A habitat’s elephant “carrying capacity” is the number of elephants that the habitat can sustainably carry without causing irreparable damage to the habitat’s vegetation.
This is a critical parameter because it determines whether or not the number of elephants in a game reserve qualifies the population as being UNSAFE, SAFE or EXCESSIVE; and those classifications prescribe just what kind of management strategy should be applied.
- An UNSAFE elephant population is one whose numbers are well below the elephant carrying capacity of its habitat and whose numbers are low and declining; which means the population will face extinction if man does not intervene with an appropriate management action. Such populations need to be “protected from all harm” – which action describes PRESERVATION MANAGEMENT. And the purpose of preservation management is to make an UNSAFE population SAFE.
- A SAFE elephant population is one that is numerically strong and is breeding well, but whose numbers do not exceed the carrying capacity of its habitat. Such populations should be culled and/or hunted annually to remove each year’s annual increment; and so to keep the population number stable. This requires the application of CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT (or sustainable use management) to make sure that SAFE populations do not become EXCESSIVE.
- EXCESSIVE elephant populations are ones that exist in numbers that are bigger than their habitat’s sustainable elephant carrying capacity. They breed well and have lots of babies but they grossly over-eat and damage the vegetation in their habitats – which are, consequently, constantly degrading. They also cause massive biological diversity losses. The CRITICAL MANAGEMENT strategy that should be applied to EXCESSIVE elephant populations is drastic population reduction. As a FIRST management phase they should be reduced in number by no less than 50 percent.