SCJ Joubert, 30 October 2018
Since 2010 this is my fourth submission to Skukuza on the topic of elephant management. For the first three no response was received. They were also submitted for consideration in the revision of the Kruger National Park Management Plan and, in particular, also the Elephant Management Plan. There is no indication that they received any attention.
In 1994 a moratorium was placed on elephant culling. In circa 2007/8 it was announced that there was no point in trying to census elephants and that culling would not be reinstated as the Park could accommodate a much larger population, with the assertion that it would stabilise at a certain density and perpetuate itself in harmony with its environment. Ever since, I have feared that the management of the elephant population entered unchartered waters – at extremely high risk and with no guaranties that the “promised land” could be realised.
I am more convinced than ever that the intrinsic values and ecological integrity of the Kruger National Park have been, and are being, sacrificed by a policy that has no other interest than “hands off elephants”.
My views may, of course, be wrong. But in this, hopefully my last report to SANParks (Skukuza), I outline why I believe the elephant policy is unsubstantiated folly and also point out the missed opportunities of employing a rational, carefully planned and fully controlled course of action in developing and improving the policy related to elephants. The elephants are, after all, an integral contributor to the rich and internationally acknowledged biodiversity of the Kruger National Park.
For all my sins
LET HISTORY BE MY JUDGE
A. ELEPHANT MANAGEMENT ISSUES
With the upsurge in the elephant population during the 1960’s and the sharp increase in the impact on trees, in particular on the eastern basalt plains, an elephant culling programme was initiated. At that stage regular annual aerial (helicopter) censuses of elephants, buffalo and other large plains game were also initiated.
From the recording of elephant distribution patterns, together with observations of research and field staff, the major elephant concentration areas were determined, the density per km2 (initially miles2) calculated and a tentative carrying capacity of 7 000 elephants for the KNP determined. A survey of elephant impact, albeit after the commencement of culling, was also undertaken by Van Wyk et al. 1969. From the results of their research it was concluded that “… the highest number of elephants which could be carried …. would be 0.75/mile2 (i.e. 6 000 elephants) if the total destruction of the vulnerable areas near water is not to result.” This recommendation was later largely endorsed by follow-up studies undertaken by Viljoen (1989) and Trollope et al. (1998).
Applying this approach the identification of areas sensitive to elephant impact, in consultation with field staff, were determined during and considered after the aerial censuses. Culling quotas based on recruitment were then allocated to the affected areas.
By the mid-1970’s, when a comprehensive ecosystem research and management approach was adopted, the culling of several herbivore species (e.g. impala, blue wildebeest and zebra) was terminated. In addition, it was also decided to allocate research and management responsibility of elephant and buffalo, which continued to be culled, to specific research officers. Initially, Dr Anthony Hall-Martin, an acknowledged authority on elephants, was transferred to the Kruger Park for this purpose and, on his departure, Dr Ian Whyte took over the responsibilities.
Validity of carrying capacity and management strategy
In spite of culling, the impacts of elephant continued in several areas. This prompted Thomson (Pers comm) to suggest that a more accurate carrying capacity for the KNP was closer to 3 500, or possibly even 3 000. However, culling continued on the assumption of a carrying capacity of 7 000, within lower and upper limits of 6 000 to 8 500.
The upper limit of 8 500 was maintained to keep the population within manageable proportions, should reductions be required.
Furthermore, accepting more flexibility created an opportunity for controlled manipulation of elephant densities to establish optimal ecological carrying capacities and to impose simulated population fluctuations (cycles).
1986 Management Plan and elephant issues
By the mid-1980’s, during the revision of the KNP’s management plan, the following situations were identified as priority areas of concern in the management of the elephant population:
- The possibility of adverse effects on the vegetation over time due to the maintenance of the population at a stable number, and
- The possibility of imposing some form of population cycle, in keeping with the principle that the populations of all organisms are subject to cycles.
- This could be achieved by successively concentrating culling in different areas of the KNP for varying lengths of time but maintaining the overall population within desired limits (Joubert 1986, 2008).
The priorities outlined above, together with the relaxation of the upper and lower population limits provided the potential guidelines of what could quite feasibly have developed into a controlled exercise in determining the role of elephants as an integral component of natural ecosystems and the management of acceptable limits of population cycles within large but confined conservation areas. This approach was clearly in compliance with the Precautionary Principle.
This approach could not be implemented before the moratorium on culling was imposed in 1994.
Amendment to the accepted approach
In subsequent years further attention was given to find more acceptable approaches towards culling. This culminated in a proposed process based on Thresholds of Potential Concern, which defined specific limits of impact at which culling would be justified. Essentially, this represented a mutation of the 1986 proposals referred to above (Whyte et al. 1999).
However, this proposal could also not be implemented due to the moratorium.
Enter Professor Rudi van Aarde
In circa 2008, under the assumed influence of Prof van Aarde and the appointment of Dr Sam Ferreira the moratorium on the culling of elephants was recalled and replaced by the acceptance of a policy of no culling. Together with this the closure of waterholes and dropping of fences was also advocated. Prior to this, in 1994, the closure of selected artificial waterholes had commenced. This initially included boreholes and, during the early 2000’s, the demolition of some of the large earthen and concrete dams.
Sometime before the moratorium on culling in 1994, Van Aarde et al. (1989) suggested that elephants would not overrun the KNP if culling was terminated. According to their calculations the population would stabilise when reaching a predetermined density which would be within acceptable carrying capacity limits.
However, this carefully calculated density has long-passed and the elephant population continues to increase: a rather unfortunate miscalculation when dealing with animals capable of massive impacts with far-reaching, negative consequences – and which would, furthermore, be difficult or impossible to redeem.
Elephant calves, old cows and weaners
Not long after the acceptance of the new approach, Dr Ferreira is reported to have assured Honorary Rangers that the policy of closing artificial watering points would lead to reduced recruitment to the population as young calves and old cows would succumb to the larger distances they had to commute between water and food resources. Furthermore, during droughts deaths would increase, the population would decline and the habitats would have respite (Joubert 2015).
During a meeting in May 2017 Dr Ferreira’s version changed: it was not the calves that were dying but the weaners.
This line of argument continued and in the following years Dr Ferreira claimed that the elephant recruitment rate had decreased from 6.5% at the time when culling ceased to 2%, 3.5% and 4.0% (O’Hara 2015, Sapa correspondent 2013). Prof Rudi van Aarde is also on record claiming that the recruitment rate was “lower than 2%” (Van Aarde 2016).
In the same vein, it was reported that the intercalving period had increased from 3 years to 4.2 to 4.5 years. It is not clear how this change in the inter-calving period was calculated (documentation?) but suffice it to state that Dr Ian Whyte determined an inter-calving period of 3.7 years from 966 culled elephant cows between 1976 and 1995 (Whyte 2001).
Ferreira’s assertions have been seriously challenged by Joubert (September 2015), [and, by implication, also those of Van Aade (2016)]. In accumulating a sample of 862 elephants in breeding herds across the KNP during 2015 the composition was shown to be: adults 395 (45.5%), 300 sub-adults (4 – 10 years) (34.8%) and 167 juveniles (1 – 3 years) (19.4%).
During the early stages of the 2016/2017 drought Joubert (Nov 2015) stated in a document submitted to Dr Ferreira and others: “At this stage there is already concern about how the rest of the season will progress. Should the rainfall remain at the present low level, large-scale die-offs may be expected amongst the buffalo and probably some other species as well. Elephants will not be one of them, but their impact on the environment will be clearly evident.”
As the drought progressed, eventually shown to be more severe than that of 1991/92, section rangers were requested to report all elephant deaths that could be related to the drought. Not a single return was received (Zambatis, Pers comm). This in spite of the fact that the KNP has never in its history been more intensively covered by aerial surveillance and foot patrols (due to anti-rhino poaching operations).
In a Times Select article, by Journalist Tony Carnie (September 2018), reporting on a review of the aftermath of the drought, Dr Izak Smit, a GIS specialist attached to the research section of the KNP, is quoted as stating that “against expectations, the elephant numbers in Kruger increased by 13% between 2015 and 2017” (see elephant population numbers below!). Furthermore, “this suggests that the elephant population is still far from being resource limited, and prompted the question whether drought impacts on the tree layer might have been more pronounced if the densities were two or three times higher.”
It is not entirely clear what Dr Smit was trying to get at but could this be in line with Rudi van Aarde’s philosophy that “conservation … is about medium and long-term zero growth and sustainable land use patterns.” Devastated landscapes and elephant carcases?!
Dr Ferreira’s interviews
In interviews with an award-winning correspondent, Glynis O’Hara, and a SAPA reporter (Joubert 2017, Appendix 3, 4), Sam Ferreira was reported to have made, amongst others, the following statements:
a) The “natural” way of managing elephants brought the recruitment rate down from 6.5% at the time that culling was terminated (in 1993/4) to 2%. According to the Sapa correspondent the population growth rate had decreased to 3.5% per annum. On the basis of Kruger Park’s census data available to him, Ian Whyte (Pers comm) calculated an annual recruitment rate of 5.3% between 2010 and 2015.
b) Managing elephants was not about manipulating numbers but rather to let natural processes take their course. It was contended that culling did not curtail environmental impacts. Ian Whyte’s (Pers comm) response to this statement is “this is a statement I have now heard many times and by a few different people, and I fail to understand it. If you have no elephants, there would be no impact, and if you have lots of elephants, the impacts are considerable. Somewhere in between there must be a level where impacts are sustainable. The question is how many elephants is this? And if there are too many, the only way to get them to the desired level, is by culling.”
c) The population was currently (Nov 2014) considered to be 16 900, based on a census done in 2012. (According to the Sapa correspondent, “Ferreira said the 2012 census counted 13 700 elephants in the park while it was 8 000 when culling was stopped. Had it continued to increase at 6.5% per annum it would now have totalled roughly 25 000”).
d) The new approach was based on the closure of artificial waterholes, roughly 65% since 2003, and the “landscape and vegetation got respite from elephant use”. What kind of “respite”? Where? Reference?
e) Natural patterns were now being restored: elephants had to move more extensively to find water while additional land was being made accessible, e.g. into Mocambique and private nature reserves.* Due to this the intercalving period had increased from 3 years to 4.2 to 4.5 years, “a classic population response”. Proof? Reference? “A classic population response”?
f) In the northern areas of the Park “survival rates have declined, while in the south (where there’s more water) the birth rates have declined.” Though this phenomenon could not be explained the conclusion was drawn that “natural regulation is taking place.” (Really, reference?).
g) An important consideration is that “now that boreholes are closed … elephants have moved to the rivers, accentuating vegetation impact there, and such ‘lag effects’ have to be studied and monitored.” Thirty-two (32) areas with “lag effects”, referred to as “areas of concern”, have been identified.
h) Tourist considerations were important and where excessive impact was taking place elephants could be driven away by simulating human presence.
i) Highest rates of impact did not necessarily coincide with the highest densities but, in many cases, could be ascribed to young bulls in puberty or early adulthood.
j) Of some 150 elephants collared in the Kruger Park all but one have strayed from the Park, albeit only temporarily.
k) Ferreira, as quoted by O’Hara, described the approach adopted in the management of the elephant population as a ‘giant experiment’” (O’Hara, 2015; Sapa reporter 2013: see Joubert 2017: Appendix 3 and 4).
* Incidentally, the addition of several of the large private nature reserves on the western border of the KNP (1993: Sabi-Sands, Timbavati, Klaserie and Umbabat) and the dismantling of sections of the eastern border fence to create the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Park were solely due to an initiative aimed at creating more intact ecosystems and larger reservoirs of biodiversity. The initiative would also benefit elephants but was certainly not intended to create single species dominance.
In the Winter 2016 edition of Wild magazine Prof van Aarde is quoted as follows:
- “now the emphasis has shifted to the management of impact rather than elephant numbers.
- Conservation … is about medium and long-term zero growth and sustainable land use patterns.
- Drought and stress-related die-offs of juvenile elephants keep over-all population growth in check.
- The current growth rate, lower than two percent, is a major response compared with the past growth rate of 6.5% when culling was the method of managing elephant numbers.
- Over two-thirds of boreholes were closed after 2003 …. As expected, with less available water, more calves and elderly elephants died.
- As elephants moved away, the landscape and vegetation got respite from elephant use and biodiversity benefited.
- Kruger’s elephant population is tending towards stability ….”
The comments made by Ferreira and Van Aarde show many similarities and contain several outrageous statements, which seriously need to be challenged.
Playing with numbers
Similar to the recruitment and inter-calving rates the KNP census figures can also be questioned:
13 700 (Ferreira, et al.);
13 750 (Cathy Greaver, SANParks)
[During an interview with Sam Ferreira in May 2010 he informed me that he had never been involved in a helicopter census of elephants (Joubert, October 2010)].
14 273 (Cathy Greaver, SANParks)
15 850 (Cathy Greaver, SANParks);
16 700 counted (SAPA correspondent 2013, from Ferreira).
13 700 (O’Hara 2015, from Ferreira)
16 900 (O’Hara 2015, from Ferreira – estimate derived from 2012 census)
17 086 (Ferreira et al. 2017 – “live elephants counted”, believed to be 30% less than actual total due to census error).
Van Aarde – “about” 16 900 (Wild, Winter edition, 2016).
23 Sept 2016
17 000 – Ferreira (interview with Elize Parker, reported in Lowvelder newspaper, 23 September 2016).
And yet Dr Smit states that the elephant population increased by 13% between 2015 and 2017!
So what data was he using to make such a bold statement?
These figures make very little sense. Furthermore, from an interview with various senior research staff in May 2016 (Pienaar, Venter, Ferreira, Smit) I was informed that the elephant census figures for the KNP represent a 30% undercount error. Between Ferreira, Greaver and Van Aarde there seems to be no concensus of where the elephant population really is.
- From 2012 to 2016 the figures dilly-dally around 16 500 to 17 000, with nothing suggesting logic.
- Starting with 16 000 in 2012 the total, at 6% recruitment, would have been 20 198 in 2016, and at 3% 19 133.
- And if these were 30% undercounts the total in 2016 was closer to 26 257 and 24 872, at 6% and 3% recruitment rates, respectively.
- And currently (2018) the totals, at 6% and 3%, respectively, are probably in the order of 22 693 (+ 30% = 29 501) and 20 298 (+ 30% = 26 387).
Surely, this is totally unacceptable. Questions on how the 30% undercount was determined have gone unanswered. The most likely explanation is the story conveyed to me by Karen van Rooyen [the slide showing 5 elephants but actually having 9 (Joubert 2010)].
What makes matters worse is that I have never seen/heard Dr Ferreira, or any other SANParks official, informing the public of the undercount error. In interviews Sam Ferreira has consistently only referred to the undercount figure. This, I believe, is a ploy to downplay public fear of the escalating elephant numbers and, if correct, it could be construed as a means of misleading the public.
From a conservation management point of view the elephant is arguably the most important species capable of contributing towards biodiversity enhancement but also of causing the greatest destruction to biodiversity. It is incumbent on the KNP to be more accurate and precise regarding the elephant population and to be straight, honest and open towards the public, their shareholders, regarding the status of the population.
Density, stability and benchmarks
The miscalculation of Van Aarde et al, 1989, in suggesting the stabilisation density of elephants after the cessation of culling was an unfortunate mistake and cannot foster any confidence in even bolder predictions – with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The prediction that the elephant population will stabilise in perfect harmony with its habitat once the water points have been closed and the fences dismantled is an hypothesis devoid of any credible scientific evidence. It is, indeed, nothing but a seriously flawed and irresponsible “giant experiment”.
Finally, in a research article published in PLOS ONE, with IFAW as one of three funders, Robson et al 2017, calculated elephant “benchmarks” in some 73 African conservation areas and concluded that elephant numbers are a mere 25% of their expected values. Interestingly, the article is divided into several sub-sections with the contributors to each noted. Of the six co-authors Prof van Aarde had the most credits, and Sam Ferreira – though not a co-author – is acknowledged as one of only two for his assistance.
The “benchmarks” were determined on the basis of primary production and water, with some consideration to the impacts of poaching. The areas where the elephant populations came closest to the calculated values, at a value in the region of 75 %, or more, were Chobe, Tuli (Botswana), Chirisa, Hwange, Ghonarezhou (Zimbabwe) and Tsavo (Kenya). There is no indication of where the KNP features but enquiring from Dr Ferreira I was told the authors gave a figure of 30 000 to 35 000. Strange that KNP was not grouped with those listed above as it is already at 30 000, or quite possibly even more. Joubert (2015) showed that juveniles up to three years of age made up 19.4% of breeding herds and casual observations over a period of six weeks during June/July 2018 again confirmed this same percentage of juveniles.
Should the KNP’s elephant population now have reached its idealistic and highly questionable “benchmark” status, what happens next? Does the population now stabilise, in spite of a maintained approximately 6% recruitment rate or will some other rabbit be pulled out of the hat to “prove” that the population is not near its asymptote?
Incidentally, is “benchmark” now the fanciful name for “carrying capacity” and is the CERU group now reverting to management by numbers, instead of their “events driven management”?
My impression with this latest approach is that it is nothing but a tactic to deceive a gullible audience, including SANParks, that there is nothing to fear. This, as the assurances of a density stabilised population in a Utopian state of perpetual harmony with its environment, is rapidly wearing thin.
SANParks has, by all indications, committed itself to the policy of allowing the KNP’s elephant population to take its course. My submissions have consistently been brushed aside without any response, also in the case of the revision of the elephant management plan. Needless to say, the warning issued in October 2010, repeated here as it remains as relevant as then, was also just shrugged off:
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”
Elephant Management Advisory Committee
The EMP makes provision for an Elephant Management Advisory Committee, consisting of 10 members, including experts in the fields of elephant populations, elephant behaviour, biodiversity impact, human interaction and ethics. SANParks liaison staff will also be represented on the committee.
New members will be appointed on a five-year basis with a maximum membership of 10 years.
i. the current members of the EMAC,
ii. the previous (retired) members, and
iii. the members who have been retained for a second term of 5 years?
Elephants richly deserve their status as one of the world’s most iconic megaherbivores. They are gracious, have well-structured social units and play an important role in shaping environments and enhancing biodiversity.
On the other hand, they are highly competitive for vital resources of food and water and, if left unchecked, can cause severe damage (degradation) to the structure and composition of habitats with serious loss of ecosystem integrity and biodiversity.
The advantages and disadvantages of elephants presents a conundrum that has attracted the attention of conservationists for the best part of the past century. However, great strides have been made over the past 15 to 20 years as more sophisticated instrumentation has allowed ever larger tracts of land to be recorded and monitored at steadily increasing scales and detail. The Kruger National Park has been especially fortunate in having had contributions from teams under the lead authors of Viljoen 1988, Trollope et al. 1998, Eckhardt et al. 2000, Vanak et al. 2012, Asner et al. 2009, and Asner et al. 2015, amongst others. It should also be noted that the references and quotes referred to by these authors and their co-authors contain numerous references to the work of other roleplayers in the fields alluded to.
When the Research Unit of the Kruger Park committed itself to an all-inclusive ecosystem-orientated research and management programme in the mid-1970’s the study and interpretation of vegetation dynamics was identified as a key priority. The first steps in this project were taken in 1977 with the establishment of 74 fixed-point photographic sites, incorporating a wide range of landscape types. Due to the major changes detected in the Acacia (thornveld) communities on the eastern basalt plains in a repeat survey three years later, this project was extended to around 500 fixed points and repeat surveys undertaken bi-annually.
This project was elevated to a different level in 1982 when a latch was built into the floor of the Park’s Cesssna 206 aircraft which allowed the establishment of more than 160 aerial photo transects throughout the Park. These transects covered an area of approximately 1 200m x 500m. The primary objective was to study the dynamics of important woody plant species.
A second major step forward was also achieved in 1982 when the Research Section was fortunate in obtaining the negatives of five aerial-photo surveys undertaken by the Department of Trigonometrical Surveys over the period 1940 to 1985. These negatives provided the first opportunity for large-scale quantitative assessments of the loss of large trees with canopy diameters of 5m or more. Essentially, these analyses indicated steep increases in losses from 1965 onwards. Though it was accepted that fire played some role in the losses, elephants were identified as the major cause. These results were obtained from two sites on basalt soils and involved especially Acacia nigrescens (Knobthorn acacia) and Sclerocarya birrea (Marula) trees (Viljoen 1988). The lesser role ascribed to fire could largely be ascribed to the fact that the trees sampled were beyond the 3m “fire trap”.
The survey conducted by Trollope et al. 1998 also compared tree losses on community land to the immediate west of the Park and the adjoining area in the Park. Tree losses in the Park were significant while no losses were recorded on the community land.
Both these surveys recommended that the elephant population required management intervention.
In the more recent and more extensive studies of the other researchers referred to, the following were the major features reported:
i. The greatest losses were recorded on basalt substrate.
Comment: This is not surprising as the woody vegetation on the western soils derived from granite are primarily comprised of Combretum spp and Terminalia sericea, which are short to medium tall trees and only scattered large trees, mainly Schotia brachypetala, Combretum imberbe, Sclercarya birrea, Acacia nigrescens and Colophospermum mopane. The latter are, furthermore, largely concentrated in the bottomlands with more clayey soils. A nigrescens is, however, an important species in these landscapes and is targeted by elephants [Joubert 2017(b)].
ii. In a follow-up study to those of Viljoen (1988) and Trollope et al. (1998) Eckhardt et al. (2000) reported that the lower strata of shrubs (˂2m) increased over a period of 58 years (1940 – 1998) while the tall trees declined on soils derived from granite; while on the basalt soils tall trees (˃5m) declined steeply. Both fire and elephants were identified as agents of change in these savanna habitats.
In addition, they suggested that “an understanding of their (fire, elephants) role, especially with regard to the detection of acceptable limits of change, is essential for the sound management of conservation areas in Africa.” With particular reference to the KNP “the 64% change (decrease) in woody cover …., with indications that the trend will continue, is rapidly approaching one of the defined thresholds” (see Whyte, et al. 1999).
iii. Fires played a role in the loss of trees, but considerably less than elephants. Their major influence may be in retarding growth and promoting coppicing, often of trees initially felled by elephants.
iv. From Asner et al. 2009: Over longer term periods, ranging between 22 and 41 years “herbivore exclusion manifests at a much larger scale, with both upland and lowland areas experiencing increased woody canopy cover and 3-D structural diversity. These differences in turn affect the diversity and richness of animal species, as well as the ecological functioning of these systems. Greater canopy structural diversity enhances the habitat available for a wide range of organisms beyond the herbivore communities … and alters such ecological processes as nutrient cycling, seed dispersal and germination.”
v. Vanak et al. 2011 have also emphasised the important role played by large trees “… in ecosystem function through the provisioning of forage, shade and refuge”.
vi. Furthermore, Asner et al. 2009 assert that “ensuring the sustainability and successful conservation of biodiversity and ecological functioning within KNP …. requires explicit understanding of the spatial and temporal trends in 3-D vegetation structure at multiple scales. Isolated field studies provide a necessarily limited view of the changes incurred by management decisions, including herbivore densities, over large natural protected areas. New approaches that integrate high-resolution imaging spectroscopy and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) can provide large-scale, quantitative insight into system structure and dynamics, allowing managers to make more informed decisions regarding the sustainability of their actions.”
vii. Vanak et al. 2011, have also pointed out the “….. increasing concern that the loss of large mature trees in landscapes frequented by elephant and where fires are intense may result in the transformation of woodland savanna into scrub or grassland.”
viii. Asner et al. 2015 caution that once the numbers of elephants show sharp increases “…. management must then turn to issues of sustainability in order to maintain the ecosystem as a whole. Doing so requires an understanding of ecosystem-wide responses of vegetation to changing elephant populations, yet large-scale quantification and monitoring has remained a challenge …… Resolving the interactive role of environment, fire and megafauna on African savannas remains a priority in ecology as well as for the conservation and management of protected areas.”
ix. Asner et al, 2015 also reported that “recent landscape studies suggest that current treefall rates in KNP are locally up to 100 times the background rate with elephants excluded …..” These authors further report that, in spite of shortcomings in their research, “our results are, nonetheless, the first to reveal such massive average rates of savanna treefall at a very broad ecological scale.”
x. Referring to the results obtained during an earlier study (Anser et al. 2012) Anser et al. 2015 reported that the results from their follow-up research suggested an “…. elevated rate of elephant-caused treefall throughout the KNP.” Their results further suggested that “elephants are currently (2008 – 2014) up to two times more important than fire frequency in determining treefall across the KNP.”
xi. Asner et al. 2015 allude to the fact that the KNP is probably in a state of disequilibrium due to the previous control of the elephant population and that long-term effects on the habitats are difficult to interpret due to a lack of baseline conditions. However, they conclude that “what we do know is that, as a protected area, Kruger has in recent years been undergoing change in the size and spatial distribution of woody plant canopies. Our results strongly suggest that changes are to a large extent driven by elephants. The cascading effects on other plant and animal species are only partially known, and are often complex and context-specific, leading to apparently contradictory studies. ……. Combining our type of large-scale woody canopy structural change data with species compositional change data will yield the best estimates of elephant impact and potential multi-trophic cascades.”
In other publications Stevens et al. (2016) and Skowno et al. (2017) have reported on the increase of woody plants in most savanna areas of South Africa. Stevens et al. (2016) compared four different land-use areas along a rainfall gradient over a period of 70 years while the study of Skowno et al. (2017) concentrated on savanna areas over much of the grasslands and savannas of South Africa.
In both studies, woody vegetation increases were recorded for savanna areas where the rainfall exceeded 650 mm (high rainfall regions) and in low rainfall areas (˂ 650 mm) without elephants. Where elephants were present in low rainfall areas no increases were recorded. According to these researchers this also endorsed the findings of Eckhardt et al. (2000). The MAP over the entire KNP is less than 650 mm.
Van Aarde (2016) has argued that “work in Kruger suggests that one to four per cent of all trees in the Park are destroyed each year by elephants (reference?). While this level of damage may be supportable, it can transform the structure of the Park’s vegetation, which now, more than ever before, has to respond to climatic events and changes. Plants are extremely sensitive to bottom-up limitations such as water and soil fertility, but highly resilient to top-down limitations, such as herbivory and fires. It must be noted that Kruger … is presently encroached by trees and other species that are benefitting from increased carbon-dioxide and temperature to the detriment of grasses. Grazers within parks are suffering the consequences” (really, references?)
Van Aarde’s statements are contradictory to the results of all the studies reported above. In a more analytical approach, it also needs to be pointed out that elephants are not pillagers, they do not plunder woodlands and uproot or destroy all the trees/shrubs that happen to come in their way. On the contrary, they are highly selective feeders and targeted woody plant species frequently differ in terms of spatial distribution and temporal conditions. This can drastically alter the impact on and consequences of losses of selected trees and shrubs.
Extensive areas of soils derived from basalt, dolerite and gabbro, with especially Acacia nigrescens trees, are currently in an advanced stage of devastation [Joubert 2017(b)].
Vast areas of the large shrub/small tree forms of mopane (Colophospermum mopane) north of the Letaba River have also been transformed into stunted (mutilated) shrubs 2.0 – 2.5 m tall. This is especially apparent in the regions of the Shingwedzi, Mphongolo and Levuvhu rivers. The devastation is profound and will take years to rehabilitate – even in the absence of elephants.
In the section above various authors have expressed concern regarding the number of elephants in the Park and have identified elephants as the major drivers of the “massive” tree losses and their real and potential impacts on biodiversity.
In the publications it is either directly stated or clearly inferred that management intervention regarding the elephant population is required in the interests of maintaining healthy ecosystems, at all levels of biodiversity integrity.
The results of these selected publications are profound and cannot be ignored.
Sadly (scandalously?), the two papers by Asner et al. (2009, 2015) and those of Vanak et al. (2011), Stevens et al (2016) and Skowno et al. (2017) are not even listed in the bibliography of the EMP (or the KNP Management Plan). Are their results of no concern to the managers of the KNP?
Of particularly deep concern is whether a callous attitude exists towards the elephant impacts on the vegetation that merely regards the present situation as the “preferred state”, and shrugged off as just another phase in the “natural facets and fluxes” of ecosystems. Should such an absurdity be true it will be tantamount to the reckless and wilful sacrifice of every norm and standard in maintaining the integrity of the KNP ecosystems.
Elephant Management Plan
In Objectives 1, 2 and 5 of the EMP various items are included that have a direct bearing on elephant/plant interactions. In the introductory paragraphs it is stated that elephant impacts will be directed by a formal monitoring programme that evaluates Thresholds of Potential Concern and that the monitoring will provide feedback in the form of Annual and Scientific reports, as well as Interim Management Plan Evaluations and Audits.
These high ideals are welcomed and supported.
However, in practice the following beg a number of serious questions:
i. In a formal discussion with Sam Ferreira in May 2010 I expressed serious concern regarding the all too obvious “devastation” of especially the Knobthorn trees along the Crocodile River, and various other areas comprised of soils derived from basalt, gabbro and dolerite.
Sam agreed re the Crocodile River and assured me that action would be taken – action based on mimicking human occupation.
In a follow-up report to Ferreira (October 2010) I enquired how the Crocodile River was identified as an area of concern: whether any surveys had been undertaken and whether any reports, published or unpublished, were available.
No response was received regarding my questions and, to this day, nothing has been done to the area referred to. Rather, the devastation has currently reached a level that should be regarded as a serious indictment against the management of the Kruger National Park.
ii. From a November 2014 interview with Sam Ferreira Glynis O’Hara (2015) reported that 32 areas of concern had been identified in the Park. Ferreira’s denial that he had made such a statement has been ridiculed.
From the above the following questions arise:
- How are the Areas of Potential Concern defined?
- How are they identified and what monitoring actions (methods) are being applied?
- Are there any annual or scientific reports available on this matter, as required by the EMP?
- Table 3 (p 54 of the EMP) identifies various areas (regions) that need attention. Who is the responsible person(s), how were they assessed and have any remedial actions been taken? How does this tally with Ferreira’s denial?
- What actions have taken (are taking) place along the Crocodile River? If nothing has been done since 2010, why not?
What is disconcerting are Ferreira’s denials but this is dealt with elsewhere.
- Responses to the questions raised in this section are awaited.
- I find it quite extraordinary that key publications/reports do not appear in the reference list of the EMP: may it be assumed that they were regarded as of no relevance or importance to the management of the KNP, in particular elephants, or were they wilfully ignored as being too uncomfortable to address in the light of the selected management strategies?
- THE ROLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR ANIMAL WELFARE (IFAW)
Towards an elephant management plan
In 1966 a policy of elephant culling was initiated in the Kruger National Park. This was based on the rapid increase of the elephant population and the conviction that environmental qualities could be sustained by imposing a carrying capacity of 7 000 on the elephant population.
In 1994 the National Parks Board, urged by the CEO, Dr GA Robinson, accepted a voluntary moratorium on the culling of elephants. This was largely due to continued pressure being exerted by animal rights movements and an agreement reached between Dr Robinson and Dr Richard Leakey, CEO of Kenya Wildlife Services.
This moratorium was maintained amidst growing pressure from the animal rights movements (NGO’s) to finally terminate culling. The pressure eventually led to the so-called Big Elephant Debate in 2004. Held at the Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park the conference was attended by both local and foreign conservationists and a number of NGO’s.
The stand taken by the SANParks team was firm: the elephant population was being maintained within the limits of 7 000 to 8 000, which was regarded as the general carrying capacity of the KNP; the population was healthy and recruiting at 6.5% per annum; and, the objective of maintaining healthy ecosystems was fundamental to the culling. This conviction was strongly supported by the entire team, including the then CEO Dr David Mabunda and his chief of Conservation, Dr Hector Magome.
At the meeting the NGO’s, FALCON headed by Steve Smith and ANIMAL RIGHTS AFRICA (ARA) of Michelle Pickover, argued vigorously against culling of elephants. It is not certain whether the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was formally represented or whether Prof van Aarde represented it (see below).
After the Big Elephant Debate a panel of experts was appointed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs to investigate the issue of elephant management and to formulate a national policy. This was done and in 2008 the Norms and standards for the management of elephants in South Africa was published.
In circa 2007/2008 Dr Mabunda called me to his office and in a most adamant fashion informed me that he had appointed someone from the “brains trust” of the University of Pretoria to advise him on the management of the elephant population. This new appointment convinced him that:
- no animals could be censused over large areas and that censusing elephants (and other species) would therefore cease, and
- the KNP could carry a considerably larger population of elephants and that culling was no longer necessary.
The statements were formal and final and no exchange of opinion on any of these matters was entertained. An attempt to justify censusing was cut in the bud.
What it took to bring this abrupt and dramatic change of heart to a staunch supporter of the previous elephant management strategies of the KNP continues to linger on as a tantalising, unanswered question.
At the Big Elephant Debate Professor Rudi van Aarde, head of the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) of the University of Pretoria, introduced the concept of elephant metapopulations, arguing that over large landscapes elephants could reach a stable state in harmony with their environment. Enlarging landscapes to accommodate elephants could be achieved through cross-border conservation areas. It was also argued that all that was required of the KNP was to close artificial water resources and drop its fences.
It is known that Prof van Aarde has a very close relationship with IFAW. This is based on the following:
- since 2002 IFAW has funded his Elephant Management Programme (megaparks for metapopulations) to the tune of R9.2m (Van Aarde CV: 5.3).
- In a booklet, Elephants, Facts and Fables (undated), by Prof Rudi van Aarde, the foreword states: “IFAW has partnered with the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) of the University of Pretoria on a research programme aimed at understanding the dynamics of elephant populations in southern Africa. IFAW’s interest in the conservation management of elephants in the region spans more than 15 years. Through dedicated support for research and practical on-the-ground solutions, IFAW aims to promote ethically and scientifically sound solutions to conservation management predicaments related to elephants.”
The foreword to the booklet is by Dr David Lavigne, Science Adviser, IFAW.
- On 11 September 2007 Van Aarde represented IFAW at a meeting with the Environmental Affairs and Tourism Portfolio Committee in an attempt to exclude culling as an option in compiling the Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa. Prof van Aarde essentially based his argument on the premise that the KNP culling operation was instituted for commercial reasons to enhance the ivory trade. Furthermore, that the inclusion of culling as an option would have a negative effect on tourism and contribute towards economic decline.
- Incidentally, at the same Portfolio Committee for Environmental Affairs and Tourism meeting on 11 September 2007, “Professor Rudi van Aarde indicated that it was difficult to count the number of elephants in any given space as they varied across space and time” [from the minutes of the meeting, chaired by the Acting Chairperson, Mr D Maluleke (ANC)].
Who is the International Fund for Animal Welfare?
In Africa IFAW has been a major campaigner against elephant culling, as clearly evidenced by their efforts to avoid culling being added as an option in the official Norms and Standards related to elephant management in South Africa.
In a Special Edition of the Conservation Tribune, 25 June 1996, it was reported that SANParks and IFAW had concluded a deal worth US $2.5 million, specifically for SANParks to acquire more land for elephants, but with the explicit undertaking that, amongst others, it “would never allow the culling or hunting of elephants or any other species of game on any land purchased by IFAW.” Furthermore, that SANParks would also “undertake not to submit a proposal to resume international trade in elephant products to CITES at the next COP meeting scheduled for 1997.”
It further reported “in conjunction with the agreement, the Humane Society of the United States offered another US $2.5 million to the NPB (National Parks Board) to seek viable contraceptives for elephants.”
“David Barrit, IFAW’s African director, defended the deal as …… IFAW was opposed to the Kruegar Park cull, in particular, because of its extreme cruelty …. “ And that “IFAW has never accepted the so-called sustainable utilization of animals.”
Following these deals “Eugene Lapointe, the former secretary-general of CITES, roundly criticized the move, saying the NPB had abdicated the sovereign rights of South Africa for a bowl of porridge.”
Notably, the article also stated that “many conservation groups are asking hard questions about the deal. What is the long-term impact of elephant translocation as the carrying capacity is exceed (sic) in Kruegar and other national parks which have received its elephants? Simply, where do all the elephants go? How are the needs of humans met if the Kruegar expansion represent (sic) the first instalment of massive wildlife set-asides in Africa?”
The publication of the 25 June 1995 Special Edition of the Conservation Tribune has been confirmed, in his absence on business, by the wife of Eugene Lapointe, the publisher. At the time of preparing this document I am still awaiting confirmation of the two deals referred to, of which I am not personally aware.
Should they, however, be confirmed it could give rise to a number of very serious questions to be addressed to SANParks.
Lessons from Kenya:
Norton-Griffiths (2010) has recorded the growing influence of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) in Kenya and warned of their involvement “… from primarily service delivery organisations to direct action, advocacy, and involvement with setting government policy agendas …” He also recorded that “in discussions with the animal welfare lobby it was clear that they had no real interest in wildlife conservation. If wildlife continues to disappear because of the lack of incentives to land users they are indifferent, just so long as consumptive use is not reintroduced.” In Kenya the issue was strongly driven against private land use due to sport hunting, bird shooting and sport fishing. IFAW and ActionAid were particularly active in this respect.
The development and influence of IFAW and ActionAid are clearly reflected in the following “Briefing Note ‘Wildlife Policy’ of 4 July 2007:
“Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have a long and on the whole good record in Kenya, working alongside Government to assist in the implementation of policy and programmes, whether social, civic, governance, health, educational, development or conservation. There is hardly an area where international NGOs and their Kenyan counterparts have not been active, and while they have certainly on occasions been a thorn in the side of Government they have in general been supportive and complimentary.
In these activities, the NGO community has followed more or less closely the “NGO Code of Conduct 1995”, laid down in Legal Notice 306. This Code of Conduct explicitly sets out how NGOs should behave and operate in Kenya.
More recently, some NGOs — specifically the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and ActionAid — have gone far beyond this normal remit and have become directly involved in formulating and setting Government policy in the sensitive areas of wildlife conservation, land use and land tenure.
In pursuit of their extreme animal rights agenda, IFAW and their local associates have taken control of Government policy making by undermining the National Steering Committee (NSC) which was set up by Government to review wildlife policy and law.
Kenya is a democracy, and it is the Parliamentarians who should decide policy not overseas NGOs with extremist minority agendas who do not have Kenya’s real interests at heart ….
This entire network of what superficially appears to be local animal welfare NGOs is in fact linked back to IFAW and to ActionAid who in turn tap into international donor funds and membership
funds. This gives these overseas NGOs, and their local chapters, a completely inappropriate level of influence for they have the financial strength to simply overwhelm local Kenyan institutions.
There is no doubt that these two overseas NGOs in particular …. have crossed some previously undefined threshold and are now in serious breach of the spirit of the Code of Conduct, if not of the letter.
It is for this reason that IFAW has been banned from most African countries. The only countries now prepared to host an IFAW office are Kenya and South Africa.”
Norton-Griffiths (2010) makes an important point: “These NGO’s have power without accountability …. They fail the most basic test of good governance in that they are neither elected nor transparent, nor are they accountable to those whose interests they claim to represent.”
The role of IFAW, through CERU (Prof Rudi van Aarde), may operate somewhat differently to what the situation is in Kenya but the question arises on whose behalf they approached the DEA to prevent the culling clause being included in the elephant management plan!
D. INTERACTION, OMISSIONS AND DENIALS
A number of documents have been submitted to Dr Sam Ferreira and either copied or directly addressed to the Head of Research and Head of Wildlife Management (Conservation) and occasionally also to the Director (KNP). The last (Joubert 2017) also to Dr Izak Smit. The documents were Joubert (October 2010), Joubert (September 2015) and Joubert (May 2017).
With the exception of the last document, which received an acknowledgement of receipt from Danie Pienaar, no feedback or discussion followed any of these submissions.
In May 2016 I complained to Glenn Philips that the senior research staff failed to respond to any of my submissions, in particular the one of September 2015. This prompted arrangements for a meeting with Danie Pienaar, Freek Venter, Izak Smit and Sam Ferreira. The meeting largely fell flat when Sam Ferreira denied the statements ascribed to him by a journalist, Glynis O’Hara, and the only outcome was little more than an acknowledgement that the elephant censuses represented 30% undercounts and that it was not elephant calves that died during droughts but “weaners”.
Whether my submissions towards the revision of the KNP management plan received any consideration, is doubtful. Other than brief answers to a list of questions of a general nature requested from Dr Marisa Coetzee, none of the other submissions feature anywhere in either the text or the list of references.
I did have a sincerely appreciated one-to-one meeting with Danie Pienaar on 28 May 2018. A wide range of topics was discussed and Danie did shed light on a number of concerns.
OMISSIONS: THE “GLARING GAP”
Ferreira and van Aarde make a big issue of the change in the approach towards the management of the KNP’s elephant population from a numbers-based “carrying capacity” approach to “an event driven” approach. Ferreira’s rhetoric on “carrying capacity” in the elephant management plan can be seriously challenged but is best left for now.
What is of greater concern is Ferreira’s apparent ignorance of how research and management developed in the KNP.
In its formative years the KNP faced grave problems involving, amongst others, competing interests on its borders. This eventually necessitated the institution of a research unit, largely to find solutions for specific problems (carnivores, veld fires, diseases). The poorly staffed research effort had to contend with daunting challenges merely to establish a baseline on which to formulate management strategies.
The culling option under the circumstances was a logical option, amidst:
- a deep drought extending over many years and culminating in the critically severe drought of 1970/71,
- the sharp increases in the populations of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, impala and other plains game species, and
- the dwindling surface water resources (amongst others, the deterioration of once perennial rivers, such as the Luvuvhu and Letaba, into seasonal watercourses).
However, as it happened, with the exception of elephant and buffalo, the culling of all other species was terminated by the mid-1970’s.
This is where Ferreira seems to have lost track, until the 1990’s, of what transpired in the KNP: “In the 1990’s SANParks adopted an adaptive management approach and redefined the KNP objectives …. The new approach set Thresholds of Potential Concern as triggers for decision making and shifted using numbers to environmental indicators”, quoted from the EMP.
Research and management programmes underwent some major changes during the “glaring gap” between the “interventionist” approach and the “adaptive management approach” of the 1990’s. The road to this decision came a long way and needs to be elaborated.
In 1975 the Research Section altered its focus and adopted an all-inclusive ecosystem-orientated research programme. This approach was defined as: “a study and analysis of the ecosystem, with detailed consideration of the dynamic nature and interdependency of the individual components comprising the system, with a view to interpreting and predicting changes within the system and therefore also to serve as basis for the implementation (and evaluation) of management strategies as necessitated by circumstances” (Joubert 1975).
Furthermore, it was stated that “research is intended to enable an understanding of the natural processes regulating ecosystems and to allow managerial strategies, intended to sustain those natural processes, to be prescribed …… Only through a clear understanding and knowledge of the functioning of the natural ecosystem can the necessity for management be evaluated and, where necessary, be prescribed to endorse the intrinsic values of the area” (Joubert 1975).
In accordance with this philosophy it was also decided that a dedicated research officer would be appointed to study, monitor and prescribe management approaches applicable to all species that were subject to culling. Dr Anthony Hall-Martin was transferred to the KNP research team to accept responsibility for elephants. He was succeeded by Ian Whyte, who was ultimately awarded a Ph D degree for his work on the elephants.
During this period the need to monitor vegetation changes, in addition to refining the identification and recording of vegetation communities, was accepted as a priority. Fixed-point photography was initiated and shortly afterwards aerial photography.
During the early 1980’s the ecological management plan for the KNP was again revised. At this time the management philosophy was based on the ”concept of life”, where life, at all levels from unicellular to ecosystems, was 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” (Joubert 1986, 2008). Within this philosophy and underpinning all management strategies the identification of composition, structure and function played a key role. Natural cycles were also identified as inherent in all natural functions, at all levels of life.
At this time the management of elephants was also reconsidered, as reported under Elephant Management Issues (Section A).
The acceptance of Thresholds of Potential Concern at the end of the 1990”s was little more than a logical mutation of what had developed from the mid-1970’s.
The Master Plan for the management of the Kruger National Park was accepted as official policy in 1986 by the National Parks Board.
What I find particularly strange is that there is no mention of the acceptance of an all-inclusive ecosystem approach towards research in the mid-1970s (Joubert 1975) nor any reference to the KNP management plan (Joubert 1986, 2008), neither in the text nor in the list of references of the EMP. They are, however, referenced in the KNP Management Plan.
DENIALS: INTERACTIONS WITH DR SAM FERREIRA
- During the Big Elephant Debate of 2004 the unified stand of SANParks was that the management of the elephant population was essential in the overall interests of the ecological management of the Kruger National Park. Until a satisfactory alternative to culling could be found it would remain the major instrument in maintaining the desired number of elephants. Live translocations to areas requiring elephants were also part of the management strategy. This point of view was also sternly defended by the then CEO of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda.
- In circa 2008/2009 I was called into the office of Dr Mabunda, the then CEO of SANParks. In a firm and decisive statement, without allowing further debate, I was told that SANParks had made the appointment of an ecologist from the top “brains trust” of the University of Pretoria. This new staff member assured him that animals could not be censused in large conservation areas and that, consequently, no further censusing of elephants (or any other large animals) would take place. It was also conveyed to me that culling of elephants was no longer required. That was it, no further argument.
- During March 2010 I was introduced to Ms Karen van Rooyen who had been appointed as head of the By-products Depot. During the course of our discussions, she spontaneously told me that she had, on the previous day, attended a seminar given by Dr Sam Ferreira at the annual research meeting. During his presentation, Ferreira presented a slide of elephant bulls and asked the audience how many they could count. The unanimous answer was 5. No, said Ferreira, there were actually 9, the others then being highlighted under trees. The logical conclusion to this exercise: elephants could not be censused without considerable bias.
When confronted in an interview sometime later Dr Ferreira denied Ms van Rooyen’s account. However, given Ms van Rooyen’s spontaneous reflection of Dr Ferreira’s seminar only a day before I have no reason to doubt her version. I fully accepted it [confirmed by Ms van Rooyen (082 333 8835), 15 September 2018]. Also see Joubert (October 2010).
- During a visit to the northern areas of the Kruger Park in 2015 my wife, her sister-in-law and I stopped at Babalala picnic site. While bird-watching the two women became involved in exchanging experiences with a group of ex-Honorary Rangers. The conversation turned to elephants and the ex-HR’s excitedly informed the ladies that they had attended a get-together arranged by the Park authorities to acknowledge the contributions of the HR’s. At the meeting Ferreira informed them that they had closed several waterholes which induced elephants to travel larger distances between water resources and their grazing grounds. This led to a drop in the recruitment rate of the elephants due to increased deaths of the older cows and young calves.
On a number of occasions similar versions have been given by Ferreira. He denies them and, as reported with reference to an interview with Ms Glynis O’Hara (reported below) his denials are rejected.
- In September 2015 I submitted an article on the age structure of elephant breeding herds. No response to the submission was received. However, at a later stage, I had a conversation with Dr Ferreira, who had some reservations regarding the age determination of elephants and said that Prof van Aarde (University of Pretoria) would be doing back measurements to determine accurate ages of elephants. At that stage I suggested that he arrange a 2 – 2.5 hour flight in a helicopter and I would point out the criteria by which I aged the elephants. However, he said he could not arrange the flight. I challenged that as he was the senior research officer responsible for large mammals, to which he rather bluntly responded that it was not possible. A senior research officer and he could not arrange a flight to settle a difference regarding elephant age classes, especially important as he was making public statements that the elephant population growth had been arrested and reduced? His attitude was anything but convincing.
- In, I believe 2016, I entered the annual “Joke of the Lowveld” golf tournament at Skukuza. Having entered for three competitions I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dr Ferreira and I were drawn in the same four-ball for two competitions and were also to play in the same morning competition on the final day (but not in the same four-ball).
On the first day, we agreed to meet after the game to discuss the elephant situation. After a few holes, he approached me and said he had forgotten that he had a dentist appointment that afternoon. It was then agreed that we would have our meeting the next day as we were again playing together.
Starting the next morning we confirmed our agreement to meet after the game. In spite of the other members of the four-ball and I meeting after the game, Ferreira did not pitch. I waited, in vain, for most of the afternoon.
On the final day we, once again, agreed to meet after the game. Exactly the same as the previous occasion: Dr Ferreira just did not make an appearance. Furthermore, at no stage has any form of explanation or apology been received.
- On 22 November 2014, Glynis O’Hara had an interview with Dr Ferreira, which was published in 2015. However, in a discussion with Mr Danie Pienaar, Head of Research, Dr Freek Venter, Head of Wildlife Management, Dr Izak Smit, a GIS specialist attached to the Research Section, and Dr Ferreira in May 2017, Dr Ferreira denied that he had made the statements reported by O’Hara. Later, during the course of the discussions he further denied that he had given O’Hara an interview and, somewhat later in the same meeting, he denied that he even knew O’Hara. The article by O’Hara is currently still on what appears to be a Conservation Action Trust website with a request for “republication” (see link in references).
As in the other matters reported above, Ferreira’s denials are rejected with contempt.
- From a reliable source it has also been learnt that Dr Ferreira cancelled a meeting with important neighbouring landowners, concerned about their elephant populations, a day before a pre-arranged meeting. This, apparently, due to a mix-up of dates.
Why the denials and evasions?
SANParks, a state-owned entity, is mandated to manage national parks on behalf of the people of South Africa. The public are stakeholders and are entitled to submit contributions and/or requests for information related to the national parks (see KNP Management Plan).
In the same vein, the ‘Code of Honour’ displayed in the Kruger Park pledges the same sentiment towards the public (stakeholders).
The refuted denials by Sam Ferreira and inaccurate reporting are unacceptable from an official in public office and Dr Ferreira’s fitness for the post he occupies is questioned.
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