Jameson, this event is known as the Jameson Raid and attempted to stir a rising against the Boer government of the Transvaal. This event would bring about the Second Anglo Boer War. The second disaster that took place was the rinderpest epidemic that swept through the Transvaal between 1896 – 1897, killing hundreds of thousands of cattle and game animals. This took all the attention away from the conservation issue. It was only two years later that a Mr Loveday put the issue in front of the executive council which led to the proclamation of a government game reserve in 1898. The protected area was between the Sabi River in the north and the Crocodile River in the South. Sadly, the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War happened soon afterwards and the status was ignored. Armed forces from both sides unleashed a devastating slaughter of wild animals over the years during the war. The most famous being the rogue unit known as Steineker’s horse, who were based in the Park.

The war finally ended in 1902 and the British Interim government in the Transvaal re proclaimed the original reserve and added a considerable amount of land between the Sabi and Olifants River into the reserve and named it the Sabi Game Reserve. In 1902, Lieutenant-Colonel James Stevenson Hamilton was appointed to run the reserve and so began a new chapter in the history of the Park.


The main task given to JS Hamilton was to introduce law and order and save the remaining game populations from total extinction. Once he set up headquarters, first order of business was to remove any tribal establishments in the Park, he was under the belief that man and wild animals are not able to live peacefully together. He persuaded the locals to move back toward their traditional tribal areas and soon became known by the locals as Skukuza, which translates to ‘the one who sweeps things clean’. The original headquarters carries this name today.

The warden spent considerable time campaigning to increase the size of the reserve in the North and West, this eventually paid off with the establishment of the Shingwedzi Reserve between the Letaba River in the South and the Levuvhu/Limpopo River in the North in 1903. In August 1903, the area between the Sabi River and Olifants River were also added, linking the two reserves together. The Sabi and Shingwedzi reserves remained separate entities in name until they collectively became known as the Transvaal Game Reserve. In 1925 the reserve was awarded national status and renamed the Kruger National Park in 1926. The naming of the Park after the old Boer president was a fitting tribute to the leader who led the way in conservation in the Transvaal.

The Kruger National Park

The Park was not visitor friendly in the early days. The rangers worked tirelessly to create a road network and overnight facilities for visitors. In 1927, the Park recorded a total of three vehicles all year, earning total revenue of R15.00.
By 1936 the road network had increased to 1450 km and the Park was visited by 6000 vehicles carrying 26 000 people.

The tireless work and vision by James Stevenson Hamilton and the early pioneering rangers have created a wildlife paradise. Enjoyed by over 1 500 000 people each year.
In James Stevensons Biography, he wrote:

‘I had at least brought up Cindererella and launched her on her career. I loved her best when she was pathetic and dust-covered little wrench, derided and abused. Always l felt that, give her a chance, and her attractions reconised, unlimited possibilities lay before her. Now that she had become a Great Lady it was fitting she should be provided with custodians better suited to provide her new requirements”.

-Col James Stevenson Hamilton, A South African Eden