Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Kruger National Park. South Africa.
My long experience has taught me that, thrilling though the pleasures of shooting undoubtedly are, infinitely greater and lasting pleasure and interest can be obtained from the observation and study of wild animals. I have never regretted my metamorphosis from hunter to guardian.
Harry Wolhuter, Memories of a Game Ranger
One Game Dog
In the last few decades of the 19th century, gold in unimaginable quantities was discovered in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (later called the Transvaal). The first major diggings were located in the Lydenburg district, around Pilgrim’s Rest. At that time the small Boer Republic had virtually no infrastructure and the Boers were either farmers or hunters. The gold diggings were worked almost exclusively by foreign fortune seekers and black African labourers.
The Boer economy was based largely on hunting “free” game. When they had arrived in the area north of the Vaal River, the Highveld teemed with herds of plains game comparable with the Serengeti today. It took only 50 years to virtually wipe them out. From there they turned their rifle sights to the Lowveld, an area of big rivers and massive trees – huge leadwoods and jackalberries, tamboti and appleleaf, spreading wild figs and, in the north, Brobdingnagian baobabs. There were mammals, birds, reptiles and insects of just about every kind imaginable, including huge herds of elephants, rhinos (the Kruger Park is today the last stronghold of the white rhino species) and buffalos, as well as lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas.
All supplies for the Lydenburg diggings had to come in from Delagoa Bay (later Lourenço Marques and now Maputo), in what was then the Portuguese East African colony. From there the wagoneers had to cross the steaming, malaria-ridden coastal plain, then the Lowveld all set about with tsetse flies, from where they had to clench tight to mount the great Drakensberg mountain escarpment to the diggings. They had to be a tough and independent bunch.
Some time in the 1880s a young and green – and it must be said naïve – Percy Fitzpatrick joined their ranks. He had tried his luck at the diggings, lost all he had, and resorted to driving a transport wagon and lost all again. It was near the base of Ship Mountain, in clear sight of today’s Jock Safari Lodge, that he became the master of a mongrel runt he named Jock. Their adventures together are the subject of South Africa’s best-loved children’s book Jock of the Bushveld that has been in publication since first printed in 1907, which he wrote for “the little people” at the insistence of his good friend Rudyard Kipling.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Jock Safari Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter.
The Essence of Bush Spirit
The early rest camps in the Kruger Park were extremely Spartan affairs because founding warden James Stevenson-Hamilton wanted to discourage visitors from lolling around in camp when nature was playing its most sublime symphonies outside the fences. Jock Safari Lodge is the opposite of Stevenson-Hamilton’s prototype. Much effort has been expended in creating a suitable ambience in the camp. The detail, however, is anything but frontier style. Management and staff ensure the place is plush without being extravagant, spotless, friendly and highly professional.
The lodge was originally built as a bush camp by Fitzpatrick’s descendants, but it has since been developed considerably. It has, however, managed to retain the spirit of the time when men like Percy Fitzpatrick, Jim Makokela – the larger-than-life Zulu wagon driver who was Jock’s great friend and defender, Stevenson-Hamilton and Harry Wolhuter walked the park’s wild tracks and pathways.
The rangers and trail guides at Jock Safari Lodge are as able to identify every small bush bird by its call as they are in dealing with a charging elephant, buffalo or rhino, should the need arise. They are so keen to show you the park in all its natural exuberance that staying in camp after sunrise is the domain of only honeymooners. And who would want to miss out on such an experience – not so much as being charged by dangerous animals but simply to enjoy the privilege of sharing such deep bush knowledge?