The lowveld lost one of its legends on June 9, 2006 when colonel Jan Pretorius passed away at the age of 94. Pretorius was one of the founders of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. A colonel in the airforce, Pretorius was indulging his passion for flying with a trip over the lowveld in 1940 when he saw a waterhole surrounded by game, and what he described as “a game paradise with large open spaces and thickly wooded rivers where wildebeest and zebra roamed in their thousands.”
He bought a piece of land in the area, but by 1948 he became concerned about the “large scale slaughter of game” in the area, and came up with what was then a highly innovative idea – to form a coalition of private landowners with the specific intention of conserving the game.
Col Pretorius struggled to get some of the land owners “to appreciate this long term view as the area teemed with thousands upon thousands of head of game coming from and going into the Kruger National Park”, but in 1950 he called a meeting with a group of landowners to discuss the matter, and this formed the beginning of the Timbavati.
Col Pretorius’ posting to Korea as senior air liaison officer then interrupted matters for a time, but on his return in 1953 another meeting was held under a thorn tree near Acornhoek. For several years after this meeting the feasibility of the nature reserve was tested with Dr P Hugo and Col Pretorius at the helm. A further meeting was held on the cricket pitch in Acornhoek in 1956, and Col Pretorius’ dream of an area for the protection of game finally became a reality in the form of the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve.
The name was changed in 1958 at the request of the National Parks Board, and from then on the reserve was known as the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Although Pretorius eventually sold his farm in the Timbavati, he continued to be associated with the lowveld.
He was living in Tzaneen at the time of his death, but will be remembered for both his passion for flying and his passion for the bush. “We were very fortunate to have Oom Jan at the Timbavati’s 50th anniversary last year. He will be dearly missed, but not forgotten,” says Scott Ronaldson, the warden of the Timbavati.