More than 2000 people gathered at the soccer stadium in Skukuza, Kruger National Park (KNP), to celebrate the park's 110th year of existence.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the park holds a special place in everyone's hearts and, over the last 110 years, it has become an icon for the country on many levels, including conservation, tourism and national pride," said Martinus van Schalkwyk, minister of environmental affairs and tourism during his keynote address.
Van Schalkwyk said Kruger proudly boasts over 1.3 million tourists for the last financial year. The magic million was first exceeded during March 2003 and has remained above one million ever since. This has proven that this is without doubt one of South Africa's top tourism destinations.
"This great icon is also not immune to the single greatest driver of biodiversity loss - climate change - which by mid-century will have a dramatic impact on key eco systems, conservation areas, marine resources and potentially tourism." Termed the KNP's 110 conservation celebration, the event at Skukuza on June 14, was the culmination of a three-week celebration that started on Monday May 26, 2008 with events staged in the various regions of the KNP until the main event in Skukuza.
"The idea with the staggered approach was that as many people as possible should be able to join the celebrations," says William Mabasa, head of public relations in KNP. Other speakers at the event included SANParks chief executive, Dr David Mabunda, who gave a speech on the history of conservation in South Africa with particular reference to Kruger and how it compares with the world.
Kruger's managing executive Dr Bandile Mkhize welcomed guests and dignitaries while professor Mathole Motshekga from the Kara Heritage Institute talked on indigenous culture.
KNP Nxanatseni (south) regional ranger Louis Olivier, who is the longest serving current ranger in the KNP with 40 years service to his credit, paid homage to several field rangers who joined him on stage as he related anecdotes of each individual.
Other items included a drill demonstration by the KNP ranger corps, performances by various cultural dancers from around the park, the singing of the new KNP song, 'Great Wilderness Great'' which was specially written by Phalaborwa-based songwriter Shalati Khosa, by the KNP choir.
Van Schalkwyk, Dr Mabunda and other VIPs joined in cutting the birthday cake amidst popping of champagne bottles. There were also live performances by local musicians who included General Muzka, DJ Sdunkero and Andy Masiye. On a more serious note, Dr John Nxumalo, KNP community forum representative, highlighted the ongoing and urgent need to resolve the problem posed by damage causing animals.