Although much of the present Kruger National Park was already a game reserve as early as 1898, the National Parks Board as a statutory body was only established in 1926. Other national parks followed: Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (1931), Addo Elephant National Park (1931), Bontebok National Park (1931), Mountain Zebra National Park (1937), Golden Gate Highlands National Park (1963), Tsitsikamma National Park (1964), Augrabies Falls National Park (1966), Karoo National Park (1979), Wilderness National Park (1983), West Coast National Park (1985), Zuurberg National Park (1985), Vaalbos National Park (1986), Tankwa Karoo National Park (1986), Knysna National Lake Area (1987), Marakele National Park (1988), Richtersveld National Park (1991) and the Table Mountain and Dongola national parks (1995).
The Addo Elephant and Zuurberg parks were combined in October 1995 and the area is now known as the Addo Elephant National Park. National parks protect a variety of biomes, and species diversity, and are managed by the National Parks Board.
In the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, the National Parks Board manages nearly 1 million ha and controls a further 2,5 million ha in collaboration with the Government of Botswana.
This ecological unit constitutes one of the last regions on earth where large migrations, such as those of eland, springbok and the blue wildebeest can still take place.
A variety of tourist facilities are offered at most national parks.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the eastern Free State is best known for its beautiful scenery. The Golden Gate itself consists of two gigantic bluffs facing each other across the public road that follows the valley. Each stands nearly 100 m high. An even greater attraction is the massive Brandwag, a huge sandstone bulwark shaped like the bow of an an ocean liner which juts from the valley wall and seems about to topple over.
The Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in the Eastern Cape is home to one of the rarest large mammals — the Cape mountain zebra. To ensure their survival, a number of zebra have been translocated to other reserves throughout the Cape Midlands. Among the total of 206 bird species recorded in the park is the rare booted eagle.
The Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape is famous for its more than 200 elephants and hosts unique plants such as the Zuurberg cushion bush (Oldenburgia arbuscula) and the Zuurberg cycad (Encephalartos longifolius) which do not occur anywhere outside this area. The park is also a sanctuary for blue duiker — an endangered species.
The first marine national park in Africa was the Tsitsikamma National Park on the Garden Route between Humansdorp and Knysna. The Park is a narrow coastal plain bounded by cliffs and beaches, and extends 5 km into the sea. The Wilderness National Park near George in the Western Cape was proclaimed the country’s first National Lake Area in 1983. Certain sections of the lake area have been upgraded to the status of National Park, where zoning principles ensure that conservation and recreation do not interfere with each other.
Every year at springtime, the West Coast National Park at Langebaan attracts thousands of tourists, who come to admire the bright floral carpets. For the rest of the year, Langebaan Lagoon is the most famous attraction. The lagoon is one of the great wetlands of the world where thousands of migratory and local birds transform it into every birdwatcher’s dream.
The Augrabies Falls National Park about 100 km north-west of Upington in the Northern Cape is known for the Augrabies Falls which rank among the world’s greatest cascades on a major river.
The Karoo National Park near Beaufort West in the Western Cape consists of three basins and the Nuweveld mountain range. It is an area of mountains, plains, koppies and ravines — typical of the Great Karoo.
At the Bontebok National Park south-east of Swellendam, the bontebok herd has grown from 60 in 1961 to more than 300. The park is located within one of the world’s richest floral kingdoms. More than 470 plant species including 52 species of grass have been indentified.
The Tankwa-Karoo National Park near Calvinia was proclaimed in 1986 in a bid to restore part of the Karoo to its original beauty. The park is still in a developmental stage, with only some small animals to be seen.
Although the National Parks Board’s aim is to protect species diversity, the Bontebok, Mountain Zebra and Addo Elephant Parks may be regarded as species national parks, each with a success story of its own. The National Parks Board has also played a significant role in ensuring the survival and increase of three of South Africa’s flagship animal species — the African elephant, the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros. At the turn of the century, the Kruger National Park had about ten elephants and three black rhinoceros which soon died out. The white rhinoceros was extinct in the area. Today, there are 8 000 elephants in the Kruger National Park, and about 2 000 elephants have also been translocated to nearly 40 other national parks, game reserves and private game ranches. The removal of these elephants and the annual cull over the past 28 years have ensured the ecological integrity of the national park. The Kruger National Park now also has more than 2 000 white rhinoceros which were derived from a founder population translocated from KwaZulu-Natal. The black rhinoceros population is now approaching 300 animals. Not only has the National Parks Board played a major role in building up numbers of black rhinoceros, it has made a valuable contribution to ensuring the range of genetic diversity within the species.
Initially, national parks were protected areas, excluding all human activities which could not be reconciled with conservation and sustainable utilisation. In 1983, however, with the establishment of the Wilderness National park, this philosophy changed to include the control of human activities within a national park’s boundary. This was further expanded by the concept of contractual national parks by which a protected area remains in private ownership but can be included in a national park.
The Board spearheaded the move towards better relationships with rural communities in and around protected areas, and the pioneering achievements of the Richtersveld National Park are evidence of this commitment. The Richtersveld National Park is managed jointly by the National Parks Board and the community, combining traditional land-uses with conservation.
The National Parks Board has accepted the duty of making a positive and responsible contribution to the conservation of biodiversity and to the environment on a global scale. This is done through responsible participation in the affairs of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, CITES, RAMSAR, the World Wide Fund for Nature and other agencies.
The world-renowned Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest ecotourism attraction with more than 750 000 visitors per year. It stretches over 19 485 kmę. Its game population includes mammal species in excess of 140, more than 450 species of bird, 114 species of reptile, 40 species of fish and 33 species of amphibian. The 24 rest camps offer a range of accommodation from rudimentary to luxurious, and together with caravan sites, shops and restaurants, can cater for more than 6 000 people at a time.
The Kruger Park also offers several wilderness trails where visitors can cover large areas of unspoilt wilderness on foot under the guidance of a trail ranger.
In 1994, the Kruger National Park was enlarged by 14 696 ha by incorporating parts of five farms into the park. The new land is on the western border of the park between Orpen and Phalaborwa gates.
During 1995, game fencing between the Kruger National Park and private reserves was removed. This had a positive effect on the overall grazing situation and the migration of wildlife. The area is now managed as a single entity.