Elephants in Kruger National Park – Yes

The moment we erected fences around the globe we shut down natural migratory patterns and became the shepherds to the sheep.

Our primary job has become one where we are protectors of ecosystems and not merely single animal species. The elephant in the Kruger National Park are no longer healthy for the ecosystem as a whole, their population must be controlled.

Unfortunately in the Kruger National Park we have seen radical increases in elephant numbers since the culling operations stopped; now I am in no way promoting culling as a source to reduce the numbers.

Recent statistics from Botswana showed that in Chobe park elephant numbers were up to 120 000 individuals, simply a staggering number by anyone’s means! However, the statistic that most frightens me, and should frighten the rest of the conservation world should be this: other antelope species populations were down by as much as 80%… It may be the perfect picture of elephants, but one look at the grass, or rather lack of it, will tell you that nothing short of destruction has taken place here and Kruger is next on the list.

Now this can only be directly attributed to the elephants as they are destructive animals as any game ranger will know. They push down trees to get to the very top leaves, and in turn the tree dies. This is a way of destroying food sources for other browsers such as kudu, nyala, bushbuck and giraffe. Unfortunately for these species there is no possible way in which they could possibly compete for food with elephants. Yet, unlike elephant, they have to deal with constant threat from leopard, lion and other predators.

It is quite simple to see how the elephant could have a negative effect on any ecosystem and throw it into an imbalance: the perfect storm for disaster.

There will come a day where the Kruger National park is not so lucky, and drought will strike. It will take many years to clean the mess, animals will die from starvation and thirst, food will be limited, predators will lose their food sources and they too will have rapid declines in numbers, and we will be stuck having to clean and burn thousands upon thousands of animal carcasses including those of elephants, rhino, lion, buffalo and many other species that are already threatened by extinction, simply because we were too scared to stand up for what is right.

It is now 2012, and we are in a very volatile situation in South Africa regarding the Kruger National Parks dire situation. We must reduce the elephant population from its current (estimated) 18 000 down to at least 7 000 to allow population increases as well as give veld time to recover from damage done over the years. Mass culling is probably not the option, but this should open up debate as to what the way is.

If South African National Parks does not enter this debate with National government soon we may find ourselves beyond the tipping point and not only will we lose thousands of elephant, we will find ourselves picking up the carcasses of tens of thousands of other animals too. The options are in our hands, reduce the elephants one way or another, or lose everything. Unfortunately time is not in our favor. Even some of the largest wildlife supporters (such as WildlifeExtra) are in support of managing the population, not necessarily by means of culling.

There has also been an effort to open fences to Mozambique, but unfortunately the size of the land is still inadequate. Other methods that are being tried and tested go as far as contraception in hope that the population increase will match those of the natural deaths. The problem with contraception is the price, at R900 (about $150) an elephant it may seem cheap, until we look at the actual numbers, if 5000 elephant must be injected the cost for a government run operation seems out of reach.

We must look at the positive and negatives of each persons idea, the debate must be entered and the best action for Kruger National Parks ecosystem must then be taken forward. Animal welfare groups, government organizations and those game rangers in the Park that have seen the destruction caused by these animals must be listened to. We are on the tipping point.

Remember, once we have erected a fence, we have become shepherds to the sheep. It becomes our right to act in the best interest of an entire ecosystem and not just a single animal species.