An Early Obituary In Memory of the One-time Great Biological Diversity of Kruger National Park

At the United Nations semi-annual Biodiversity Conference (Cop15), held in Montreal, Canada in 2022, implementation was a key theme. Implementation was highlighted because, previously, all the biodiversity targets determined at such conferences were never achieved.

So the delegates tried again.  In December 2022, along with 195 other nations, South Africa agreed to adopt the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which committed South Africa to implement 23 environmental targets by 2030 and four goals by 2050, all of which had the aim of halting and reversing biodiversity loss in South Africa.

According to South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), 16.7% of our land and inland freshwater resources, (called strategic water source areas), are under “conservation” and 14,5% of its marine areas are “protected”. The meanings and relevance of the two words, “conservation” and “protected” in this context, has not been explained.

Furthermore, the UN’s Global Biodiversity Framework is not legally binding. That being the case – and given the fact that the exorbitant cost of implementing it is far beyond South Africa’s means, suggests that by even considering this idea is much like us buying a truckful of empty coconut shells.

Nevertheless, the DFFE is still pursuing the impossible. It seems that the department is going to strive to double the size of South Africa’s protected areas (on land and in the sea), and that it will be putting into practice, natural living resource management strategies that will ensure wild species-diversity-protection country-wide. The final target date for these achievements is 2036.

Much of the conference’s discourse was pie-in-the-sky with much emphasis being placed on the importance of ecological connectivity via the establishment of wildlife corridors. The establishment of meta-populations, on the other hand, which are managed, genetically, by physically shifting select males from one animal population to another, was not mentioned at all. In my opinion, in most cases, developing and managing meta-populations and physically transferring live genetic material between them, is an infinitely better idea than creating narrow connective wildlife corridors!

The Deputy-Director-General of the DFFE, Mohlago Flora Mokgohloa, has explained that the implementation plan – to double the size of our protected areas (et cetera) – will require a budget in excess of R37-billion. This, when only 1 percent of South Africa’s current fiscus goes toward managing all our wildlife management affairs at this time!

The Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, was, surprisingly, more pragmatic when she said she does not believe that South Africa will be able to meet these targets by due date. I am 100 per cent sure that she is right! I hope that she is right!

The fact that the South African Minister of DFFE (or her proxies) attends these very expensive twice-a-year international biodiversity meetings, when she already knows, and admits, that South Africa hasn’t a Hope-in-Hades of ever bringing the meeting’s decisions to fruition, is difficult to understand. I think every South African knows that this country simply doesn’t have that kind of money (R37-billion) to expend on making all these grandiose designs happen. So, knowing that reality before attending these meetings, makes me wonder just why the DFFE ever attends them at all?

It seems, however, that South Africa has now agreed to set aside, for biodiversity protection reasons, land equivalents that are twice the size of the land area that already enjoys protected area status (national parks and nature reserves); and to manage the combined areas of land and sea – old and new – for the purpose of protecting their combined species diversity assets.

We will, therefore, be looking towards establishing and maintaining all of South Africa’s wild living organisms (plants and animals) in a proper and healthy state. This particularly includes maintaining wild animal habitats in a sustainable and viable condition. This is a monumental task that, on its own – as is – without any territorial expansions – has proved to be way beyond the capacity of the DFFE to perform. Indeed, so badly has the DFFE functioned in this capacity (since 1960) it seems to me, that no one in the department understands even the fundamental principles involved in “wild animal management, or wild animal species survival needs.”

Let’s just have look at what is needed to maintain our wild animal species spectrum in Kruger National Park, alone. And let’s examine what has happened there!

The most important thing necessary to protect any wild animal species into posterity, is to secure and to, forever thereafter, properly manage the habitat-type that such a wild animal species requires for survival. Every wild animal species in the world is adapted to a particular habitat type and where that habitat does not occur that animal species will not exist. And where that habitat and that animal species once co-existed in the past, if that habitat disappears (for whatever reason), the animal species (singular or plural) which are dependent upon that habitat, will disappear also. The animal species will become extinct, never to return, because its special habitat is no longer extant!

Animal species like zebra and hippo (both of which are heavy grazers), for example, cannot survive in habitats that contain no palatable grass what-so-ever. In simple terms, therefore, that is why zebra and hippo don’t live in dense full-canopy forests where no grass exists! And big eagles, like the Martial, Tawny, Bateleur, several Snake Eagles and the big owls, and half-a-dozen vulture species, will die out if (or when) the big trees they require to build their nests in, disappear.

It is probably true to say, therefore, that managing a species’ habitat is more important than managing the animal species itself. In point of fact, the animal species will require no overt management by man at all, if man is able to manage its habitat and succeeds in keeping the vegetation in a healthy and robust state.

Unfortunately, in Kruger National Park today, the relevant scientific community seems to think that “leaving nature to her own devices” is the only way to manage a national park. They are wrong!

“Leaving nature to her own devices” is, unfortunately, the best way to cause the rapid extinction of both wild animal and wild plant species spectrums.

The easiest way to maintain the correct ecological balance between a wild animal species population and its essential habitat, is to make sure that the population of animals never increases in number beyond the sustainable carrying capacity of its habitat. This, in effect, means that when an animal species population exceeds the carrying capacity limits of its habitat, it should be culled down to the carrying capacity level, or less. And this is not happening in Kruger National Park today.

 Carrying capacity is the maximum number of a particular animal species that a habitat (or game reserve) can sustainably carry. And ‘sustainably carry’ means, without the animals causing irreparable damage to the vegetation.

Sustainability requires that whatever damage has been done to a habitat during one calendar year – by way of wild animals eating the vegetation and/or destroying it – that same vegetative mass (eaten or destroyed) has to be replaced during the next year’s growing season.  No permanent change – year in and year out – in the physiognomic and botanical character of the habitat is the factor which determines ‘sustainability’.

Each and every individual animal, in each and every herbivorous species’ population, eats and/or otherwise destroys (during its normal daily activities) a certain mass of the vegetation comprising its habitat. That annual mass of ‘used’ vegetation – and how and when it is replaced – determines just how many of those herbivorous animals can live in that habitat permanently (sustainably).

So, the number of animals in any animal species population, must never exceed the carrying capacity of its habitat. Even one animal too many, will cause degradation in the habitat and that fact, over time, will cause the total destruction of that entire habitat complex.

Classically, the term ‘animal carrying capacity’, is applied to live-stock farming in agriculture. The scientists in the Department of Agriculture, for example, tell a farmer that the live-stock-carrying-capacity of his farm has been determined to be “so-many” head of cattle or sheep per hectare. And farmers who disregard this advice – those who  carry more cattle or sheep than have been prescribed – are prosecuted in a court of law. This is normal practice in agricultural circles all over the world. Its purpose is to make sure that the farmers do not over-graze their land, which would seriously damage the soil and other natural plant resources on their properties.

Keeping wild animal populations within the carrying capacity limitations of their habitats in a national park, is just as important. Indeed, it is part-and-parcel of proper species-diversity-management.

In a game reserve such as Kruger, however, there may be 50 species of animals all of which are dependent on their very own specific habitat types.  The specialised habitat-types to which these 50 species of animals are adapted, however, are actually contained in one habitat-conglomerate. That means each of these special habitats could be layered, the one on top of the other – or they could be all mixed up together – at the same time. They are, therefore, contained in a giant mixture of plant species and soils, represented by a particular local biome, or numerous local biomes (such as grasslands, savannah systems, deciduous woodland complexes, riverine forests, thorn thickets and a whole lot more). Each of the animal species present, therefore, when seen roaming together, has to dig into the habitat-mixture to extract those parts of it that satisfy their own survival needs. Some, for example, will eat grass (the grazers); others will eat sticks (the black rhinos) and others will eat the leaves of woody plants (the browsers).

When one or two of the animals in question happen to be mega-sized fauna, however (like elephants, hippos and white rhinos), they will likely seriously damage the more sensitive parts of the habitat-mix that are important to the survival of the more sensitive animal species.

This is manifest by the fact that visitors will see elephants and buffaloes, zebra and wildbeest, impala and kudu, duiker and steenbuck, giraffe and more, all walking through the same habitat at the same time. Each one them, however, will be extracting from the habitat-conglomerate only those parts of it to which they are adapted, and that beneficially affect their own survival.

When one mega-fauna species of animal is being maintained in numbers that are grossly in excess of its habitat carrying capacity, therefore, this causes serious damage to the habitat-particulars of other (the more sensitive) species.

One such species that is currently facing probable ultimate extinction-in-the-wild in Kruger National Park, due to elephant-destruction of their wild riverine habitats, is the common bushbuck which is hanging on to its existence in the park by reason of the fact that it has taken to surviving by living inside the fenced enclosure areas of the park’s tourist rest camps.

 

I, and a True Green Alliance NGO team, in October 2021, filmed the impact that the elephants have had on their habitat, in Kruger National Park, since 1960. We discovered that the damage done to the general habitat is huge and the consequent risk to the park’s general biodiversity is enormous.

Here is the link to the You-Tube copy of this film.

I have calculated that Kruger’s elephant carrying capacity (c.1955), when the habitats were still healthy, was 3 500 (+/- c.500). It is general knowledge that the Kruger scientists (throughout the decade 2010/2020) were telling the general public of South Africa that the Kruger elephant population had “stabilized” at 15 000. Then they told us the figure was actually 17 000. Finally, in 2021, they admitted that the number was more like 34 000. If that is really the case, Kruger National Park is now carrying 30 000 too-many elephants.

In fact, 34 000 may also not be correct. The number may actually already be as high as 56 000.

During the elephant culling era in Kruger (1967-1994), when the public was first informed of the fact that the park’s excessive elephant population had killed off every single “top-canopy-tree” in the vast Satara Top-Canopy-Tree-Study-Area, the Kruger scientists first started to admit some very sad home truths. When asked to provide an assessment of how many big-top-canopy-trees the elephants had actually killed off in Kruger, since 1960, they stated (as early as 1994) that: “An estimated 95 percent of all the big top-canopy trees throughout Kruger National Park had been destroyed by the park’s too-many-elephants”. Ten years later, when asked the same question, they stated (quite glibly) that “MORE THAN 95 percent of the parks big top-canopy trees had been destroyed”. In 2021 we determined that that assessment was probably correct.

This is a tragic admission by the Kruger National Park wildlife-management-staff because they have hereby admitted that they have not been doing their most important job – which is to maintain the park’s species diversity!

And since 1994 – which was 30 years ago – the still excessive numbers of elephants in Kruger (unculled) have continued to destroy these iconic giant trees in the park. And they are now in the process of killing off the national park’s ancient baobab trees. They have also changed the physiognomic character of the national park. For example, for every tall, top-canopy tree that is still standing in Kruger National Park today, there were more than 20 other similar sized trees standing alongside it, in 1960. And very, very soon, there will be no big trees left for the eagles, the vultures, and the Ground Hornbills, to breed in.

OOOps…. There goes another bunch of unique wildlife animal species – which will have become permanently extinct – in Kruger National Park.

In this case, the Kruger National Park wildlife managers – by admitting the almost total annihilation of big top canopy trees in Kruger National Park since 1960 – have also admitted that they have allowed the elephants to remove practically every single one of those big-trees – i.e. those with 15 meter canopies and more – in the entire woodland range of the Kruger National Park habitats! These are all trees that the big eagles and vultures require to build their nests in. Here, by neglecting just one major ecological factor, the wildlife managers of Kruger National Park have placed all these giant predatory birds on the slippery slope to ultimate extinction. And that is an unconscionable admission for any wildlife manager to make! Especially when none of the scientists involved seem to care very much about their folly.

There seems to be a disturbing trend in government and academic circles in South Africa, however, that elephant culling should be abandoned as an elephant population management tool. Those who entertain this misconception say that we cannot cull elephants anymore because “the public wouldn’t like it”.

“The public wouldn’t like it?” For God’s sake! The public ain’t gonna get it! The public  don’t have to do the killing! All the public has to do is to responsibly understand and support, the fact that elephant population reduction is the ONLY management activity  that can possible save the national park’s biological diversity! (In the eleventh hour!)

Today, there is a plethora of young so-called-scientists – pseudo-scientists – who believe that there is no truth in the fact that the only way to stop species-diversity-loss in Kruger National Park (and in Addo and in the game reserves of Kwa-Zulu Natal) is by getting down on to our knees and praying (or piously wishing!) for an elephant population management means, other than culling, to protect our biological diversity.

And while these idiotic novo-scientists “fiddle”, Rome Burns – viciously!

I have been in this elephant management business for 64 years (I am now 83 years old). I have worked with all those senior ecological scientists who are now giants in the history of Africa’s elephant management equation: Dr Graham Child, Dr David Cummings and others. I have been, myself, deeply involved in the practical application of elephant management programmes that these experts have designed. I have taken-off elephants in very large numbers, not by culling them (which is the practice of removing only the annual increment) but by what I call “elephant population reduction management”. That means, for example, reducing an excessive elephant population of 10 000 elephants down to 5 000 (i.e. by 50 percent) in one continuous exercise.

In such an exercise every elephant killed is measured and autopsied (in the field) by qualified scientists; biological samples are collected from every elephant – ovaries, testicles and kidneys; all the ivory is collected; all the elephant hide is collected, salted, dried and stacked away (and eventually sold); all the meat is collected and turned into biltong – and sold for human consumption; and a whole lot more. Nothing is wasted. And the remains of every carcass (the bones and the guts) is committed to a ten-foot-deep hole in the ground and buried.

We averaged – doing all these things – 41.6 elephants per day.  Elephants were taken off every day of the month, and autopsied in this manner, until the task for that month was completed. No elephant in any of the herds we tackled escaped alive and none were wounded.  The whole population reduction exercise, in fact, was completed with clinical competence.

And it may be of interest for you to know that, altogether, the value of the elephant hide collected, fetched a very much higher price than did the ivory.

I have also passively-managed elephant herds in many other ways when I was the game-warden-in-charge of some of Africa’s biggest and most prestigious national parks (e.g. The Gonarezhou and Hwange elephant sanctuaries in Zimbabwe). And I am now being told by young academics, who are younger than my own grand-daughters, that my ideas on elephant management are out-dated; and that they are no longer applicable in the modern day and age. And the young people who are making these claims are not old enough to have had the kind of experience needed to make such determinations.

Many people, including many modern day so-called-scientists, oppose elephant culling because they, personally, don’t like the idea of killing elephants, especially killing elephants en masse. Many of these people are puppets, however, who are being sponsored by well-heeled animal rightist NGOs who want the world to hear from a so-called “scientist” – in fact, from anybody who calls himself a scientist – that elephant culling is not a necessary management tool in the modern day and age. And some of the money our senior academics are being paid to say these things, is huge. One such man of my ken, a university professor no less, has, over a number of years, received over R 9 million from an international animal rightist NGO – and the professor has told the world what his animal rights benefactor wanted the world to know.

The DFFE, and South Africa’s academia, fraternize, regularly, with some of South Africa’s worst animal rightist NGOs! In most cases, when this happens, it is because of the money these well-heeled but nefarious people are prepared to pay for “services rendered”. Nevertheless, I must admit, that I have no reason to suspect that anyone in the DFFE has actually been involved in such skullduggery.  But they still fraternize ‘with the enemy’.

My own concern is not for the number of elephants that should be reduced in number. They will survive in most game reserves for a long time yet, even if their numbers are kept constantly above the carrying capacity of their habitats. What I am concerned about is the fact that keeping excessive numbers of elephants alive, will cause the total destruction of the habitats in all our national parks. And that result will destroy the biological diversities of all our national parks.

We must not forget that parks like Kruger, carry a unique wildlife heritage that belongs to all South Africans. And, because of that fact, I would like to see young South Africans of all colours and creeds, toy-toying in protest, through the streets of Cape Town and Johannesburg… complaining that the DFFE and SANParks have neglected their elephant management responsibilities in Kruger National Park.

I have explained the elephant management options to the general South African public in our recent film. I have been warning about this probable development for years in many, many blog writings in the True Green Alliance’s website; and in my books and my voluminous magazine articles. But not enough people in our society seem to care!

Now we have the DFFE persistently cow-towing with the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (twice a year) with the expectation that they will be able to find tens-of-billions of Rands to double the size of South Africa’s protected areas (on land and in the sea) all for the purported purpose of protecting South Africa’s overall biodiversity.

Doesn’t the DFFE know that getting extra land protected, alone, doesn’t allow the biological diversity assets on that land to be protected. Those assets have to be properly managed – for all time – and THAT that kind of management the DFFE knows nothing about.

So!  Hah! Hah! Hah! Excuse my mirth.

The DFFE wants South Africa to spend a fortune (that we don’t have) in order to protect yet more biodiversity responsibilities than we have ever had before, when we lack the capacity to properly protect those diverse biological assets that we have already got. The DFFE doesn’t even have the capacity, for God’s sake, to supervise SANParks in the proper maintenance of the biological diversity assets in Kruger National Park. Indeed, many South African citizens believe that the DFFE and SANParks should, together, be charged in a court of law for the criminal mis-management of Kruger National Park, South Africa’s biodiversity flagship.

All we have to do to save Kruger National Park’s biological diversity, for all time, is to immediately reduce Kruger’s massively excessive elephant herds down to their habitat carrying capacity level. And, then, to maintain them at that number for the rest of time. Man is nature’s apex, ultimate and only elephant predator. And it is man’s responsibility to repair the biological-diversity-damage that he has already allowed the elephants to carry out in Kruger National Park.

There is no other way!

And the DFFE needs to save South African taxpayers the cost of spending money that we don’t have, for an additional conservation task that we don’t need.

I would suggest that the DFFE gets its current house in order before accepting any new challenges.

Footnotes:

  1. I have forwarded the link for our You-Tube video to the DFFE Minister Creecy’s office requesting a comment from her on the film that we have made.  And, to date, I have received not so much as a courtesy ‘thank you.” This is not at all surprising because over the last year or two I have copied many important reports to her desk and have received exactly the same ‘silent’ response.  And I know that many of my colleagues have had the same experience.
  2. Last year I forwarded my report on the film we had made, and passed on the link to our You-Tube video, to Mr. Gareth Coleman, when he was then General Manager of Kruger National Park. And I requested his comments on the production. I received not even a courtesy acknowledgement that he had even received the communication.
  3. Earlier this year I sent another report on the film we had made to Dr Luthando Dziba, the current general manager of Kruger National Park. I sent him, too, the link to the film.  And I asked him for his comments. As happened with his predecessor, Dr Dziba didn’t even give me the courtesy of a “thank you” for the communication.

What else can we do? SANParks is clearly under what amounts to a total social and/or political lock-down concerning critical comments from the general public.

Yet I want to discuss with SANParks the possibility of the TGA and other people forming a team of volunteers for the purpose of us being allowed to recreate the habitats that the elephants have destroyed. It is possible. It is a big job. And we would involve schools throughout the country to collect the tree seeds we would need. But we can’t even start on this road until we have the blessing of the DEFF and of SANParks.

If there is anybody in the public domain who would like to help the True Green Alliance to kick-off this habitat rehabilitation programme in Kruger National Park, please make contact with me. If we persevere we can win this battle!

Non Carborundum Illegitimi!

Ron Thomson: CEO – TGA

 

One Comment

  1. charles kay----PhD in Wildlife Ecology

    Ron——-EXCELLENT !!!!!!!! but the joke is that none of the people ,who profess to care about biodiversity ,REALLY care about biodiversity,———- unless they can use it to shut something down, or to acquire (STEAL) more land, or more money !!!!!!!———-Just look at Yellowstone NP ,where I did my PhD—-which is in worse shape than Kruger !!!!!!——-Under park management, aspen and tall willow communities, which have the highest biodiversity of any vegetation types in the western US, have declined by more than 95% due to repeated overgrazing by elk and bison, and neither NPS or NGO’s have not done anything about it EXCEPT LIE !!!!!!!!!!——–and no, wolves have NOT restored the ecosystem——–despite the “misinformation” that is all over the internet. I have 81 long-term repeat photosets of aspen communities and 44 more of tall willow communities , and only one of those photosets shows any improvement. Now, wolf predation has lowered elk numbers, but wolves have had no effect on the bison population, which like elephants in Kruger, continue to overgraze the park. At the present time there are an estimated 5,000 bison in YNP and what does the Park Service and NGO’s want to do ????????—–INCREASE the bison population to 8,000 !!!!!!!——so that even larger numbers of bison will leave the park looking for food and so both the NGO’s and the FEDS can lobby for more land to be locked up to save “biodiversity” ,bison, etc.

    Question—–Between 1835 and 1876 , more that 20 different explorers left first-person, written journals of what they saw in what is now YNP. In all, the first Europeans in YNP spent over 8oo days on foot or horseback, so how many times were bison seen or killed ??????——-ZERO !!!!!!!—-and wolves???????——another 000000000000.000000000—–Elk were seen only ONCE every 18 party-days. Those are THE DATA, everything else is scientific FRAUD !!!!!!!——-And yes, in the earliest photos, preferred species like aspen and willows were unbrowsed!!!!!!!——–Question——–How many elephants did the earliest, white explorers report seeing in Kruger ??????——Zero——see Ian Whyte’s PhD dissertation.——–You are also correct that humans were the only apex or keystone predator.

    If you have not read my YNP PhD dissertation, you can find an ecopy on Steve Alder’s ——Idaho for Wildlife —–website along with another 100 ,or so, of my publications——-including my 400+ page report for Parks Canada on” Long-term ecosystem states and processes in the central Canadian Rockies”. Please remember that I have been to Kruger, plus I have hunted on two concessions just outside the park, where Kruger’s elephants are now heavily impacting native plant communities.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

    With best regards,

    Charles

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