As a Londolozi Ranger we naturally spend most of our time in the bush exploring our beautiful reserve each day and showing it off to our guests. It is an extremely rewarding job to have, but after a busy 6-week work cycle you are often tired, and ready for a bit of downtime; that’s when we take our 2-week leave. You would think at this point that we would race straight back to our respective homes to catch up with friends and family but that’s often not the case. In fact, that two week leave is a brilliant opportunity to explore other game reserves in Southern Africa and so it’s straight back into the bush for many of us!
In my last leave I decided to explore parts of the Kruger National Park that I hadn’t been to, and spent a week bumbling around the northern parts of the reserve until I found myself on the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. During a day of driving through the Kruger you have plenty of time to get lost in your own thoughts, and only after I had solved all of the world’s problems and then spent the greater part of the morning wrestling with the question of, “is it too early for a beer?”, I found myself staring at a map of where I was and began thinking about just how special the Kruger National Park is and how Londolozi fits in to it.
Most people have heard about the Kruger National Park in South Africa as it prides itself on being one of the most famous game reserves not just in the country, but also in the whole of Africa. The question a lot of people ask though is why is it so famous? And what’s the difference between Londolozi and the Kruger National Park?
The Kruger National Park was officially proclaimed in the same year in which Londolozi was established, 1926. It was the amalgamation of two game reserves that had been established to try and control hunting in the region and to protect the different species of animals whose populations were decreasing. The reserve now covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres, extending 360 km from north to south and averaging 65 km in width from east to west. To put this into perspective, the Kruger National Park is approximately the same size as Wales or about the same size as the state of New Jersey in the US!
What makes it even more exciting is that the Kruger is also part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which is an exciting project to join up other game reserves in the neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. If all goes according to plan over the next few years there could potentially be a game reserve covering an area close to 100 000 square kilometres, which is more than 5 times the size of what the Kruger National Park is today. So what does this mean for us here at Londolozi?
Londolozi is situated in the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve which covers an area of 65 000ha lying directly to the west of the central parts of the Kruger National Park. Between the years of 1926 -1960 the farms of Sparta and Marthly, which we now call Londolozi, were home each winter to the Varty and Unger families who came up to spend time in the bush and escape the city. In 1960 a veterinary fence was erected that cut off the Sabi Sands from the Kruger National Park in order to protect the cattle ranches from foot and mouth disease. Unfortunately, it also meant that migration routes of wildebeest were cut off and animals could no longer move freely between the two reserves. Luckily, that fence was taken down in 1994 and the animals were free to roam back and forth again. Two years later two breeding herds of elephants which had been absent for so long began arriving back in the Sabi Sands and by 1999 over 700 elephant were passing through each year. The importance of expanding green frontiers throughout Africa became even more evident than before.
With an area of wilderness that big it meant that animals could now travel further and wider in search of food and water when the conditions got tough. Territorial predators like lion and leopard could disperse as young males and moved away from the dominant males in their areas and set up territories of their own without encroaching onto neighbouring farmlands. Grasslands weren’t getting overgrazed because wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and rhino could move on to new areas, giving depleted grasslands a chance to recover. We are now able to witness the constant battle for territory between the different prides of lions who roam freely across the Sabi Sands and get to sit on one of the lodge decks and watch herds of elephant move through the Sand River where before you would be lucky if you even saw a solitary bull. The most exciting thing is that we as casual observers get to experience the ebb and flow of this natural system at work just as mother nature intended it to.
The Kruger National Park is vital to conservation in South Africa not just because of the wilderness area it preserves but also as an educational tool. It is the most accessible game reserve to get to for a large number of South Africans as well as the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit South Africa each year. About a million visitors go through the gates of the Kruger Park annually. School trips with the Good Work Foundation and family holidays to the Kruger each year play a big role in shaping the young minds that will be our future conservation heroes in the years to come, when preserving our wild areas is going to be even higher up on the agenda than it is today.
People can choose to experience the Kruger in a host of different ways, depending on their preferences and budgets, and whether it is a camping, self-drive holiday where you explore the reserve on your own with the help of a map, or visiting an exclusive concession within the reserve with an experienced guide who takes you around, the reserve has something for everybody. It’s a part of South Africa’s heritage and has provided countless campfire stories for millions of people across the world since it’s proclamation. Some of my fondest childhood memories are helping my Dad pack the family car and heading off for a holiday to Kruger. We would ‘braai’ (barbecue) each night and then my sister and I would fall asleep staring into the burning embers of the fire as the adults continued to chat around it. Each morning we would be queuing at the camp gate with flasks of coffee waiting for the guard to open it so we would get out and start searching for animals. It was those trips to the bush in my early years that made me decide that I wanted to live and work out here.
I now count myself incredibly lucky to be able to work at Londolozi which is part of the Greater Kruger National Park and part of over 2 million hectares of wilderness. I probably will never be able to explore every inch of that as much as I would love to but I’m pretty sure the 15000 hectares that we get to explore here should keep me busy for the time being.