As this is Kruger's northernmost extremity, located 22°30' south of the equator, many tropical elements are present. Part of the region lies in a rain shadow, and Pafuri receives a meagre rainfall of just 362 millimetres a year, so many species from the arid west occur here.
A number of rich plant communities coincide with significant areas of sand formed by river flood plains, the Mozambique coastal plain and sandstone formations, and the Luvuvhu River creates a corridor of riverine forest that harbours many forest-dwelling species.
These diverse factors influence the distribution of animals, and many species occur only in the extreme north. The Kruger Knocking Sand Frog (Tomopterna krugerensis), named for its wooden, 'knocking' note repeated four to five times a second, is restricted to pans in the area. Bats are especially well represented, and 13 species occur only in this part of Kruger, including the Egyptian fruit bat, Wood's slit-faced bat and the Madagascar large free-tailed bat.
The largely nocturnal Bushpig and the rare Sharpe's Grysbok attain their highest densities in the Park in this region, and in the 1980s a total of 95 samango monkeys were released in riverine forest at Pafuri, where they have since formed small troops. Apart from the more common animals such as impala, bushbuck, kudu, nyala and buffalo, five packs of endangered wild dog have been observed in the area.
The sandveld communities are among some of the most interesting habitats of the region. West of Punda Maria, sandstone hills and densely wooded flat areas are the dominant natural features. The plant communities found here are very diverse, and no single tree predominates. In Punda Maria Camp itself no less than 80 tree species have been identified. These sandstone hills are the only locality in Kruger for the Natal red hare and yellow-spotted rock dassie (or hyrax).
The sandveld communities around Punda Maria are derived from sandstone, but near the eastern border the Wambiya sandveld is formed on coastal plain sand from Mozambique. Termite mounds are a prominent feature and they support dense thickets that are the only known habitat in Kruger of the tiny suni antelope. Attempts have been made over the years to introduce additional suni from KwaZulu-Natal, but they remain extremely rare.
A total of 23 major pans are scattered across the Wambiya sandveld, which are home to tropical warm-water fish found at the extreme inland limits of their distribution. The Rainbow Killifish (Nothobranchius rachovii), is a bright red, popular aquarium fish, up to six centimetres in length, that is found nowhere else in South Africa.
Spotted killifish (Nothobranchius orthonotus), and the peculiar lungfish (Protopterus annectens) which has a lung for breathing air and can survive in a mud cocoon at the bottom of a dry pan, are restricted to temporary pans in the vicinity. Apart from these unusual fish, the Cape hare, fawn-coloured lark and pinkthroated twinspot only occur in this sandveld, in the Park.
The Luvuvhu flows through a rugged sandstone gorge after it enters the Park, and then lazily meanders across the flood plain at Pafuri, 47 kilometres north of Punda Maria, before meeting the mighty Limpopo. At Pafuri a band of riverine forest grows on alluvial sands along the river bank. Pafuri is regarded by some visitors as the most enchanting corner of the Kruger Park.
Part of the area's charm lies in its remoteness, 613 kilometres from Johannesburg and 360 kilometres north of Skukuza, but the occurrence of the sycamore fig, fever tree, nyala, samango monkey and crested guineafowl link the area to the intriguing pockets of sand forest of Maputaland in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The picnic site on the banks of the Luvuvhu River is a favourite destination for bird enthusiasts, and the brilliant crimson-and-green Narina Trogon is often seen along the path that follows the river bank. Other notable bird sightings in the area include longtailed starling, wood dove and white-fronted bee-eater.
Pafuri is the most important locality for birds in Kruger, especially for rare vagrants and birds from tropical Africa. In total, 29 species or six per cent of the birds recorded in the Park have only been sighted at Pafuri. Some of these avian rarities include Trumpeter Hornbill, Cape Parrot, Tropical Boubou, Mashona Hyliota, broadbilled roller, olive bush shrike, threebanded courser, cinnamon dove, mottled spinetail and yellow white-eye.
Land Claims and Peace Parks
In December 1998, a Land Claims Court returned the triangle of land between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers, in the far northern corner of the Park, to the Makuleke people. The Makuleke had been removed from the area in 1969 and settled elsewhere, and the land was incorporated into Kruger.
In terms of a new agreement the area will now be jointly managed by the Kruger Park and the Makuleke for 25 years, and the community has been granted full rights to all tourism development, but will not settle on the land. This agreement made it possible to incorporate an additional 5 000 hectares of land into Kruger, and helped focus attention on the need to involve local rural communities in wildlife conservation.
A major initiative, led by the Peace Parks Foundation, is the proposed immense Kruger/Banhine-Zinave/ Gonarezhou Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), encompassing a vast 95 712 square kilometres, which is larger than Austria or the USA's State of Indiana. The most ambitious of the Foundation's proposed transfrontier parks, it combines four existing national parks, controlled hunting areas and communal lands in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Much of the land is in Mozambique, where rural districts would benefit immensely from ecotourism and job creation.
The Kruger Park receives nearly one million visitors a year, and cannot expand tourist facilities without negatively impacting on the environment. A major new airport has been completed west of Kruger (near Hoedspruit), but all of the Park's daily spare accommodation would be absorbed by the arrival of a single large passenger jet. Additional camps are needed to accommodate foreign tourists, and the proposed conservation area could sustain over one million wild animals, and would be able to accommodate three million tourists annually without any danger of overcrowding.
Experts agree that conservation is the best form of land use for this Kruger National Park area, and the transfrontier park would make a significant contribution to the local economies of this semi-arid and undeveloped regions. As people are settled in some regions, the proposed transfrontier park would consist of a mosaic of protected areas and resource utilisation zones.
In many parts of Africa poverty poses a major threat to national parks and natural resources, and land-hungry people have often violated park boundaries. The Peace Parks Foundation is confident that a three-pronged approach that addresses the problems of unemployment and poverty, establishes a culture of peace through co-operation between the member countries, and furthers the cause of conservation, will alter this pattern.
On 24 October 1999, the responsible ministers from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe signed a Memorandum of Understanding, supporting the establishment of a joint management structure that will create one of the largest conservation areas in the world. The agreement established a Ministerial Committee and an International TFCA Technical Committee to oversee the implementation of the agreement. The Technical Committee, comprising officials from the three countries, will prepare a conceptual plan, draft agreement and final management plan by the end of 2001.
The realisation of the dream of this transfrontier park will face certain obstacles, but none greater than those that faced Stevenson-Hamilton in the 1920s. In 1952 Stevenson-Hamilton published a history of his life in the Park, titled South African Eden - The Kruger National Park. Despite the vagaries of Nature, onslaughts from crippling droughts, opposition from many quarters and short-sighted decisions by government departments, the Kruger Park has endured and prospered.
In part, its success has been built on a tasteful blend of rural architecture, unpretentious facilities, simple outdoor living and sensitive planning set against the backdrop of the unpredictable, untamed and enthralling pageant of nature. The Park has indeed become a South African Eden. And if it can play a critical role in the creation of an immense conservation area spanning three nations, this 'Eden' will be one worthy of World Heritage status and a wildlife sanctuary unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.