Wardens Notes on Ranger Sections For January 1936, James Stevenson-Hamilton

View of a vintage game drive vehicle in Kruger National Park.
© Ed Yourdon

This is a record of James Stevenson Hamilton's Warden Notes on Ranger Sections for January 1936.


The drought continued until about the middle of the month when general rains set in. They were heaviest in the north and south east and roads and rivers became for the time impassable.

HEADQUARTERS

Cement having arrived in sufficient quantity the work on the causeway was nearing completion by the end of the month. Ranger van Niekerk was sent to Lower Sabi to clear the approaches for the causeway at that place and ranger Potgieter to a point 22 miles up river to the west where suitable concrete stone occurs, and where he is engaged in preparing this and in testing soil for brick making, fencing of camp and construction of gate-keeper's office as well as a new dining room.

GOOD RAINS

Good rains fell from middle of the month, and game improved rapidly in conditions. The impala on Lower Sabi road had a bad lambing season and comparatively few young animals have been noticed in that area. The buffalo moved away from the river after the first rain, and no more deaths have been reported among them. A leopardess reared her cubs in a thick patch of reeds and bush within 100 yards of the causeway construction and often crossed in full view. She remained for a month.

  • Killed by lions – 1 kudu, 1 zebra,1
  • lion Killed by leopards – 6 impala, 1 duiker
  • Killed by cheetahs – 2 impala
  • Killed by wild dogs – 2 impala

NO 1 SECTION

Heavy rain fell in Section after 17th. Ranger making new circular tour at Pretorius Kop and also new deviation road into rest camp as new buildings block the old road. Several arrests for poaching, including a party of four for killing a wildebeest. One of these was a well known poacher and this was the fifth time he has been arrested and the fourth rifle that has been taken from him in the course of about ten years. The field ranger concerned who was alone showed great courage in tackling this armed party, and arresting the ringleader. Another party of two were arrested for killing a waterbuck and others for killing small animals, there was also a case against others for allowing cattle to run in the Park to graze, from outside. A number of dogs found hunting were killed.

On the 9th the ranger inspected Entumene dam which he found was holding some water, as he came to it he walked into a troop of 21 lions which were lying asleep and then they jumped up all around him. The ranger was unarmed but standing still all made off eventually though one behind a bush growled menacingly for some minutes before also leaving.

He said that the younger animals all appeared to be in very poor condition, while the older were fat. The ranger found off road between Pretorius Kop and Hippo Pool a grave apparently some 50 years old, of a white man. There was no mark nor name on the headstone. Mr Pienaar, who had been photographing game left towards the end of the month. Wildebeest finished calving in middle of the month, the number of calves is less than usual. Impala along the Pretorius Kop – Skukuza road seems to have had a fair lambing season due doubtless to some local showers having fallen there in November and December. The section lorry was traded in for a 2 ton V8 Ford during the month.

  • Killed under regulations – 1 wildebeest Killed by lions – 14 wildebeest, 2 zebra, 2 waterbuck
  • Killed by poachers – 1 wildebeest, 2 waterbuck, 1 baboon
  • Miscellaneous – 1 wildebeest Game in good condition. No locusts reported.

NO 2 SECTION

Very heavy rain from 17th onwards. River at times impassable by pontoon. Roads in neighbourhood damaged and the crossings washed out. Necessary repairs to allow communications by lorry undertaken, and all the wire which formerly was anchored to allow crossing over the sand, was carried away or destroyed by the flood. Pulley wheel of pont was damaged but repaired by ranger. Building of camp additions at Malelane proceeding, but rain stopped all brick making and damaged a good many of the newly made and yet un-burnt bricks.

In view of the spare parts not having yet arrived for grader which has been stopped from work for about six weeks owing to that cause, the tractor and trailer employed hauling stone and other material for rest camp construction, the drawbar of trailer was broken but the ranger managed to borrow one from across the river until our mechanic could replace, so work only stopped for one day. Mr Elphnic of Althorpe also kindly lent to Ranger James a pugmill to assist Mr Kroeger in brick making, and this should save a good deal of hard labour. (I should again point out here that Ranger James' relations with all the farmers living south of Crocodile River are most friendly and characterised on his part but great tact as well as firmness).

Building of new kitchen at ranger's quarters and stand for water tank. Much snaring, before rains began, by locals in the bed of the Crocodile River, especially opposite Magnetic mine, the ranger found it necessary to establish a new police post at that point as a temporary measure.

Lions giving some trouble, and mauled the ranger's bull but it escaped, must have been a young lion. This happened in the daytime while animals were grazing near the house. Ranger improving and making thoroughly lion-proof the kraals for domestic animals in view of possibility of night attacks. After the rains the buffalo herd moved away from the river into interior of section and large numbers of zebra and some wildebeest returned to vicinity of Malelane.

  • Killed under regulations – 1 wildebeest, 1 impala
  • Killed by lions – 2 buffalo, 3 zebra, 1 waterbuck, 8 wildebeest, 3 kudu, 2 impala
  • Killed by leopards – 1 impala, 1 warthog
  • Killed by wild dogs – 5 impala, 2 kudu
  • Killed by jackals – 1 impala lamb Good veld since rains and condition animals improving. No locusts reported.

NO 3 SECTION

Heavy rains after the 13th. Crocodile River came down in flood, and on subsiding slightly left pontoon stranded on bank. It was then found to be full of water and leaking badly. Roads in section damaged and drifts washed out. On 22nd ranger unable to proceed on Gomondwane road on account wash away of Kanbane crossing. Continuous storms to end of month. Knap representatives repaired buildings. Thatching rangers office and outbuildings. Repairs to damaged roads and crossings. Pontoon out of action, but relaunched and moored fast. Much snaring along Crocodile River bed in early part of month. Two poachers with 7 dogs captured on 7th. On 22nd a patrol came about poachers close to P.E.A border who fired on the police and escaped, but dropped a shot gun and ammunition which was captured.

A trespasser from P.E.A was tossed by a buffalo on the Lebombo and brought to a kraal, where the ranger dressed the wounds. Headman Ntambo died of old age. He was a corporal in the police in the early days of the Sabi Game Reserve and later made Headman. Rain fell on ten days after 13th. At Lower Sabi grass will not grow, as roots destroyed by drought.

  • Killed under regulations – 2 wildebeest Killed by lions – 4 buffalo, 4 wildebeest, 1 kudu
  • Killed by poachers – 1 cane-rat
  • Miscellaneous (train) - 4 impala.
  • Herd ran into on 30th at mileage 22.
  • Condition of animals improving.
  • One small swarm of locusts seen on 28th near Gomondwane travelling from P.E.A apparently westwards. No others noticed and no egg laying reported.

Very few swarms of locusts have passed over the Park this season, and so far as is known none at all have remained to lay eggs.

NO 4 SECTION

(December) Severe drought conditions in eastern and south eastern parts of section, where natives have not yet planted their crops, there is no grass and even the marula trees have not gotten their leaves. In the western parts owing to local showers conditions are better and the game returning from farms outside the Park to the west. There was a heavy shower on 17th reported in that area. The new Maziti dam attracting a lot of animals: ranger busy on this and improving the Kumane dam.

Ranger endeavouring to estimate number of animals in the buffalo herd in section which moved about a good deal in search of grass. Eventually found it north of Marariwa Hill and made the number to be about 70. This herd is permanently in this section.

  • Animals killed by lions –
  • 9 wildebeest, 6 waterbuck,
  • 3 impala, 6 zebra, 1 ostrich,
  • 1 lioness.

NO 5 SECTION

Construction of Park lorry garage and tourist dining room proceeding at Satara. Rebuilding of blown down car shelter at Gorge. Gravelling of Satara-Bangwe road and of Satara- Rabelais road. After 15th repairs also to Isweni crossings were quite washed out, and road badly damaged.Rain fell for first time on 13th at Satara and fell on 8 days, 7" in all for the month. All rivers except the Imbabate came down in flood and the bridge over the Isweni and Wanetsi were completely destroyed necessitating in the former case a deviation road and crossing in another place.

The road from Satara to Bangwe was impassable for some days and even when it had become passable the wheels of the W.N.L.A lorries bit completely through the gravel top later into the clay to a depth of at least 18 inches. Ranger Ledeboer is now concentrating on "strip" repair by filling up the tracks only with deep layer of gravel which will be thick enough to resist pressure, thus saving the expense of having to gravel the whole breadth of the road, a proceeding which experience has proved wastefull as all traffic follows the same track.

Gravel strips when hardened should prove more effective in preserving the road and will cost less than gravelling throughout which implies a layer of gravel too thin to withstand the weight of heavy lorries when the clay underneath has become thoroughly wet. The Satara- Isweni road was also badly washed out and gangs are now employed on gravel laying on all routes where clay exists. On night of the 18th the Olifants River rose from 5-7 feet at the same time the Ngotse Spruit which joins it at the point where the cause way construction work is proceeding also came down in heavy flood. All the pier boxes made of heavy timber which had been placed in position on the pier sites in the river were carried away together with 9" x 3" moulds for the walls which had been put in place were carried away.

The accumulated mass of timber was carried down by the flood against the pontoon and its weight broke the wire towing rope the two ends of which were carried down stream. A certain amount of loose planking lying on bank of Ngotse was also lost. Fortunately a good deal of timber probably more than half was still on the bank as yet unused and so was out of reach of the flood. All the work which had been consumed in making the moulds and timber frames about 6 weeks in all was lost time.

Mason Louw went on a few days leave on 20th and ranger van Niekerk was sent to relieve him. In the meantime the river subsided and van Niekerk was able to recover two of the pier boxes and a little of the planking, he also recovered and mended the broken wire cable of the pontoon. Mason Louw returned on 25th and on the same day was directed to collect and stack all his surplus material at the Rest Camp, make out a list of it, dismiss his labour gang and abandon the work until such time as the season renders construction work possible.

The pontoon was usable for a few days which were utilised to get the new lorry for No 6 Section across the Olifants River. At the end of the month the river came down again in a much higher flood than on previous occasions and pont had to be hauled up bank and secured on top of a large tree. In the first flood the W.N.L.A ferry boat was carried away and for some time the lorries were diverted to the Satara-Acornhoek road. Grass has sprung up and is already becoming long all over the section. There has been a great return of migratory animals from the farms lying on the west towards Acornhoek but less so from the Lebombo areas; indeed it may take several good seasons before the game which has been filtering into P.E.A for some reason in No5 section was quite satisfactory on the whole.

  • Killed under regulations – 2 wildebeest
  • Killed by lions – 27 wildebeest, 4 waterbuck, 7 zebra, 3 impala, 1 giraffe.
  • Water and grass in plenty all over section, game in good condition and increasing by return migration. No locust seen.

NO 6 SECTION

Heavy rain fell from 18th, a total of 7" for the last two weeks of the month. The Letaba rose over the level of the causeway which had after subsidence of river to be cleared of accumulated rubbish and driftwood. Rain washed out roads badly and a great deal of the new repairs were set back and drifts remade. Windmill protection rails arrived at Gravelotte and awaiting transport by S.A.R large lorry being too small. Camp repairs and fence extension.

Warden visited section on 25th. On 29th a dead bull hippo found in reeds of Letaba River, killed by another animal of same kind. The fight had gone on all night about a week before and a great noise made by the combatants, but it was unfortunately not realised that one animal had been killed until too late to salvage the hide. Mr Kean of Irrigation Department arrived on 20th to select sites for dams but found himself unable to travel either north or south, and decided that conditions for any survey were impossible. He therefore returned to Pretoria on 21st. Knap's builders came and repaired huts.

  • Killed under regulations – 1 impala, 1 waterbuck.
  • Killed by lions – 1 kudu, 4 watebuck, 1 sable, 1 tsessebe
  • Killed by leopards – 1 kudu, 4 impala, 1 duiker
  • Killed by cheetahs – 1 bushbuck
  • Killed by fighting – 1 hippo
  • Conditions fair, game scattered, grazing improving.

NO 7 SECTION

Severe drought up to middle of month, after that time heavy rain which brought down all rivers in flood and made roads largely impassable. The ranger took days to get with the lorry to Punda Maria (44 miles) and spent a night in the veld with it. Between 4am and 8am on 19th 1Ύ" rain fell and it rained lightly but continuously for the next two days. Ranger proceeded to Louis Trichardt on 5th to effect purchases of some horses for himself and Ranger Kirkman, which he had inoculated against horse sickness. The ranger came back across the veld with horses sending car round by road. Seven crocodiles seen in the "tourist crocodile pool" near the Portuguese boundary.

  • Killed under regulations – 1 wildebeest
  • Killed by lions – 3 zebra, 4 waterbuck, 1 eland, 1 kudu
  • No locusts seen,
  • From 1st to 19th section very dry and little water or grass. Conditions improved at end of the month.

NO 8 SECTION

Very severe drought in early part of month and excessive heat. First rain came on 11th and after that heavy rain till end of month. 4½" fell between 19th and 21st. All rivers and spruits running and dams full. Limpopo and Pafuri rivers in flood, on 23rd. A young duiker fell into a new fountain at Punda Maria and was nearly drowned: the ranger took it out and revived it, afterwards allowing it to go free. Ducks and geese were noticed on the shallower pans. Construction of veranda to ranger's house going on and was finished on the 16th. Ranger working on new circular route to Pafuri. Hyenas mauled a donkey belonging to the community.

  • Killed by lions – 3 waterbuck, 2 kudu
  • Killed by leopards – 1 duiker
  • Killed by cheetahs – 1 kudu
  • Killed by wild dogs – 2 kudu
  • Killed by hyenas - 1 waterbuck
  • Animals still in poor condition but veld improving and expected soon that they will quickly pick up. The only species that seem to have a good breeding season are tsessebe and impala.



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