Everyone inside South Africa’s national parks – except foreigners from high-risk countries – must leave today, and the parks will be closed for the duration of the lockdown, it has been announced.

lions kruger park south africa
Lions playing as the last visitors leave Kruger Park. Photo: Karen Kristensen, Facebook.

Visitors from high-risk countries in the parks and who arrived in South Africa before March 9, however, were instructed not to leave the parks.

“All such guests have been identified and staff on the ground will provide them with support and further information regarding their travel arrangements as well as facilitate contact with their embassies,” SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni said in a statement.

Three tourists from high-risk countries who had been in Kruger National Park and then went to St. Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal were in quarantine after testing positive for Coronavirus, according to the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy.

The closure will have a devastating effect on the tourism sector. Visitor Gordon Turner, who left Kruger on Sunday, said on Facebook: “The park is going to come under severe pressure. Thousands of jobs in the park, on private reserves, support services, OSVs, hotel and lodge operations around the border will stop.

“SANParks will have to make some very difficult decisions in the weeks ahead. I wish them well and hope that all the people on this page understand the situation and make an effort to offer support.”

Others on SANParks Facebook page commented, more lightly, on how the animals would now have their own holiday – from humans.

The parks will close all their tourism facilities in time for locals to reach their homes before the nationwide lockdown begins at midnight on Thursday, Mketeni said, adding “We would like to assure our staff and visitors that their health and wellbeing is of critical importance.”.

Mketeni said that if visits were cut short or could not be commenced due to the lockdown, “to rather consider postponement to a later stage instead of cancellations.”