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Hluhluwe-iMfolozi elephant contraception plan put into place
BY LOUZEL LOMBARD - 1 MARCH 2016
The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) has embarked on an elephant monitoring project in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal in a bid to provide essential data to support and strengthen Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’smanagement of elephant populations in the park as well as enhance a broader understanding of how best to manage elephant populations in closed systems.
The elephant population in the park is fast approaching its maximum capacity, and this is causing problems in the closed environment.
Elephants are known as a keystone species because they have a disproportionate ability to alter their habitat and to dramatically affect other species in the ecosystems in which they live.
They therefore require extensive ranges to maintain healthy populations and, as ecological engineers, “they can be either a threat or an asset to biodiversity in a closed system,” WESSA says.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is a medium-sized reserve of 96 000ha with a growing elephant population, which is fast approaching the reserve’s ecological carrying capacity of around 1 000 individuals.
While this is wonderful news for the elephant population as a whole, the elephant are becoming too many for the park’s ecosystem to handle. Therefore, the park’s management have been implementing a contraception programme where adult cows are darted from a helicopter with a contraceptive as part of an Elephant Management Plan to control numbers.
If this method proves effective it will provide an attractive alternative to culling or trans-location.
Advance elephant monitoring needed
A key aim of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park’s Elephant Management Plan, drawn up by Park Ecologist Dave Druce and others, is to “Maintain the elephant population in a state that does not jeopardise the conservation of biodiversity elements, priority biological assets or the maintenance of ecological processes within the Park”.
In support of the contraception programme, accurate on-the-ground tracking and data collection is essential to inform elephant conservation and broader management strategies in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, WESSA says.
Although 18 of the park’s adult cow elephants are fitted with tracking collars, it has been more than two years since the last field monitor was employed and data was collected.
Chris Galliers from WESSA’s Biodiversity Programme has now facilitated a resumption of the monitoring work to redress the data gap and ensure close observation of the contraceptive programme.
This builds on WESSA’s 2014 funding support for a full aerial count of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park elephant and rhino populations.
Some recently accessed funding has now allowed WESSA to appoint Timothy Kuiper as an elephant research monitor in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
Kuiper is working under Druce where his monitoring activities include building up the individual elephant photograph database and field ID kits; collecting data on herd demographics and family structure; monitoring elephant movements from GPS collar data; and assisting on the ground with contraception operations.
The current project duration is for five months, but it is hoped that this work can be continued if additional funding is secured. The project is also collaborating with Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive – a long term WESSA partner and member of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group – to draw on her expertise as well as to ensure that there is shared learning with her work on elephant populations in the Lowveld.
WESSA has been involved in elephant conservation issues for most of its 90-year existence.
Elephants and their conservation were central to WESSAs successful campaigning for the establishment of the Kruger National Park in 1926, the Addo Elephant National Park in 1931 and the later expansion of Addo in 2002.
This latest project supports the overall aim of WESSA’s Biodiversity Programme, which is to promote harmonious and integrated management between people and nature in conservation work.
The vast amounts of elephant in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, despite the overall dire stance of elephants elsewhere, is but a small example of the highly complicated system of managing wild animals in closed environments.
Conservation journalist Scott Ramsay for Traveller24 recently wrote how elephants higher up in Africa have declined with 97% in less than a century.
“Accurate estimates suggest that there were 12 million elephants in the early 1900s,” Ramsay found. And today there are only 350 000, which includes both savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).
WESSA, however, says it is excited and optimistic that this venture will add value to the work that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is doing to protect these magnificent creatures, that it will improve our understanding around the management of closed elephant populations in South Africa and enhance decision-making by reserve managers.
Original article: http://traveller24.news24.com/Explore/G ... isapp=true