As he said, “It was an easy day’s ride from my headquarters, and held more game and lion than any other square mile in the reserve”.
Its status as a game-rich area remains true today. Tshokwane was the name of an old Shangaan chief who lived there until his death in 1915. He was a mine of information about the tribal history of the area, and regaled Stevenson-Hamilton with stories about Swazi and Zulu raids into the area half-a-century before.
Nhutlwa the Giraffe
The giraffe (nhutlwa in Shangaan) is the tallest animal in the world, with the male measuring up to 5,5 metres from hoof to head and weighing almost two tons. A newborn calf weighs about 100 kilograms and can stand within an hour of birth.
Giraffe are found mostly in southern Kruger with the highest concentrations in the central grasslands. They usually occur in groups of three with nursery herds of cows and calves averaging around 12 individuals. According to Kruger mammal expert Heike Schutze, their core territories are approximately 80 square kilometres, but in the course of a year they can wander over a 650 square-kilometre range.
Giraffe browse over 40 kinds of trees, their favourite being acacias, bushwillows and terminalias. An individual giraffe can consume up to 80kg of food a day and although they drink when water is available, they have been known to go for a month without water.
They are sociable animals, often found with herds of zebra and impala. Stevenson-Hamilton once came across a female giraffe suckling a zebra foal that had lost its mother. Wildlife artist Charles Asterley Maberley recorded a fight between male giraffes in which the sparring parties swung their necks to head-butt each other with the apparent aim of breaking the opponent’s neck.
Tshokwane, a major stop on the savanna highway between north and south, has a picnic area, provision store and gift shop as well as a fast-food outlet, which makes it a good spot for breakfast, lunch or refreshments. The picnic area is dominated by a giant sausage tree (Kigelia africana) which protrudes from a thatched shelter.
Former Tshokwane ranger Ampie Espag once broke all the Park rules by secretly raising two lion cubs at home after he’d been forced to shoot their mother at Leeupan. He fed them on condensed milk, meat and water and said he loved them like his own children. However, word soon got out and Espag was ordered to put his cubs down. When he refused, Harry Wolhuter was ordered to do the job for him. This almost destroyed their friendship.
Harry Wolhuter and the night of the lions
One of the most famous stories of the Park is the 1904 saga of ranger Harry Wolhuter, one of the Park’s first rangers. Wolhuter was riding on horseback along what is today the Lindanda Road (S35), when he was attacked by two lions shortly after nightfall.
Toppled from his horse, he was seized by a male lion and dragged by his shoulder for almost 100m into the bush. At this point, the semi-conscious ranger managed to retrieve his sheath knife from his belt and stab the lion vigorously. The mortally wounded lion then dropped Wolhuter, who managed to climb into a tree before the second lion came after him.
Wolhuter believes he was saved by his dog Bull, who kept barking at the second lion and distracting it before ranger assistants arrived and carried him back to camp. After resting a day, Wolhuter was carried in a litter by four of his subordinates to get medical help. They arrived at Komatipoort four days later.
Wolhuter was patched up by a doctor and then sent by train to Barberton hospital where he lay at death’s door for several weeks before recovering. Wolhuter’s knife and the skin of the lion he killed are on display in the Stevenson-Hamilton Library at Skukuza.