James Stevenson-Hamilton was the very first warden of Kruger National Park. Actually, the park wasn’t called that when he became ranger on 1 July 1902. It was called the Sabie Game Reserve and it was an area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers, a lot smaller than the current park.
Stevenson-Hamilton was born in Scotland on 2 October 1867 and died on 10 December 1957. He had a military career, saw active service in South Africa and became a colonel. His military skills and experience prepared him for his new job as Sabie Game Reserve warden.
In 1902, the reserve was really wild! There were no roads, except some wagon tracks, and malaria was a constant threat.
Stevenson-Hamilton’s job was to stop poaching. He set up his base and started training rangers to help him with his objective.
Interestingly, poaching is still a problem in Kruger National Park, especially with rhino horns which are sold on the black market. Present day rangers work with police to catch poachers, but some still slip through the net.
It was Stevenson-Hamilton’s work and reputation which eventually resulted in land grants all the way from Crocodile River to Limpopo River, 10 times the size of the Sabie Game Reserve. The new area was renamed Kruger National Park. He also successfully campaigned for the park to be opened to tourists.
Stevenson-Hamilton was nicknamed “Skukuza” by the local Shangaan people which means “the man who has turned everything upside down” or “the man who swept clean”, referring to his work to stamp out poaching. Skukuza is now the name of the biggest rest camp in Kruger National Park.
The Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library and Museum, at Skukuza, is named after him.
One of the private concessions in Kruger National Park, Imbali, has a camp called Hamilton’s Tented Camp. It’s set up in the style reminiscent of Stevenson-Hamilton’s day. The accommodation is canvas-walled suites, with turn-of-the-century style chairs, writing desks and cabinets.
Stevenson-Hamilton retired as chief warden in 1946, after 44 years in the role. He married the much younger Hilda Chomondeley, very late in life at the age of 63, and they had three children.
Although the present day park is called Kruger National Park, named after president Paul Kruger who’s vision it was to save native animals from hunting, it was Stevenson-Hamilton who did the ground work and was a key man in making the vision a reality.