I began writing this article in the Olifants rest camp in Kruger National Park; a nature reserve 20,000 sq km (7,000 sq miles) in size, almost as large as Wales in the UK. It is traversed by hundreds of kilometers of roads where, though tens of thousands of people visit every year, one can drive on dirt roads and not see another vehicle for long periods of time. It teems with wildlife and one can come across elephant, zebra, rhinoceros, lion or buffalo around any bend in the road.
One of our remarkable experiences over a few days’ visit was the observation of a giraffe pair trying to coax their youngster across a river in which we subsequently saw some crocodiles furtively hiding. The male and female adults were on the one side waiting for the youngster which after some time, ran about one third of the way into the river, hesitated, turned, and with a kick if its hind legs ran back to the side and up the bank.
What followed was a fascinating ‘story’ as the father crossed back across the river and tried to gently coax the reticent teenager to the water, hooking the youngster’s neck with his own and nudging him in a direction he was loath to take. The young giraffe continued heading away from the river, looking back as his father headed in the opposite direction along the river bank. Eventually the youngster lost courage and came back to the father. The last we saw they were walking together down the river, presumably looking for a safer place to cross, the mother keeping abreast of them on the opposite bank.
As well as the 150 mammal species, the park hosts 340 tree, 115 reptile, 50 fish and 35 amphibian species. And after a day of game viewing either self-drive or with a park ranger, visitors can relax in any one of a number of camps, each an oasis of green within a sometimes hostile environment.
The park began with the proclamation of a reserve by Paul Kruger the president of the South African Republic (1883–1902). A Christian whose stated goal in establishing the park was “for setting aside certain areas where game could be protected and where nature could remain unspoiled as the Creator made it”, Kruger did so against much opposition in an era of unrestrained hunting and settlement of land. It today is a trans-frontier park extending into Mozambique in the east and Zimbabwe to the north.