A Brief Ecology Lesson of the African Elephant

Elephants are what is known as “preferential grasers” – that means they PREFER to eat grass when it is green, lush and palatable.

When green grass is all eaten off, or it dries off and becomes unpalatable, elephants will turn quite readily to “browse”(which, in the case of elephants, means not just green leaves but the bark of trees also). They also eat certain fruits (as you rightly point out). So, elephants are principally grazers during the rains and browsers during the dry season, and they will eat edible fruit at any time of the year.

In terms of competition with other animals in Kruger, therefore, they compete with all grazers during the rains – and into the dry season, too; and they compete with all browsers during the dry season.  And they compete with monkeys and baboons and fruit-eating birds like hornbills and barbets whenever fruit is available to eat.

Since 1960, however, Kruger’s elephants have destroyed “more than” 95 percent of the national park’s “top canopy” trees; so, they have totally destroyed the entire woodland biome of the national park. And when most of the big trees had been killed off, 100 percent of the understory plant habitats that once thrived in the shade of those trees died off, too.

There are now no deciduous woodland habitats in Kruger National Park that have “continuous canopies” – which species like bush babies HAVE to have because when they come to the ground they are killed off by all sorts of small predators.

Continuous canopy habitats are those where small animals like bush babies, squirrels, snakes and chameleons can move through the woodland canopy, tree to tree, without having to come down onto the ground. Those continuous canopies are now all gone. The effect this has had on the national park’s biological diversity has been huge. And the disappearance of so many big trees – in which species like the Martial eagles and Ground Hornbills used to breed – is causing massive reductions in eagle and ground hornbill populations (which might even become extinct in the not too distant future).



Ron Thomson

I am NOT a ‘trophy hunter’ - and never have been. I am not involved in the trophy hunting safari business. I am also not a game rancher. But I have ‘administratively controlled’ professional hunters and safari outfitters in my capacity as a government game warden. I am an 80 year old ex-game warden with 60 years of continuous experience in hands-on wildlife management, and national park management, in Africa (1959 to 2019). In breakdown, I have 24 years experience in the management of national parks in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe - and in the management of the wild animal populations that lived inside those national parks; one year as the Chief Nature Conservation of the Ciskei in South Africa; three years as Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board in South Africa; and I worked for three years as a professional hunter in the South African Great Karoo (taking foreign hunters on quests for plains game trophies). I discovered, however, that professional hunting was not my forte. I worked as an investigative wildlife journalist for 30 years in South Africa. I have written fifteen books and hundreds of magazine articles on the subject of wildlife management and big game hunting in Africa. Five of my books are university-level text books on wildlife management. I am a university-trained ecologist; was a member of the Institute of Biology (London) for 20 years; and was a registered chartered biologist for the European Union for 20 years. I have VAST experience in the “management hunting” of elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards and hippos (as part of my official national park work in the control of problem animals); and I pioneered the capture of black rhino in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley (1964 - 1970). My university thesis was entitled: “The Factors Affecting the Survival and Distribution of Black Rhinos in Rhodesia”. Look at my personal website if you want any further details about my experience: www.ronthomsonshuntingbooks.co.za.

Ron Thomson has 279 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

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