Elephant Hunting/Culling/Contraception

Wed May 23, 2012 3:47 pm

gmlsmit wrote:From Hansard:

Mr N J J van R Koornhof (Cope) to ask the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs:
(a) How many permits were issued for hunting elephants in the private nature reserves adjacent to the
Kruger National Park in 2010, (b) in which nature reserves were elephants hunted and (c) what were the
conditions contained in the permits that were issued?
Mr N J J van R Koornhof (Cope)
(a) 35
(b) Klaserie, Umbabat, Timbavati, Balule, Mthimkhulu, Makuya, Thornybush.
(c) Permit Condition:
1. To be hunted in accordance with the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR)
Hunting Protocol and the approved hunting quota for 2010.
2. Standard permit conditions, including:
2.1 The permita.Shall not be transferable;
b.Shall be invalid until the signature of the holder thereof has been appended
c. Shall lapse when it is lost or destroyed and no copy thereof shall be issued.
2.2 The prescribed fees paid for the issue of the permit shall not be refunded.
2.3 Any unauthorised alteration to this permit shall render it invalid.
2.4 This permit is subject to the provisions of any applicable law in force during the period
of validity of the permit.
2.5 This permit is valid only within the province where it was issued, except to transport
and keep while so transporting dead specimens, in which case this permit is valid for
the whole country.
2.6 The holder of the permit shall, at the request of a person authorised in terms of
applicable legislation so to demand, forthwith produce such permit to such person.
2.7 If the holder of this permit contravenes or fails to comply with any permit condition or
requirement to which this permit is subject, he or she shall be guilty of an offence.
2.8 This permit shall be subject to any applicable norms and standards in existence at the
time of issuance of this permit.
2.9 If this permit applies to hunting, the holder of this permit must:
a.Have a copy of this permit authorising the hunt, on his or her person during the
b.Within 21 days after the hunt, furnish the issuing authority with a written return on
the hunt stating:
(i) the permit number and date of issuance of the permit;
(ii) the species, sex and number of animals hunted; and
(iii) the location where the hunt took place.
c.Return the original permit to the issuing authority forthwith after expiry of the

Also from Hansard

Mr N J J van R Koornhof (Cope) to ask the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs:
Whether culling of elephants is still part of the SA National Parks (SANParks) programme for curbing elephant numbers in the Kruger National Park; if so, (a) when will the culling start and (b) how many will be culled?
Mr N J J van R Koornhof (Cope)
Yes as part of policy.
a) SANParks cannot give an indication whether or when culling will start since there are other additional ways of managing elephant impacts. However, culling is an option SANParks can use as provided for in the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in
South Africa.
b) As per first reply, SANParks cannot say how many elephants will be culled as culling is one of five management options that can be considered. Other options include range (habitat) management, translocation, introduction, and contraception.

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:48 pm

A good quote posted by Bush Happy on the SPF

Dr. David Mabunda, CEO, SANParks,

In conservation books a hunt is commonly understood as the art of pursuing an animal, usually a large mammal or bird, in order to kill it for food, recreation, or trade with its products. Hunting is a regulated and legal activity as opposed to poaching, trapping or killing animals against the law. Except for subsistence hunting, hunting is practiced largely as a recreation activity hence the term recreational sport. Hunting is an extractive part of ecotourism and it is for this reason that it is often argued by some members of the public, opposed to hunting, that photographic tourism is a non-consumptive activity and that it is, therefore, better than hunting. This is a myth. On the contrary photographic tourism is a consumptive activity, it affects the natural footprint.

Economic contribution
In the United States of America, hunting is big business that generates more than US$67 billion in economic output, and more than one million jobs (IAFWA 2002, Economic Importance of Hunting in America, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies). Former US President, Theodore Roosevelt, a devout hunter, is one of the icons of the wilderness concept and one of the founding supporters of the US National Park System. In his autobiography (1913), Theodore Roosevelt stated: “There are men who love out-of-doors who yet never open a book, and other men who love books but to whom the great book of nature is a sealed volume” (in Underwood L, 2003, “Theodore Roosevelt on hunting”, The Lyons Press). Similarly, there are people who criticize hunting, but have little knowledge of its contribution to conservation. Equally, there are hunters and hunting practices that are totally bad and these should not be tolerated.

South African local hunters, largely biltong hunters, contribute nearly R1 billion directly into the economy while foreign trophy hunters contribute another R1 billion, making a total contribution of R2 billion per annum. While the contribution made by photographic tourism is massive, figures are not yet available on how much of the R70 billion tourism industries accrue from photographic tourism. As a developing country, it would be suicidal to want to make trade-offs between hunting and photographic ecotourism, we don’t have the luxury of choice, we need both.

That said the hunting industry still needs to make a quantum leap and huge strides that will make it speak to all the citizens of South Africa. Hunting takes place on land, and land is at the centre of various forms of economic activity. As one of the leading industries, hunting should, like other leading industries, transform itself into an indispensable socio-economic force that makes an impact on livelihoods. The industry can and should create decent jobs.

Ecological contribution
In remote areas where these properties are located, it is not easy to establish viable photographic ecotourism. In cases like these, recreational hunting provides the owner with the incentive to manage and maintain his land under conservation. Hunting is a component of modern wildlife management and it is often used to maintain a healthy population of animals where reserves are too small to allow natural regulation of populations or where hunting is a key part of the financial objective of the area. However, trophy hunting is exactly that, search for a trophy — an animal eye candy! This is another area where the hunting industry must set very high standards. South Africa cannot to be in the top 5 mega diverse countries and have its big 5 hunting industry in the top 5 bad examples. Therefore, adherence to the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 10 of 2004 where TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) is involved is a must!

The contribution of hunting to South African’s protected area network, both formal and informal is phenomenal. There is no doubt that this could not have been achieved without incentivizing the land owner. Hunting was one such key incentive that even provided the initial short term capital to built photographic ecotourism. Currently, more than 15 million hectares of private land is registered and set aside for conservation and another 15 million hectares is also used for mixed wildlife and cattle farming. This means registered privately owned land is three times more than the efforts of the state. South Africa needs some of these large estates to be formally registered and gazetted as part of the national protected area expansion strategy so that the country to meet the global target of 20% by 2025.

Have mailed the good doctor!

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:50 pm

iNdlovu wrote:From a Kruger perspective, how hard is it to move a few herds into Limpopo Transfrontier park. I know this has been done before and the animals simply migrated back. What I'm saying... before going the culling route, let's find a way to move them eastward and keep them there. JMHO

Sprocky wrote:I am by no means in favour of culling, but something has to be done as the elephant numbers are causing serious damage to the environment. Personally I think that the hotel development will cause more damage should it go ahead. Maybe the funds used for the hotels should rather be channelled into translocating these animals to other parks, this way SANP can gain finances by either the sale of said animals or by increased gate revenue of their own parks that they are translocated to. :idea:

Richprins wrote:Here's Dr Mabunda's reply to me this morning, so that sorts out confusion! :wink: :

Hi Richard,

The context of the debate at the time was about the legality of hunting
in South Africa and not about opening hunting in Kruger or any other
National Park. Animal Rights organizations were of the view that
government should outlaw hunting completely (following Kenya's
example)and my response was to demonstrate the value (socio-economic and
ecological) of hunting as a land use in our country and compare our
practices to those of the United Sates. Our nation decided a long time
ago that national parks will be for biodiversity conservation and
non-extractive use.. No hunting is allowed in national parks by law and
I support that view.
Thanks for the compliment

iNdlovu wrote:"national parks will be for biodiversity conservation and
non-extractive use."
Oh sure, what about the sale of Rhino for hunting, logging of trees, mopani worm harvesting etc. I have yet to hear something consistamnt from SanParks except when it comes to programmes that involve making money for some people

gmlsmit wrote:None of us like the culling of animals especially in our National Parks.

The preferred species in the Elephant diet is the thorn tree (Acasia) species.

Next time you drive through the KNP have a look and you will notice the reduction in the Acasia species, they were previously much more plentiful in the Park.

Also take note of the condition of the trees, most of them have been damaged.

Previously the Scientists regarded as the carrying capacity of the KNP to be 6500 Elephants = .295 animals per km square.

The current Elephant population is +- 18000 = .818 animals per km square.

The number of Elephants in the KNP will have to be managed otherwise they will destroy the ecology leading to the destruction of their habitat as well as the many other species also dependent thereof.

I have posted from Wikipedia about Ecology and Habitat:

Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house"; -λογία, "study of") is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount (biomass), number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems.

Ecosystems are hierarchical systems that are organized into a graded series of regularly interacting and semi-independent parts (e.g., species) that aggregate into higher orders of complex integrated wholes (e.g., communities).

Ecosystems are sustained by the biodiversity within them. Biodiversity is the full-scale of life and its processes, including genes, species and ecosystems forming lineages that integrate into a complex and regenerative spatial arrangement of types, forms, and interactions.

Ecosystems create biophysical feedback mechanisms between living... (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) components of the planet. These feedback loops regulate and sustain local communities, continental climate systems, and global biogeochemical cycles.

The biological organization of life self-organizes into layers of emergent whole systems that function according to nonreducible properties called holism.

This means that higher order patterns of a whole functional system, such as an ecosystem, cannot be predicted or understood by a simple summation of the parts. "New properties emerge because the components interact, not because the basic nature of the components is changed."[1]:8

Ecology is a sub-discipline of biology, the study of life. The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919).

Ancient philosophers of Greece, including Hippocrates and Aristotle, were among the earliest to record notes and observations on the natural history of plants and animals. Modern ecology branched out of natural history and matured into a more rigorous science in the late 19th century.

Charles Darwin's evolutionary treatise including the concept of adaptation, as it was introduced in 1859, is a pivotal cornerstone in modern ecological theory.

Ecology is not synonymous with environment, environmentalism, natural history or environmental science. It is closely related to physiology, evolutionary biology, genetics and ethology.

An understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function is an important focus area in ecological studies.

Ecologists seek to explain:
Life processes and adaptations
Distribution and abundance of organisms
The movement of materials and energy through living communities
The successional development of ecosystems, and

A habitat (which is Latin for "it inhabits") is an ecological or environmental area that is inhabited by a particular species of animal, plant or other type of organism.[1][2] It is the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds (influences and is utilized by) a species population.[3]

The term "population" is preferred to "organism" because, while it is possible to describe the habitat of a single black bear, it is also possible that we may not find any particular or individual bear but the grouping of bears that constitute a breeding population and occupy a certain biogeographical area. Further, this habitat could be somewhat different from the habitat of another group or population of black bears living elsewhere. Thus it is neither the species nor the individual for which the term habitat is typically used.

The term microhabitat is often used to describe the small-scale physical requirements of a particular organism or population.

Monotypic habitat

The monotypic habitat occurs in botanical and zoological contexts, and is a component of conservation biology. In restoration ecology of native plant communities or habitats, some invasive species create monotypic stands that replace and/or prevent other species, especially indigenous ones, from growing there.

A dominant colonization can occur from retardant chemicals exuded, nutrient monopolization, or from lack of natural controls such as herbivores or climate, that keep them in balance with their native habitats.

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:51 pm

Richprins wrote:One indicater area for elephant influence dear to my heart is Pafuri in Northern Kruger.

I first visited 20 years ago, and have been blessed with the privilege of visiting the place yearly for around a decade now, same month every year, and have noticed a steady and now exponential increase in ellie numbers there!

Also , a marked decline in the "medium" sized acacia specimens, as they are destroyed!


The big trees are ok, except for the baobabs, which are also getting hammered!

Will take relevant pics next week!

Richprins wrote:Ok...Pafuri pics from last month as promised...

Some bigger trees are indeed having branches and bark pulled off now.


Lost a few pics due to computer crash, especially fever trees (young) destroyed...


The camp manager was absolutely distraught at the exponential increase in elephant devastation, as he can see it going on daily!


The breeding herds murder the mopane bush and smaller bush away from the river, while the Bulls stay close to the river, and hammer the trees there.


A double whammy was two nights of violent wind storms while we were there, which caused even more destruction...I didn't even want to photograph that, but it would be interesting to know how ellie damage makes other trees more susceptible to wind, if at all?

The bottom line is the Luvhuvhu gallery forest and Fever tree forest are taking damage continuously, not to mention the baobabs. :(

TheunsH wrote:Sad to say, but unfortunately culling seems to be the only way forward to save the trees! :cry:

Richprins wrote:Now here's a quote, and there are innumerable others, relating to "sustainable utilisation' and "benefitting the communities around Sanparks":

" is meant to extend the benefits to include sustainable utilisation of natural resources which is a policy of SANParks and an acceptable principle of the IUCN.

With unemployment high particularly in the rural communities outside the park around the harvesting area, this is another way for us as KNP to contribute positively towards the wellbeing and livelihoods of some of those families" - Mr William Mabasa (Head KNP Public relations)

Is he talking about elephant harvesting? No...mopane worm harvesting, as took place last year.

As Indigenous hardwood trees are also being "harvested" in Garden route National Park, and rhino sold at an increasing rate in Kruger, hotels being built in Southern Kruger - all in the name of benefitting the communities at some stage - why should elephant not be utilised sustainably as well?

The protein destributed to these desperately poor and malnourished communities neighbouring on Kruger would be a masive and real contribution, not like the silly mopane worm PR exercise!

And the principle remains exactly the same!

What is more, the byproducts of culling, especially leather goods and biltong, would provide a huge, free and sustainable financial input for Sanparks on an annual basis, probably negating the need for many of the more complicated, harmful and potentially corrupt projects like those mentioned above.

And of course the destruction of Kruger's flora could be spared! :idea:

BTW, elephant culling was approved at ministerial level in 2009, and that is still the case.

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:52 pm

Lisbeth wrote:Sanparks is probably afraid of the outcry, that this would cause, but being matter-of-fact and pragmatic, you are quite right of course and if the elephants have to be culled in any case, why not make them serve a purpose, even if it makes my heart cry :(

Richprins wrote:It will make all our hearts cry for a while, but would make some hungry families smile very broadly, and give them a tangible benefit from the "playground of the purists"...and a reason to support/understand Kruger?? :(

Flutterby wrote:Makes a lot of sense RP! \O

harrys wrote:Agree with you RP \O , I am against culling but I also don't like to see the trees distroyed and if that distruction continouis there won't be food for the Ellies and they'll die off hunger :( , so rather cull some and save the trees and the Ellies \O

Sprocky wrote:I don't know how accurate these figures are, but I have heard that Kruger can accommodate 14000 Elephant and the current number is approaching 18000. If this is correct something needs to be done soon and I think culling is the only answer. Further down the line a lot of other animals and birds are suffering due to the destruction caused by the Elephant over population.

Lisbeth wrote:Maybe RP should send his solution, which resolves two current problems, to Sanparks \O

Richprins wrote:I did mention it years ago on the other side, but Sanparks have set numerous precedents since then! 8)

They will certainly not react to any suggestion from us/me/the media...but I have another idea...should take some time and involve some groundwork! :twisted:

Also, I am by no means sure all members are in favour of culling! :?

Need some technical info as regards the veterinary issues regarding distributing meat re. the red line protecting domestic animals from wild animal-borne diseases, and how this applies to elephants. :?

Lisbeth wrote:It is of course not as easy as it sounds...nothing is :roll: Maybe they are already doing it, for what we know :twisted:

Richprins wrote:Ja, on that point!

Many rumours are circulating that culling is going on quietly!

I don't know, but the Sand River processing depot is not operating, so should that be the case, carcasses are left in the veld. I did notice very aggressive ellie behaviour in the Mopaneveld of the North in October.

But that is all speculative!

Richprins wrote:Heard today Sand River processing depot requires around R16 million to get operational again...

leachy wrote:
i think that the culled carcasses should just be left in the veld

it will be more beneficial for the ecosystem of the park..... :idea: :idea:

Geza wrote:Forgive my ignorance on this one but what would the processing plant be used for? :shock:

On the hunting issue, I am pretty much undecided. I do understand that is is necessary to cull the elephants for the "greater good" on one hand. On the other, if we had not limited the movement of elephants, they would have been able to migrate thus giving areas time to recover in their absence. (or is this just a simplistic view?) :?

I think if hunting were allowed, it should be under very strict conditions and one of those is that no vehicles should be allowed. In other words, the hunting "party" should be forced to go into the bush on foot, track and hunt on foot. Using vehicles makes it easier for hunters to get reasonably close to the game while if they had to do it on foot, the animals would have a better chance of escape. As it is, they don't really stand much chance against high powered rifles, telescopic sights and trackers that can get them very close with minimum effort by the hunter.

Just my opinion. :?

Oh, and if culling is necessary, then the culled game should be used for some gain to offset the costs of the exercise. However, when it comes to humans and money, greed often gets in the way of everything. :(

Lisbeth wrote:In my view, the culling should be done by rangers and not by hunters for their delight. And as RP pointed out a few pages ago and BH now, the meat should be useful for somebody and the ivory too...all controlled and re-controlled and re-re-controlled :roll:

Penga Ndlovu wrote:I detest hunting for "sport" or trophies.
That I want to state firstly.

@ BH

I understand where your point of view is coming from and I have always advocated that if you want to hunt an animal, except the human kind, you should meet him on equal grounds.

However we are talking about culling here and what needs to be done is "wipe" out the whole herd at once without giving a single one the chance to escape.
That needs to be done as cleanly and swiftly as possible and can only be done with the use of vehicles and high powered rifles.

@ Lis and BH
The above states exactly the need for professional hunters to participate in this " exercise".

It is a gruesome business, but it needs to be performed with as little as possible distress for all the other species.

Richprins wrote:Ja, it was discovered that it is essential to wipe out an entire herd at a time, or survivors cause trouble.

BH, the Depot is the factory at Sand River near Skukuza, where all culled elephant were processed in the old days.

It can maybe handle 1000-2000 carcases per year, depending on upgrades, as it was mothballed when culling stopped. Biltong, skins and canned meat were the products, eliminating disease concerns, while staff could use fresh meat. I,m trying to find out the veterinary ramifications for distributing meat to neighbouring communities re. the red line protecting domestic animals - elephant do not carry foot and mouth disease, for example.

The profits made from culling in the old days barely covered the expenses incurred to do so, as vets, helicopters, specialised vehicles, rangers etc. were used for days on end.

It would require further digging to find out if those vehicles are still available etc.

However, this time round the recommendation is that ellies simply be shot with high-powered rifles, eliminating the need for darting and overdosing with scoline as in the old days.

Leaving the carcases in the veld was not an option, as it would play havoc with the natural predator/scavenger activity. so much so that guts and unrecoverable carcases were burnt.

Remember, those elephant that die naturally every year replenish the ecosystem just fine...in fact more than enough!!

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:53 pm

Geza wrote:Thanks for the response RP and crazy one.

I get the differences between culling and hunting. Just wanted to make my point known about "soft" people going hunting. I have little doubt that (probably more often than not) the trackers go out and search for the animals to be hunted and then call "base camp" when the quarry has been found. Then the "hunter" will be ferried in by vehicle as far as possible, before he can "participate in the hunt".

Culling on the other hand is something completely different. I recall that there were some "problem elllies" at Pilanesberg a few (several) years go. If I recall, some of the animals in a herd were "Spared" and then relocated to Pilanesberg. These ellies proved to be somewhat of a problem and lacked the social graces that education from the elders would have given them. If I'm not mistaken, some attacked motor cars, tuourist and generally had a bad attitude. Then again, I think I would have a seriously bad attitude if my entire family was wiped out. :evil:

Another of my concerns about culling is the closed gene pool. Because they can no longer migrate, inbreeding is going to become a problem in the not too distant future. I do get that it (culling) is a last resort, but I go back to a point I made somewhere else. The reserves should be bigger.

RP, I had an idea that a processing center would be used for what you describe. I just wanted it confirmed. \O

Richprins wrote:Sharp, BH!

Had very interesting conversations with two old stalwart culling veterans yesterday, and the stats are amazing! :shock:

One does not realise how much meat one elephant provides...which is the reason the depot could only process so many animals even while running at full capacity!

Even providing local communities with elephant meat will not make much of a dent in the overpopulation!

About 6000 need to be culled once-off, and up to 2000 per year after that, depending upon reliable census information.

A carcass cannot be burnt...the entrails were buried, to prevent interfering with the natural order of things, especially regarding disease.

Elephant meat is not a disease problem re. distribution outside.

Many tribes proffess not to eat elephant meat, so an "elephant meat culture" will have to be established...but that is subject to hunger!

The depot will probably have to be rebuilt, for practical purposes, and one or two more!

There is enough free protein to largely sustain struggling communities in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, should the process be properly handled! :shock:

The culling process COULD be augmented by local butcheries and companies to handle fresh meat and biltong, but it will be a learning process.

The best way to safely handle the bulk of the meat is via bulk precooked canning.

The culling process will run at a loss should foreign agencies not assist, or should the ivory not be sold.

iNdlovu wrote:It terrifies me to think that this...."Mission: To develop, manage and promote a system of National Parks that represent biodiversity and heritage assets by applying best practice, environmental justice, benefit-sharing and substantial use".....means exactly what you guys are talking about, but not just in connection with culling. :shock:

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:55 pm

A paper from Dr Joubert Last Year:


In the past few years the control of elephant numbers by means of culling as a valid option in the management of their populations was vigorously debated. Culling was strongly opposed by anti-culling parties. Ethical considerations and scientific accountability featured prominently in the debate.

The debate on the management, or otherwise, of elephant populations was characterised by rigid viewpoints steadfastly held by the opposing culling/anti-culling schools. The justification for elephant culling on the grounds of spatial constraints and impacts on biodiversity were vigorously countered by arguing lack of what could easily have been construed as philosophical reasons rather than concrete evidence. The arguments of the anti-culling lobbyists were further reinforced by the introduction of the concept of ‘meta-populations’, i.e. populations extending over vast (regional) areas with unconstrained spatial and temporal distribution possibilities.

The debate was eventually concluded with the acceptance of a set of management options on a national level, designed to meet local demands. These policy guidelines make provision for translocations, culling and almost any other innovations to harmonise general ecological interests and those of elephant populations.

Though the sentiments and viewpoints of the two camps largely remain, the debate has been settled and offers the opportunity for managers and researchers to consider the areas still under dispute and to probe a rational way forward. This phase, more than ever, will call for integrity, open-mindedness and an honest approach towards rational decision-making. Disputes and the seeking of solutions can no longer revolve around petty personal arguments but needs to take into account that it is the Kruger National Park, and its intrinsic natural values, that are at stake.

On 3 May 2010 the author and Dr Sam Ferreira, ecologist responsible for the management of large mammals and attached to the Research Section at Skukuza, Kruger National Park, had the opportunity of meeting and discussing various aspects of elephant management in some depth. The request for the meeting was prompted by statements that Dr Ferreira was reported to have made during an address at a research meeting at Skukuza during March. Amongst others, these were:
 it was not possible, without substantial bias, to census elephants;
 the management of the elephant population would no longer be based on numbers but would be ‘event driven’;
 the spike in the reproductive rate of the KNP elephant population was in reaction to the culling programme (which was terminated in 1995), and
 if left to increase the elephant population would eventually level off and maintain a stable density (ostensibly in harmony with other components of the ecosystem).

Though from two opposing camps the discussions were relaxed, open and constructive.

In compiling this report I have also taken the liberty of inviting comments on the draft from Dr Ian Whyte, a former research officer responsible for research on elephants in the Park. Where relevant his comments have been referred to in the text and included herewith as Appendix 1.

At the end of his long and illustrious career as the first Warden of the KNP Stevenson-Hamilton (1947) expressed the following warning: “… it is so easy to misunderstand the factors governing the actions and reactions of wild creatures living under natural conditions. Man, today, has such absolute power over the existences of other creatures of the earth, that any action taken as the result of inaccurate observations, or faulty deductions, may not only cause irreparable mischief, but may defeat the very interests which it is intended to serve.”

During his term of office Stevenson-Hamilton identified cyclical rhythms in the rainfall pattern (subsequently confirmed by long-term data sets). Furthermore, he was also able to relate associated changes in the vegetation and animal populations in response to the rainfall fluctuations. These cyclical rhythms also included the close relationship between herbivores, parasites and carnivores. Based on these harmonious interactions he concluded that “… where any attempt is being made to preserve natural conditions it is always wisest to let Nature carry matters out in her own way and to interfere as little as possible.”

After formal research started in the KNP in the early 1950’s considerable pressure came to bear on the young fledgling research section to provide answers to the pressing problems of the day, i.e. the role of carnivores, in particular lion; the role of veld fires and the spatial and temporal requirements of the Central Disrict’s western boundary animal populations, in anticipation of the erection of a fence to curb the spread of Foot-and-mouth disease.

A series of successive drought years during the 1960’s and early 1970’s with a concomitant surge in the numbers of several high density species, notably wildebeest, zebra, impala, elephant and buffalo, led to the institution of culling operations of all these species. An upswing in the rainfall cycle during the mid and latter half of the 1970’s, especially 1973 to 1978, into the early 1980’s resulted in dense swards of grass, a fragmentation and decline of the populations dependent on short grass (wildebeest, zebra and impala) and a notion that the large carnivores, especially lion and spotted hyaena, played an important role in the decline of these species. This ultimately led to a campaign to reduce the numbers of these predators in selected areas. These two extremes in the rainfall cycle largely ushered in an era of active intervention, leading to an intensification of water provision, adjustments to the veld burning programme and the artificial manipulation of animal populations.

During the high rainfall phase of the climatic cycle (1970’s to early 1980’s) culling of most of the populations initiated in the 1960’s was terminated. At this time the research programme of the KNP was also re-organised and defined as a study and analysis of the ecosystem, with detailed consideration of the dynamic nature and inter-dependency of the individual components comprising the system and therefore also to serve as a basis for the implementation (and evaluation) of management strategies as necessitated by circumstances. This holistic approach represented a major redirection of the research effort and attitude towards management. The primary research objective was further underpinned by the adoption of the philosophy that ecosystems (in fact, individual populations as well) were akin to living organisms, with “life” defined as the spontaneously dynamic symbiosis of interacting and interdependent systems, each having its own composition and structure, with the inherent capability of reproducing and perpetuating.

During this era the closure of artificial water points was initiated, fire management was returned to a totally natural regime, culling of all but elephant and buffalo populations was terminated and the monitoring of the climate, vegetation and animal populations was intensified. Essentially, this implied the adoption of a philosophy that natural processes would be allowed to take their course as far as this was possible without human (unnatural) interference.

For most part the KNP was regarded large enough to accommodate most natural processes, with the exception of the population cycles of elephant. However, by the end of 1994 the situation pertaining to buffalo and hippo had not been finally settled: in the case of the former their population increases under favourable conditions (high rainfall) was of such a magnitude that it was believed that they could achieve densities that could have a negative impact on tourists when their populations crashed during periods of drought (buffalo being vulnerable to droughts) and in the case of the latter the effect of the plight of the perennial rivers on their populations was still uncertain (though culling had been terminated)

A universally accepted principle in the management of wild (and domestic) animals is the control of the numbers of those populations that are regarded as a threat to the sustainability of their resources, in particular where these are shared with other species. An underlying consideration where management options of this nature are contemplated, is the spatial constraints imposed on the animals in question. In this respect, it is not only the direct impact of the animals on their food resource which is of importance but also the impact on the spatial and temporal requirements of all the species involved (both the targeted species as well as associated species).

By any standards of land management the 2 million hectares encompassing the KNP represents a vast area. However, in terms of the spatial and temporal requirements of elephants it was not regarded as sufficient to accommodate their population cycles. Based on this principle the most appropriate strategy accepted to manage their population was to control their numbers. It was, however, also acknowledged that the cumulative effects of constant population pressure would eventually result in destructive impacts on their habitats. This implied severe management challenges. As all natural processes function in cycles and the ‘lebensraum’ of the KNP was considered too limited to accommodate those of the elephant population their cycles had to be imposed artificially. Attempts in this respect included concentrating culling operations in one region of the Park for a number of years and then shifting the focus to another, thereby lowering densities in one area and allowing increases in the other. An acknowledged flaw in this approach was the limited time allowed for the fluctuations (initially suggested 3 years of concentrated culling followed by 3 years of no culling). No conclusive results from this approach could be reached before a moratorium was placed on elephant culling.

In 1995 the moratorium was placed on elephant culling in the KNP, a moratorium that has remained intact ever since. During this period the elephant population increased from 7 500 to its present level of around 15 000.

Currently the mission for the Kruger Park reads as follows: in keeping with the SANParks mission, Kruger National Park strives to maintain biodiversity in all its natural facets and fluxes, to provide human benefits and build a strong constituency and preserve as far as possible the wilderness qualities and cultural resources associated with the Park. According to the SANParks website this mission statement contains three qualifications. Of ecological importance is the inclusion of structure, function and composition under the concept of “natural”.

Essentially, the philosophical approach towards the management of the Park makes provision for the maintenance of the intrinsic qualities of the composition, structure and dynamic processes of the ecosystems in their most natural state possible.

During the elephant debate much was made of the lack of a sound scientific basis for determining the most appropriate management strategy for the elephant population. The Kruger Park’s view was that the elephant population was carefully monitored, research projects had been undertaken (and were ongoing) on all aspects of their population ecology, that there was no evidence of any negative affects on the population after 30 years of culling and that management objectives were effectively achieved.

The ‘new’ approach towards the management of the elephant population may then be viewed against this background.

Elephant census
What had been conveyed to me was that a statement had been made to the effect that elephants could not be censused from the air. This was due to the fact that not all the animals could be spotted. A slide was apparently screened on which only some 5 individuals out of a total of about 9 could be spotted by the audience. This was held as proof that elephants could not be accurately counted and that any attempt at a census would result in unacceptably high bias. Dr Ferreira conceded that he has not undertaken a helicopter census of elephants.

The above perception was somewhat refuted by Dr Ferreira and the discussion revolved around concepts such as accuracy and precision.

I joined Dr U de V Pienaar’s helicopter census team from its inception in 1966 and participated annually until 1986. The major features of the census were the following:
 it followed a standardised process, i.e. covered the entire Park by means of fixed routes and at the same time of the year;
 it was undertaken from mid-August to mid-September, a period coinciding with the driest time of the year when surface water resources were restricted, deciduous trees had lost their leaves, visibility was at a premium and the animals were most concentrated;
 the census team consisted of 4 observers, the pilot and an observer/navigator in the front seats and an observer/photographer (for many years primarily my role) and an additional observer, usually the section ranger, on the back seats.
 the only factor over which there could be little, or no, control, was the weather. Poor weather conditions, especially low cloud and cold winds associated with cold fronts, could negatively impact on visibility and therefore result in some animals being missed. Such conditions at the end of the winter season are, however, infrequent and usually do not last more than a day or two.

Elephants are easily spotted from the air in virtually all the landscape types of the Park. There are no extensive evergreen forests or closed-canopy woodlands of any consequence where it would be difficult to spot elephants. In addition, elephants are generally wary of the whine of the turbine engines of a helicopter and move when approached, thereby making spotting easier.

When breeding herds of elephants are approached they generally bunch together and are difficult to count. However, with some deft manoeuvring of the helicopter the herds are easily scattered and the herd animals can then be counted to the last individual. Bulls pose no problem. In this way a highly accurate count of all the elephants spotted can be obtained. It cannot readily be estimated/guessed how many elephants are missed during the census though factors such as maximum visibility, restricted water resources and the design of the census routes contributed to a high likelihood of spotting the animals. It is confidently believed that for most years very few animals were missed and that the accuracy of the census results was high (see Appendix 1, comment 1).

To obtain a count from which statistically determined confidence limits can be estimated at least three counts need to be completed, preferably in quick succession. This would not be financially feasible nor practical in terms of the entire Park. However, if precision is really such a high priority repeat sample counts in each of the 4 regions of the Park could be undertaken in conjunction with the annual census. This could be financially and practically possible and probably required for only one year. On the other hand, the highly comparable census totals for the Park over more than 40 years should surely instill enough confidence to render them scientifically accountable! At least, the results reveal a high degree of repeatability – an aspect which is also of crucial importance.

The question of the accuracy and precision of the census results is an aspect that received much consideration over the years and is addressed in the respective census reports.

Censusing wild animal populations includes data collected on population trends, distribution patterns and social organization structures (plus a host of important associated information). As such, censusing animal populations remains one of the most essential support projects in wildlife management. Its value in terms of monitoring and interpreting ecosystems should not be underestimated!

Censusing may even have quite unexpected outcomes. In this respect the following interesting bit of information recently came to my notice from two quite different sources: a herd of sable antelope (apparently 30-something) were released into a large enclosure in the Marakele National Park. In an aerial census of the enclosure only something like 3 animals were counted. The first reaction was to deride the census figure (rather heftily, I believe); a repeat census yielded the same figure. It was only later discovered that poachers had entered the enclosure, caught the bulk of the sable and made off with them!

On an aside: I believe that buffalo herds are no longer photographed as part of the census but their numbers merely ‘estimated’. As incredible as this may sound, can it possibly be true?!

And as far as the other large herbivores are concerned: personally I do not believe that the time, manpower, money and effort put into the ‘distance sampling’ method of censusing the other large herbivores is of any value to the Park. The initiators of the method, Drs Anderson and Burnham of the Colorado State University, USA, were in the Park, taken up in the aircraft for a simulated count and advised us that the method was not suitable for the Park. I have on occasion written to Dr Mabunda and suggested that it is time for a proper census to be done of all the large herbivores of the Park, to the same standards as those done earlier and I feel the need to repeat this suggestion again, as a matter of urgency.

‘Event-driven’ elephant management
I hope my interpretation of ‘event-driven’ is not too simplistic but as I see it this mainly implies that cues are derived from the level of utilization of the vegetation and that impacts exceeding predetermined ‘thresholds of concern’ need to be addressed. If this is correct I have certain areas of concern that I would like to raise:
 Dr Ferreira intimated that the Crocodile River area needs to be addressed. What I would like to know is: how was this determined and what has made it a higher priority than several other areas that I am aware of? Is any report/publication available which details the criteria to be applied to determine areas of concern and, in this particular case, what is(are) the motivation(s) given to select this area?
 In 1988 a former botanist of the Park, Albert Viljoen, published a paper in which it was shown that 93.4% per ha of the large trees (mainly knobthorn and marula) on the basalt plains south-east of Satara had disappeared between 1944 and 1981. Similarly, 49.6% of the trees (per ha) on the basalt plains between Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge had disappeared in the corresponding period. Has any follow-up work been done on this?
 To determine the events, and their intensity, to guide decisions on elephant management automatically implies that considerable effort will have to go into vegetation monitoring and assessments. In this respect questions arise such as: does the Kruger Park even have a botanist on its staff (as far as I have it no-one has been appointed to replace Holger Eckhardt, who resigned some two years ago!); have any analyses been done of the large number of fixed-point photographs (roughly 500) taken since 1977, or the large-scale aerial photo transects (more than 120) taken since 1981 (are they still being taken?); or the effects of the out-of-season veld fire programme presently implemented? How will these projects be undertaken if research officers, as incredulous as this may be, are restricted to only 30 days field work per annum? I believe there is a student analysing vegetation trends from satellite images but whether this will be sufficient (detailed enough) to give guidance on elephant management strategies is doubtful, at best.

The big question is: can the Kruger Park really convince the scientific and public audiences that the defining and prioritising of the ‘events’ to serve as guidelines for the implementation of elephant management strategies are, indeed, scientifically accountable? The counter-question is even more to the point: can the option of no-culling be justified while there is an apparent total lack of research capacity to cope with surveys to determine their impacts?

Areas heavily utilized by elephants, to the point where some management intervention is required, implies that those areas are attractive to elephants. By what manner and means are elephants going to be denied access to the areas, for how long and where will they be going to in the meantime? Have these practicalities been addressed? Is culling regarded as an option?

Spatial and temporal considerations
Spatial and temporal aspects play a vital role in the health of all animal populations and are intrinsic components of natural processes. Disruptions of the spatial and temporal rhythms have had severe impacts on several populations of the Park, e.g. the erection of the western boundary fence of the Central District that severed the migration routes of especially wildebeest and zebra and caused major collapses in these two populations. Similar disruptions have resulted in the local extinction of roan antelope and also affected eland, amongst others.

Spatial and temporal considerations, in fact, have been integral in formulating the principle that provided direction in deciding the justification, or otherwise, for the manipulation of animal populations. In cases where it was believed that the full population cycles of species could be accommodated in harmony with the fluctuations imposed on the other components of the ecosystem by the medium (20 year) climatic cycle, and without being affected by any man-induced disturbances, there was no justification to interfere with those populations. This led to the termination of culling in all but the elephant and buffalo populations. In the case of these species it was believed that the spatial constraints of the Park were severe enough to induce artificially high densities, to the ultimate detriment of the other components of the ecosystems. This ‘ultimate detriment’ was interpreted as artificially induced disturbances to the structure and composition of the other components, e.g. vegetation and animal populations (including species mix, numerical status and spatial and temporal disruptions). These effects would inevitably also affect other taxa, such as insects, reptiles, birds and small mammals. Artificially high densities of species constrained by spatial limitations could, therefore, have an impact on the total biodiversity of the Park.

Elephant, obviously, fell within this latter category. They could adapt to virtually all the habitats in the Park, their population trends were not affected by the medium term climatic cycles and they were highly competitive for the vital resources of food and water. From the history of the population trends it was also obvious that the Park was too small to accommodate their expanding population. To address this situation it was deemed imperative that some form of control of their numbers had to be exercised. The only option was to dispense with what was considered to be excess numbers. This was achieved through live translocations and culling. In this manner a remarkable level of control could be exerted over the population.

One of the fundamentally important attributes of all forms of ‘life’, at whatever level of organisation – whether at individual, population or ecosystem level, is that all functions (natural processes) are fulfilled by way of rhythmic cycles. The elephant population is no exception and one of the major challenges in the management of elephants was to find a way of imposing such cycles on the population. This is obviously a largely impossible task, considering that elephant population cycles, according to the best data sets, take anything between 200 and 400 years to complete. Nevertheless, the consequences of this are that elephant at stable levels probably exert a greater cumulative impact on the environment than heavy impact over a relatively short period, a collapse in the population and then a relatively long period (several medium term climatic cycles) for the habitats and associated species to recover.

Water issues
Water provision in the Park has come a long way, since the early 1930’s. Essentially, the underlying motivation for providing artificial water points was to try and achieve larger numbers of animals (for the sake of tourists) by enticing them to waterless areas with sufficient, under-utilized grazing. There were also a number of additional motivations, inter alia, to compensate for the loss of natural resources with the erection of the western boundary fence, to safeguard rare herbivores and endangered aquatic species and to provide resources for periods of drought, especially after the Park was fenced.

The water provision programme progressed slowly up to the early 1960’s after which it gained some momentum. However, even at this early stage it was acknowledged that especially some injudiciously placed dams were defeating their object and rather causing problems through disruptions to the spatial and temporal cycles of some grazers.

Following a number of protracted drought years during the 1960’s and early 1970’s the water provision programme was stepped up during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This coincided with an especially wet phase of the climatic cycle which ended in 1982/83. In spite of the numerous new dams and windmill water points that were provided natural water resources in the form of pans, seasonal watercourses, springs and the perennial rivers provided extensive and superfluous surface water. Then came the series of drought years from 1983 to 1992 which was the only period that the artificial water points served any real purpose before the rainfall pattern again improved during the mid-1990’s.

In the accompanying table the census results for various species is given at the end of the 1960/70’s and 1980/90’s droughts. These periods were quite similar in duration and intensity and though the census results were obtained from different methods the results show a remarkable similarity in the populations at the peak of the droughts – this in spite of all the water that was provided (zebra and roan are exceptions due to reasons not of relevance here). I do not think it is unreasonable to conclude that the artificial water resources played a very limited, if any, role in sustaining the populations through the drought or influencing shifts in distribution patterns.

Much of the new approach towards the management of the elephant population is being attributed to the role that the artificial water points have had on the distribution of the elephants. The question that arises is: why would elephants be an exception to all the other species? I am in total agreement with the closure of injudiciously placed water points (having personally closed the first 12) but think that some of the arguments based on the influence of water on elephants need to be reconsidered.

Table 1: Comparative totals for a number of herbivore populations at the end of the 1960/70’s and 1980/90’s low rainfall periods in the Kruger Park and the peaks of the populations in the intermittent (high rainfall) period.

1972 1992
Impala 147 300 98 513 124 284
Wildebeest 12 557 12 738 14 603
Zebra 16 890 29 463 32 819
Giraffe 3 647 4 610 4 990
Kudu 4 990 3 281 10 760
Waterbuck 2 490 1 442 4 044
Tsessebe 494 63 1 163
Sable 1 030 883 2 240
Roan 272 44 328
Eland 305 511 1 193
Buffalo 19 735 15 253 29 707
Warthog 2 152 720 3 820

Fire entered the discussion by way of my concern about the lack of vegetation monitoring. Not only elephants have an impact on the vegetation but also veld fires. At this stage it is apparent that nothing is being done to monitor the effects of what may be regarded as a highly unnatural fire regime. I am not sure whether the field rangers are still responsible for veld condition assessments, which could go some way towards monitoring.

I do, however, find it extremely strange that the Park justifies the closing of artificial water points to comply with a more natural situation but applies a fire policy that flies in the face of its mission statement to “maintain biodiversity in all its natural facets and fluxes …” Fire cannot be ignored as a very important natural process but its present mismanagement places a question mark over any other attempts to convince me that the Park is serious about abiding by the ‘facets and fluxes’ of nature.

Arguments I have heard in support of the present policy are to ‘create diversity’ and to simulate fires applied by rural communities over the past number of centuries. Neither of these arguments are relevant: on what basis can the Park justify its claim of ‘creating diversity’ in direct contradiction to natural processes, and why select one aspect of land use from earlier times and not all the other? Why not also try to simulate the effect bygone settlements had on the environment, their monopolisation (and poisoning) of water holes or their impacts on herbivores and carnivores?

The extent, intensity and effect of lightning fires are not only dictated by the fuel load but also by the prevailing conditions at the time of the fires, i.e. season, time of day (usually late afternoon) and atmospheric conditions such as temperature, humidity, wind, nitrogen fixation, etc. Lightning fires are frequently followed shortly after ignition by rain. This creates natural diversity in harmony with all the other natural processes. Of course, in times of high rainfall and the accumulation of heavy fuel loads fires can be severe, fully in accordance with the natural flexes and fluxes of the ecosystems. Natural fires usually occur during spring or early summer and in this way preclude burnt areas from exposure to prolonged high ambient temperatures and other factors that could negatively affect the vegetation, such as concentrations of short grass grazers at a time that grass growth is retarded. Such fires could also upset the established spatial and temporal utilisation of rangeland by herbivores.

Reproductive ‘spike’ of elephants in response to culling
Since the mid-1960’s when elephant censuses were initiated the recorded calf percentages have remained remarkably stable. The only exceptions were 1967 and 1995 when they were 11.3% and 10.1% respectively. In both cases this could most likely be attributed to observer bias as the classification of calves under a year of age remains a rather subjective judgement and largely depends on the experience of the observer(s). In all other cases the percentages are of a very similar order, in spite of some fluctuations. From the recorded percentages there do not appear to be any indications that the reproductive performance of the elephant population has been affected by fluctuations in the medium term rainfall cycles, termination of culling or any other influences on the population. On what basis the ‘spike’ in reproduction is founded is unclear and suspect at best (see Appendix 1, comment 2).

Elephant population approaching its asymptote
Based on the results of recent census data the claim was made that there are “early signals” that the elephant population growth curve is reaching its peak. This supposedly implies that the population is reaching a stable level at which it will be in harmony with the other components of the ecosystems. It should, however, be pointed out that “early signals” are not established fact and therefore not scientifically accountable.

It is accepted that the opening of new rangelands adjoining the Park for occupation by elephants will relieve the Park of some of its elephant pressure and should be reflected in the census figures. It is known that a large number of elephants emigrated to the ‘vacuum’ created by the Sabi Sand Wildtuin (SSW) with the dismantling of the western boundary fence (in contrast to this, a similar emigration to the Associate Private Nature Reserves, where there had already been an established population, did not take place). A similar situation to that of the SSW could be expected in the opening of the transfrontier park, which includes much of the erstwhile traditional range of at least some of the elephant clans in the northern reaches of the Park. The elephant population trend should, therefore, also take this into consideration.

The notion that elephant populations could reach some state of stable population level is also highly debatable. The universal phenomenon of all natural processes taking place in the form of rhythmical cycles has already been alluded to. The elephant population is no exception and it can be expected to build up to densities where it could have severe impacts on the environment and all that is associated with it, collapse and then slowly build up again. And even if it is kept at a stable level the problem of the cumulative impacts of elephant over time will exceed those of relatively short term exposure to high impact followed by the advantage of several phases in the rainfall cycles for the regeneration and rehabilitation of the environment. The question remains whether the elephant population can be allowed to reach the stage where it will collapse due to the exhaustion of one or both of its vital resources (food and water) (see Appendix 1, comments 3 & 4).

To create greater possibilities to meet the spatial and temporal requirements of elephants is a laudable approach and the range extensions on both the western and eastern boundaries of the Park will go a long way in achieving this (for elephants and a host of other species). However, it will remain a closed system and is bound to be colonised in due course, even if the Ghonarezhou National Park is also added as it already has a substantial elephant population.

I seem to sense that the new approach towards the management of the elephant population is essentially an attempt to avoid population control by means of culling. Other than culling, it is highly unlikely that population control will be possible by any alternative means, such as translocations. If population control cannot be exerted I regard the new approach as extremely high risk. This is based on the following:
• It is quite apparent that the Park does not have the research capacity to properly evaluate and prioritise areas that would qualify for ‘event-driven’ intervention.
• It is not clear what ‘intervention’ implies. If it does not entail the reduction of the elephant population where are the elephants of the impacted area supposed to go?
• Justifying the unchecked increase of the elephant population on the basis of an “early signal”, supposedly signifying the reduced increase and leveling off of the population, is scientifically unfounded.
• Any suggestion that the elephant population would eventually level off and continue at a stable level in harmony with other ecosystem components does not take into account elephant population cycles and is therefore equally unfounded on a factual/scientific level.

After nearly 30 years of culling the elephant population has shown no discernable ill-effects and has been kept at a stable level. This, in itself, is not without problems as indicated elsewhere in this submission. However, it was possible to maintain the population within manageable levels and offered the opportunity of adjusting to identified and/or perceived problems.

To let the population go on the grounds of unproven and wishful assumptions (however popular this may be in terms of public sentiment) can very well lead to an irreversible situation that offers very little opportunity to manage the population or effect rehabilitation of disturbed areas if and when the “early signal” assumption may, in fact, prove to be false. This would be akin to signing a contract without an escape clause!

If one has to err, err on the conservative side and retain the opportunity of redeeming mistakes, even if they are – as accepted - made with the best possible intentions.

These notes, following a welcome engagement with Dr Sam Ferreira, are submitted as an official submission to, and for consideration by, the Research and Management sections of the Kruger National Park and copied to Dr David Mabunda, CEO, SANParks, who first informed me of the change in direction in the management of the KNP’s elephant population.

Dr SCJ Joubert
5 October 2010

Comments by Dr Ian Whyte

Comment 1: “It is not possible, without substantial bias, to census elephants”.
The photographs used by Dr Ferreira to illustrate the “ineffectiveness” of the aerial censusing of elephants is entirely inappropriate. These photos were taken from a fixed wing aircraft flying on a predetermined transect from which it would not deviate – even for the purposes of obtaining a more accurate total of the elephants seen. When elephants were seen, as many photos of the group would be fired off in the direction of the elephants as the aircraft passed by. Later examination of all the photos for each group was expected to show up other animals obscured in some of the photos. While looking through a camera’s viewfinder, it is not possible to determine the limits of the group and many are obscured by trees/shrubs at the moment the photo was taken. I know this as I participated on two such censuses in Kafue and the area north of the Okavango “pan-handle”. In my opinion this technique is the most ineffective of all the techniques that I have been exposed to. I would not advocate this technique to anybody. The only way to get an accurate count of elephants in thick bush is through the use of helicopters such as that used in KNP. This was acknowledged to me by Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton ( a man who has vast experience of aerial elephant censusing from all over Africa) during a visit to Kruger in which he participated in the helicopter census. In my view, a claim that elephants can not be censused is clearly a statement by someone who has no experience of helicopter counts!

Comment 2: “Reproductive ‘spike’ of elephants in response to culling”.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the reproductive “spike” seen in the census of 1995 was the result of the cessation in culling. I believe that this spike was real as I was the observer tasked with counting calves during this census, and I had become very aware of observer bias and was particularly conscientious about trying to exclude calves that could have been more than one year old. The reason for counting these small calves was to try to determine the numerical increment through births to the population since the previous census. However, it is very difficult to distinguish between calves of just less than one year from those that are just older than one year. It is a subjective assessment that is very dependent on the experience of the observers, and is impossible to get this exactly right. But I have no doubt that there were an unusually high number of calves born in the year prior to that census.

Elephant have a normal inter-calving period of ±4 years (3.99 years as calculated for my PhD). It is therefore impossible for an elephant population to maintain a high reproductive rate every year. Usually a “spike” occurs after droughts when reproduction has been suppressed due to nutritional stresses. This has been well documented, particularly for the Amboseli (Kenya) where reproduction virtually ceased during a severe drought (Moss 1988). This was followed by a dramatic “spike” once the drought was broken and the females returned to breeding condition. This may well have been the case in KNP in 1995 as the previous eight years had apparently experienced lowered calf percentages (excepting for 1992). To claim that this spike in 1995 may have been the result of the cessation of culling is flawed as culling only ceased in 1994 and, as the gestation time of elephants is 22 months, it would have been impossible for breeding to have responded in a single year.

TABLE 1: Calf percentages recorded in respective annual aerial censuses
Year Recorded Total Calves Calf %
1982 8051 -
1983 8678 763 8.79
1984 8273 305 3.69
1985 6887 296 4.30
1986 7617 295 6.50
1987 6898 157 2.28
1988 7344 231 3.15
1989 7468 220 2.95
1990 7278 145 1.99
1991 7470 141 1.89
1992 7632 498 6.53
1993 7834 278 3.55
1994 7806 217 2.78
1995 8064 815 10.11
1996 8320 219 2.63
1997 8371 433 5.17
1998 8869 431 4.86
1999 9152 220 2.40
2000 8356 250 2.99
2001 9276 326 3.51
2002 10459 379 3.62
2003 11672 310 2.66
2004 11454 420 3.67
2005 12467 608 4.88
2006 12427 725 5.83
2007 13050 338 2.59

Comment 3: “If left to increase the elephant population would eventually level off and maintain a stable density”.
This statement may well be true but it does not take cognizance of the impoverished condition to which the ecosystem will have been reduced before these mechanisms begin to operate on stabilising the elephant population. Amboseli and Tsavo are prime examples of this. Biodiversity will be severely impacted upon before the elephant population begins to show signs of stabilising. This is not in accordance with SANParks mission of maintaining biodiversity – the two concepts are totally at odds with one another. I personally believe that the population is nowhere near maintaining a stable density. As long as there is adequate food and water, the population is likely to maintain its growth rate of between 5% and 7%.

Comment 4: “There are early signs of the elephant population approaching its asymptote”
I would really like to see any data that suggest that the elephant population approaching its asymptote. Any slowing of population growth inside KNP will almost certainly be the result of emigration into Mozambique. Censuses in KNP and associated adjacent conservation areas must be coordinated and conducted using comparable techniques, to obtain an estimate of the greater Kruger elephant population. Without this, any suggestion that population growth is slowing would be unfounded and spurious (perhaps even mischievous and deliberately misleading?).

MOSS, C.J. 1988. Elephant memories. Thirteen years in the life of an elephant family. Elm Tree Books, London.

Re: Elephant Hunting/Culling

Wed May 23, 2012 3:56 pm

Richprins wrote:I may just add a bit of inside info from my ladyfriend in Mozambique...

The elephant that eventually moved over to the transfrontier side, after much to-ing and fro-ing especially by bulls, have been staying there permanently for a couple of years now, and have begun breeding accordingly. So that avenue of population reduction is almost closed.

Poplap wrote:I've just read Dr Joubert's report - :shock: :shock: :? . I now have a better understanding of the closing of unnatural water resources, I fully agree with his view on fires, and it is clear that a more scientific/hands-on approach (read labour intensive) is needed. A month in the field??!! No botanist??!! Say what??!! Where did it all go wrong?

Richprins wrote:I found an old pic of the fever tree forest at Pafuri from 1988:


I dare anyone to find so many together now! :evil:

Vaccine that curbs jumbo population explosion

Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:45 pm

Vaccine that curbs jumbo population explosion

Re: Vaccine that curbs jumbo population explosion

Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:18 pm

We need one for humans as well and make it compulsory. =O: