To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. 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 Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.
The park has nine main gates allowing entrance to the different camps.
The area that the park covers today was part of the last wild frontier in the eastern half of Transvaal before the Second Anglo Boer War. It was inhabited by the Tsonga people before Paul Kruger the leader of the Boer took their land and claimed it. Today it is against the law to farm or hunt animals in that area.James Stevenson Hamilton noted many kraals along the Sabi River and also further north beyond the Letaba River although the north was sparsely populated compared to the south. Many of the local natives were employed by Railway companies trying to connect Pretoria and Maputo during the end of the 19th century. Since 1994, the Tsonga people have been involved in a land claim dispute with the South African Government to hand over the park to the Tsonga people.
In 1895, Jakob Louis van Wyk introduced in the Volksraad of the old South African Republic, a motion to create the game reserve. The area preposed extended from the Olifants River until the Sabi River in the north. That motion, introduced together with another Volksraad member by the name of R. K. Loveday, and accepted for discussion in September 1895 by a majority of one vote, resulted in the proclamation by Paul Kruger president of the Transvaal Republic, on 26 March 1898, of a "Government Wildlife Park." This park would later be known as the Sabi Game Reserve.
The park was initially created to control hunting and protect the diminished number of animals in the park.
James Stevenson Hamilton became the first warden of the reserve in 1902. The reserve was located in the southern one-third of the modern park. Shingwedzi Reserve, named after the Shingwedzi River and now in northern Kruger National Park, was proclaimed in 1903. During the following decades all the native tribes were removed from the reserve and during the 1960s the last were removed at Makuleke in the Pafuri triangle. In 1926, Sabie Game Reserve, the adjacent Shingwedzi Game Reserve, and farms were combined to create Kruger National Park.
During 1923, the first large groups of tourists started visiting the Sabie Game Reserve, but only as part of the South African Railways' popular "Round in Nine" tours. The tourist trains used the Selati railway line between Komatipoort on the Mozambican border and Tzaneen in Limpopo Province. The tour included an overnight stop at Sabie Bridge (now Skukuza) and a short walk, escorted by armed rangers, into the bush. It soon became a highlight of the tour and it gave valuable support for the campaign to proclaim the Sabie Game Reserve as a national park.
After the proclamation of the Kruger National Park in 1926, the first three tourist cars entered the park in 1927, jumping to 180 cars in 1928 and 850 cars in 1929. Warden James Stevenson-Hamilton retired on 30 April 1946, after 44 years as warden of the Kruger Park and its predecessor, the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.
He was replaced by Colonel J. A. B. Sandenbergh of the South African Air Force. During 1959, work commenced to completely fence the park boundaries. Work started on the southern boundary along the Crocodile River and in 1960 the western and northern boundaries were fenced, followed by the eastern boundary with Mozambique. The purpose of the fence was to curb the spread of diseases, facilitate border patrolling and inhibit the movement of poachers.
The Makuleke area in the northern part of the park was forcibly taken from the Makuleke people by the government in 1969 and about 1500 of them were relocated to land to the South so that their original tribal areas could be integrated into the greater Kruger National Park.
In 1996 the Makuleke tribe submitted a land claim for 19,842 hectares (198.42 km2) in the northern part of the Kruger National Park. The land was given back to the Makuleke people, however, they chose not to resettle on the land but to engage with the private sector to invest in tourism, thus resulting in the building of several game lodges.
In the late 1990s, the fences between the Kruger Park and Klaserie Game Reserve, Olifants Game Reserve and Balule Game Reserve were dropped and incorporated into the Greater Kruger Park with 40 000 hectares added to the Reserve.
In 2002, Kruger National Park, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique were incorporated into a peace park, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
The park lies in the north-east of South Africa, in the eastern parts of Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Phalaborwa, Limpopo is the only town in South Africa that borders the Kruger National Park. It is one of the largest national parks in the world, with an area of 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq mi). The park is approximately 360 kilometres (220 mi) long, and has an average width of 65 kilometres (40 mi). At its widest point, the park is 90 kilometres (56 mi) wide from east to west.
To the north and south of the park two rivers, the Limpopo and the Crocodile respectively, act as its natural boundaries. To the east the Lebombo Mountains separate it from Mozambique. Its western boundary runs parallel with this range, roughly 65 kilometres (40 mi) distant. The park varies in altitude between 200 metres (660 ft) in the east and 840 metres (2,760 ft) in the south-west near Berg-en-Dal. The highest point in the park is here, a hill called Khandzalive. Several rivers run through the park from west to east, including the Sabie, Olifants, Crocodile, Letaba, Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers.
The climate of the Kruger National Park and Lowveld is subtropical. Summer days are humid and hot. The rainy season is from September until May. The Kruger National Park website lists September and October as the driest periods, culminating in rains late in October. The dry winter season is the ideal time to visit this region for various reasons. There is less chance of contracting malaria and the days are milder. Viewing wildlife is more rewarding as the vegetation is more sparse and animals are drawn to the waterholes to drink every morning and evening.
This area lies between the western boundary and roughly the centre of the park south of the Olifants River. Combretums, such as the red bush-willow (Combretum apiculatum), and Acacia species predominate while there are a great number of marula trees (Sclerocarya caffra). The Acacias are dominant along the rivers and streams, the very dense Nwatimhiri bush along the Sabie River between Skukuza and Lower Sabie being a very good example.
South of the Olifants River in the eastern half of the park, this area provides the most important grazing-land. Species such as red grass (Themeda triandra) and buffalo grass (Panicum maximum) predominate while the knob-thorn (Acacia nigrescens), leadwood (Combretum imberbe) and marula (Sclerocarya caffra) are the main tree species.
This area lies in the western half of the park, north of the Olifants River. The two most prominent species here are the red bush-willow (Combretum apiculatum) and the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane).
Shrub mopane covers almost the entire north-eastern part of the park.
There are a number of smaller areas in the park which carry distinctive vegetation such as Pretoriuskop where the sickle bush and the silver cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea) are prominent. The sandveld communities near Punda Maria are equally definitive, with a wide variety of unique species.
Out of the 517 species of birds found at Kruger, 253 are residents, 117 non-breeding migrants, and 147 nomads. Some of the larger birds require large territories or are sensitive to habitat degradation. Six of these species, which are by and large restricted to Kruger and other extensive conservation areas, have been assigned to a fanciful grouping called the "Big Six Birds". They are the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and the reclusive Pel's fishing owl, which is localized and seldom seen. There are between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of saddle-billed storks in the park, besides a handful of non-breeding individuals. In 2012 178 family groups of ground hornbills roamed the park and 78 nests were known, of which 50% were active.
All the Big Five game animals are found at Kruger National Park, which has more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve (at 147 species). There are webcams set up to observe the wildlife.
The park stopped culling elephants in 1994 and tried translocating them, but by 2004 the population had increased to 11,670 elephants, by 2006 to approximately 13,500, by 2009 to 11,672, and by 2012 to 16,900. The park's habitats can only sustain about 8,000 elephants. The park started using annual contraception in 1995, but has stopped that due to problems with delivering the contraceptives and upsetting the herds.
Kruger supports packs of the endangered African wild dog, of which there are thought to be only about 400 in the whole of South Africa.
Kruger houses 114 species of reptile, including black mamba, african rock pythons, and 3000 crocodiles.
Thirty-three species of amphibians are found in the Park, as well as 50 fish species. A Zambesi shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as the bull shark, was caught at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers in July 1950. Zambezi sharks tolerate fresh water and can travel far up rivers like the Limpopo.
The park's anti-poaching unit consists of 650 SANParks game rangers, assisted by the SAPS and the SANDF (including the SAAF). As of 2013, the park is equipped with two drones borrowed from Denel and two Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters, donated by the RAF to augment its air space presence. Automated movement sensors relay intrusions along the Mozambique border to a control center, and a specialist dog unit has been introduced. Buffer zones have been established along the border with Mozambique, from where many poachers have infiltrated the park, as an alternative to costly new fences. The original 150 km long fences were dropped in 2002 to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The national anti-poaching committee oversees all activities and coordinates interested parties.
Kruger's big game poachers operate with night vision instruments and large caliber rifles, fitted with suppressors and sophisticated telescopes. They are mostly Mozambique citizens that initiate their carefully planned incursions from the Mozambique border region. In 2012 some 200 poachers were apprehended, while about 30 were killed in skirmishes.
In July 2012, a Kruger game ranger and policeman were the first to die in an anti-poaching operation, while other employees reported intimidation by poachers. A Kruger personnel strike affected some anti-poaching operations, and a few employees have been directly implicated. Rangers in and around the park have been pressured or blackmailed by poaching syndicates to provide intelligence on the whereabouts of rhinos and anti-poaching operations.
In December 2012, Kruger started using a Seeker II drone against rhino poachers. The drone was loaned to the South African National Parks authority by its manufacturer Denel Dynamics, South Africa.
Poachers mostly operate at or near full moon and make no distinction between white and black rhinos. Losses of black rhino are however low due to their reclusive and aggressive nature. With rhino horn fetching around $66,000 (and up to $82,000) per kilogram, the CITES ban on the trade in rhino horn has proved largely ineffectual. The second horn is sometimes hacked from the skull to obtain about 100 ml of moisture that is sold locally as traditional medicine.
Poaching related to rhino horn escalated in the 21st century with 949 rhinos killed in Kruger in the first twelve years (2001 to 2012), and over 520 in 2013 alone. A planned memorandum of agreement between South Africa and Vietnam, in addition to the one with China, are seen as necessary milestones in stemming the tide, while negotiations with Thailand have not yet started. The amount of rhino horn held in storage is not publicly known. Since 2009 some Kruger rhinos have been fitted with invisible tracing devices in their bodies and horns which enable officials to locate their carcasses and to track the smuggled horns by satellite. South Africa's 22,000 white and black rhinos, of which 12,000 are found in Kruger, represent some 93% of these species' world population.
Kruger experienced significant elephant poaching in the 1980s, which has since abated. It holds over 48 tons of ivory in storage. According to Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), it is allowed to sell 30 tons.
Following approval by CITES, 47 metric tons of stockpiled ivory from Kruger were auctioned on 6 November 2008. The sale fetched approximately US$6.7 million which will be used towards increasing anti-poaching activity. The average price for the 63 lots on auction was US$142/kg.
It is foreseen that the placement of wire traps to procure meat would eventually become the most challenging form of poaching. A scheme has been proposed to reward adjacent communities with the proceeds of game sales in return for their cooperation in game preservation. The larger communities include Bosbokrand, Acornhoek, Hazyview, Hoedspruit, Komatipoort, Malelane, Marloth Park, Nelspruit and Phalaborwa.
The Kruger National Park has 21 rest camps, as well as 2 private lodge concessions, and 15 designated private safari lodges. The concessions are parcels of land operated by private companies in partnership with communities, who outsource the operation of private lodges. Camping in the park has become popular with tourists and backpackers because it is much less expensive, and open to anyone, requiring no special permission to partake.
On 30 October 2013, South African National Parks (SANParks) announced the establishment of franchise restaurants in several rest camps.
Mugg & Bean restaurants have been established at Lower Sabie, Olifants and Letaba rest camps. Wimpy restaurants have been established at Pretoriuskop and Satara rest camps. Skukuza's Selati Station Grill House has been replaced by Ciao! and Skukuza’s main camp restaurant and take away will be run by Cattle Baron and Bistro.
This decision was controversial, with some people welcoming the improvement in food services, and others viewing the introduction of franchises as detracting from the amenity of the Kruger Park.
Nine different trails are on offer in the Kruger National Park. Some are overnight and they last several days in areas of wilderness virtually untouched by humans. There are no set trails in the wilderness areas; a visitor walks along paths made by animals or seeks out new routes through the bush.