Kruger National Park

Project Ivory

Project Ivory

While sitting comfortably on a bench in the Lions Corner game-viewing hide, hot coffee and rusks setting the tone for a relaxed early morning, we notice a herd of elephants meandering along the riverbank, just below. Their incredible presence leaves many of us mouths agape, silent ‘wow’s balancing on our lips. It doesn’t take long for hushed whispers to break into a conversation on these sentient beings and quickly a lesson on Project Ivory commences.

Elephants have long been under threat of poaching for their ivory tusks. In fact, according to Ivory’s Ghosts by John Frederick Walker, excavations revealed artistic ivory carvings from around the sixth millennium BCE. Traditionally, elephant ivory has been revered for its unique properties which make it easy to carve and sculpt. In many instances, sculptures and artwork are thought of, but many varying products have been unearthed by archaeologists: buttons, chopsticks, spear and bow tips and, an item made of ivory until recently, piano keys. In Asian culture elephant ivory has always held value and been seen as a statement of wealth; at its peak, in the year 2014, the price for ivory was around $2100 per kilo, but by 2017, its value had decreased to $730 for the same quantity.

Kruger National Park: Rangers pull over to show tourists an African Bush Elephant bull

While the decrease in value holds hope for the African Bush Elephant, poaching in the Kruger National Park has seen an increase in recent years. In 2014, two elephants were poached in the Kruger, but this number has multiplied to 71 in 2018; a growth of 3 550%. While this increase is drastic, Chief Ranger, Nicholas Funda, referring to the Kruger National Park, currently home to 19 000 elephants which have an annual growth of 4% (or 760 new additions), said that, while SANParks aims to be proactive in curbing all forms of poaching, their concern is not that elephant poaching will increase uncontrollably, but rather the element of criminality. In an interview in January 2019, Funda said: “What we are concerned with is criminality; we cannot allow criminals to harvest or to steal from the public. That’s our mandate; we are mandated to protect that. I think elephant poaching is going to be ugly. Elephants are easy to see. If poaching gets out of hand, it will be very difficult to curb. Therefore to be pro-active is critical for us.”

Two Rangers walk through the Park on patrol

It was during this interview that Project Ivory was announced to the public. With its main base of operations in Phalaborwa, Limpopo, (where the highest concentration of elephants can be found) Project Ivory aims to prevent poachers from entering the Park at all. In support of these efforts, the Honourary Rangers donated a group of tracker dogs for the northern section of the Park, as well as agreed to sponsor the first horse unit. The seven horses provide a better means of transport for the rangers who have to track wildlife and poachers across the uneven terrain; the horses move quietly, provide a height advantage and are able to move closer to game than a ranger can on foot. In addition, the Honourary Rangers donated the infrastructure required as a Cessna plane will be moved from Skukuza to offer air support. “It becomes very much important for us to become part of this project. We need to mobilise our communities in support of these initiatives.” – Seaparo Sekoati, MEC for the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, stated.

A large African Bush Elephant

The efforts of the Project Ivory Team and SANParks Rangers will undoubtedly provide valuable support to South Africa’s elephant population within the Kruger National Park. It is imperative for us all to work towards providing protected safe havens for our country’s wildlife and to see groups making progress in the fight against poaching activity is incredible. Read up on the Honourary Rangers and get involved in their projects here.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might like to find out more on the K9 Units which operate within the Kruger National Park. Read our blog, ‘The Game Changers’. Find out more on the fascinating biology of these humble giants in our blog, ‘A Tribute to Elephants’.

Posted by Ngwenya Marketing in Environmental Conservation, Kruger National Park, 0 comments
The Kruger Park “Game Changers”

The Kruger Park “Game Changers”

The bond between man and man’s best friend, the canine, is a love story for the ages. While we appreciate our companions and their unwavering love within our homes, the Kruger Park has their own companions and guardians: The Kruger Park “Game Changers”. This elite K-9 Unit specialises in the tracking and apprehension of poachers and smugglers across the Park.

The Kruger National Park is home to a number of threatened species, whose latest predators (poachers) have had an advantage over anti-poaching efforts until the recent introduction of the K-9 unit, often referred to as the ‘game changers’. These canines are bred through existing, and proven, bloodlines to produce dogs that are the most efficient in the war against poaching. Different breeds have been selected for their inherent abilities: Beagles and Labradors are more commonly used to sniff out contraband in vehicles entering and leaving the park; a mixed breed of Bloodhound and Doberman are used as trackers and; the Belgian Shepherds, commonly referred to as Malinois, are trained to apprehend poachers. There are currently 55 dogs operating within the Kruger National Park, with an additional 20 located in national parks throughout South Africa.

Most notably increasing the success of anti-poaching efforts has been that of the tracking hounds. Traditionally, these working dogs had been led on-leash through sections of the Kruger by a handler, searching for scent; this process is slow-going and often poachers manage to escape. Recently, however, the introductions of hound groups have been deployed to manoeuvre off-leash. Dog handlers and rangers follow the dogs from a helicopter, where they can scour the surrounds for danger, while the pack races along a trail. It is remarkable to see these animals move uniformly through the veld on a trail, often shifting positions as lead runners fatigue. Once the team spots a threat the dogs are called off and collected to be safely removed from the scene, while Rangers assist in the arrest of poachers. Two distinct groups of dogs used in free-run chases can be noted: that of the South African Wildlife College and an import of Texan hounds. To date these K-9 Units have been deployed in over 70 chases, leading to the successful arrests of over 140 poachers; an increase of approximately 50% on poaching efforts.

Credit to ©Ravi Gajjar for Rhino Tears, as adapted from Africa Geographic

These canines can certainly be awarded the title of the Kruger Park ‘game changers’, then. While their work is incredible to witness, this job is also extremely high-risk. Not only are these dogs working hard, across large distances and under the African sun, where exhaustion and heat reign supreme; but the threat of dangerous wildlife and fire-power of poachers needs to be taken into consideration, as well. The hounds are trained by the best, but accidents and mishaps can occur at any time. The costs of running a successful operation of this magnitude also add up; dog breeding operations, satellite collars for the dogs, helicopters, training apparatus and a number of other elements require funding.


If you wish to get involved with this proven anti-poaching unit, please click here.

After experiencing the abilities of these hounds, it is no surprise that not only are the Kruger Park ‘game changers’ man’s best friend but the best friend and guardian of South Africa’s heritage: its wildlife.

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Skukuza Railway Bridge

Skukuza Railway Bridge

Near Skukuza Camp lies the Skukuza Railway Bridge; an outcrop of metal and stone which forms the bridge for the age-old Selati Train. It stretches across the Sabie river and makes one reminisce about the days when motorists could not travel through the Kruger National Park and the only way to see the wildlife was from the train itself.



The Selati Railway was established more than 100 years ago, in 1892, to connect the town of Komatipoort and the Selati River, as the area showed promise of gold.  The railway expanded 80 kilometres through the Sabie Game Reserve but before completion, the Selati Railway Company dissolved, leaving the 80km track abandoned and unused. This railway line is said to be one of the most expensive railways ever built, as Selati owed near one million Rand to shareholders when the company collapsed. South African Railways later bought the railway in 1912 and completed construction to Tzaneen before initiating a nine-day train tour through the Lowveld. This tour stopped over at the Sabie Bridge for a one night stay and departed early the next day to continue the tour.

In the years following, a number of trains and tours through, what we now know as, the Kruger National Park, created a boom in tourism for the area. With the introduction of the first roads in the nature reserve and due to too many animals being injured and killed because of the trains, the decision was made to halt all locomotive activity. The steam train 3638, also known as “Skukuza”, was donated to the National Parks Board to display and was turned into a unique restaurant in the 1980’s – the Selati Station Grill House.

Photo: Thebe Tourism

This rich historical site is set to be revived over the course of the next two years and will pay tribute to the original Selati Railway Line.

The development will form part of a new tourism campaign for guests to relive the rich history that once formed part of the Kruger National Park.  A stationary train will form the hotel on the Selati Bridge going by the name of Kruger Shalati, while extension plans are afoot to offer guests dining experiences. Plans show that the train hotel will encompass “Afro-chic styled” boutique accommodation with enough space to accommodate approximately 60 guests; 48 on the train itself and 12 in the Bridge House, in close proximity to the train. This unique architectural project will see to create a living experience reminiscent of days gone by offering travellers unique accommodation, as well as a recreational and entertainment area complete with eateries and family-friendly fun.

For now, though, the old railway line lies in anticipation and visitors eager to see the development come to life ponder on the incredible wildlife sightings to be enjoyed from the bridge overlooking the Sabie River.

Posted by WSC_Dev in Kruger National Park, 0 comments