Six major rivers flow through the Kruger National Park (KNP). All these rivers originate outside and to the west of the KNP and are highly utilized. They are crucially important for the conservation of the unique natural environments of the KNP.
The human population growth in the Lowveld during the past two decades brought with it the rapid expansion of irrigation farming, exotic afforestation and land grazed by domestic stock, as well as the establishment of large towns, mines, dams and industries. Along with these developments came overgrazing, erosion, over-utilization and pollution of rivers, as well as clearing of indigenous forests from large areas outside the borders of the KNP.
Over-utilization of the rivers which ultimately flow through the KNP poses one of the most serious challenges to the KNP's management. This paper gives the background to the development in the catchments and highlights the problems which these have caused for the KNP. Management actions which have been taken as well as their results are discussed and solutions to certain problems proposed. Three rivers, namely the Letaba, Olifants and Sabie are respectively described as examples of an over-utilized river, a polluted river and a river which is still in a fairly good condition.