KNP is on the Point of Total Collapse Into Becoming a Desert – Reply to Peter Mills

Debate between Ron Thomson and Peter Mills

PM: Dear Ron,
I don’t think I totally agree with your response to Grant who, I thought, posed a very valid question.  I don’t know what Grant’s wildlife management background is but he does propose an option, just leave it alone.

RT: Have a look at what is left of the Satara Top Canopy Tree Study area when the elephants were left to do what THEY wanted to do. 

PM: There will of course be ecological consequences in the composition, structure and function of the system will change, but there will still be a functional system.

RT: No there wont – not after Kruger becomes a desert! The journey will them be all ONE WAY – DOWN HILL ALL THE WAY!  AND you have to remember that it is SANPark’s wildlife management duty to MAINTAIN SPECIES DIVERSITY.

PM: Maybe not the way you would like to see it, but that’s your subjective perspective of what the Kruger should look like.

RT: THAT IS NOT TRUE.  My personal desires with regard to what Kruger should look like has NOTHING to do with the wildlife management realities of Kruger National Park.  Kruger has a climax ecosystem which supports a specific species spectrum of plants and animals. Recreating that climax ecosystem, and its multiple diverse habitats,  and maintaining it (them), and returning the species spectrum (plants and animals) to that sustainable and optimum/climax state, is what we should all be aiming at. And THAT is NOT a personal preference factor at all.

PM: Even with 3000 elephants the Kruger, by its mere fenced and restricted nature, will change over time anyway.   If Kruger were managed properly the habitats and species spectrum would stabilize – within a natural range (yes) – but it would stabilize within an acceptable ‘wavy’ range – As ecologists, we must not fall into the old “preservationist” trap.

RT: WHAT TRAP?

PM: We work in a complex dynamic environment for which we barely have definite answers. Soule’ did not call conservation biology a “crisis” discipline for nothing. Further, in your video, you claim a carrying capacity of 3000 elephants in Kruger.

RT: No I do not.  I stated that the elephant carrying capacity in 1955 (when the habitats were still relatively healthy) was 3500 (+/- 500)

PM: How do you get to such a finite

RT: (???)

PM: figure when scientists who are actively working on it, cannot, and not through incompetence

RT: (?????),

PM: reach a carrying capacity figure?

RT: I did not reach a “FINITE” figure at all. And that carrying capacity figure (3500 +/- 500) will decline – at the same rate that the elephants are destroying their own habitat. AND you ask: How can I make such claims when I am not “on site” and actually engaged in the problem?  (I have been ‘engaged’ in this problem for over 60 years!) Look at “THE FACTS” (the truth) as I have explained them in the documentary.  You will see that ‘the facts’ are not mine.  They are the facts derived from the scientific workings of the SANPark’s scientists at Kruger.  It was THEY who determined the “FACTUAL” figures.  I merely took all those figures and created a scientific equation around them. So, “the facts” and the “truths” that I quote are not at all based upon my ‘observations’.

PM: How can you make such claims when you are not on-site actively engaging with the problem but seemingly basing your “facts” and “truths” on observation?

RT: So, if you wish to criticize my presentation – which I really don’t mind –  because I would like “the truth” to emerge from this debate – but please pick me up when I fall down. You see, “MY FACTS” and “MY TRUTHS” are not mine at all.  All the work and tabulations were actually determined and carried out by the Skukuza scientists.  

May I suggest that you reconstruct the scientists figures in your own way and see if you don’t come to the same conclusion that I HAVE COME TO? For 27 years (1967 to 1994) the scientists of Kruger culled the park’s elephant herds down to 7000 every year. They carried out autopsies on every carcass; and they determined that every year for that entire period the elephant population’s annual incremental rate was 7.5 % (Dr Ian White et al) – and STILL periodically (1965; 1967; 1994; 1981 and 1994)  the Satara Top Canopy Trees declined in number (from 13, to 9; to 6; to;3; to 1.5 and, finally to zero. THIS should tell even the most inept student that 7000 elephants (the culling target) was far above the park’s elephant carrying capacity.  Then look at my reasoning (explained fully in the film) how I used these figures to determine the 1955 elephant carrying capacity figure as I did. Please do your homework – and THEN let me know your conclusions.

Disingenuous or not, the people responsible for the current Kruger debacle are the  SANpark’;s wildlife managers who were responsible for allowing the elephant population to grow beyond the sustainable elephant carrying capacity of the Kruger habitats.   Who else could it be?

I hope this has steered you in the right direction.

Kind regards

Ron Thomson

 

Ron Thomson

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

Ron Thomson has 261 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

5 thoughts on “KNP is on the Point of Total Collapse Into Becoming a Desert – Reply to Peter Mills

  • Dear Ron,

    PM: Dear Ron,
    I don’t think I totally agree with your response to Grant who, I thought, posed a very valid question. I don’t know what Grant’s wildlife management background is but he does propose an option, just leave it alone.
    RT: Have a look at what is left of the Satara Top Canopy Tree Study area when the elephants were left to do what THEY wanted to do.
    My Response: I was merely saying that Grant’s question could be answered differently. There are many people out there that would ask the same question. I never said that we should not manage the elephants but If we don’t the system will change and some people might think that that’s alright. I did not say it was.
    PM: There will of course be ecological consequences in the composition, structure and function of the system will change, but there will still be a functional system.
    RT: No there won’t – not after Kruger becomes a desert! The journey will them be all ONE WAY – DOWN HILL ALL THE WAY! AND you have to remember that it is SANPark’s wildlife management duty to MAINTAIN SPECIES DIVERSITY.
    My response: It will, we might not like it but a new and very ecosystem will prevail. A desert still has a structure, function and composition.
    PM: Maybe not the way you would like to see it, but that’s your subjective perspective of what the Kruger should look like.
    RT: THAT IS NOT TRUE. My personal desires with regard to what Kruger should look like has NOTHING to do with the wildlife management realities of Kruger National Park. Kruger has a climax ecosystem which supports a specific species spectrum of plants and animals. Recreating that climax ecosystem, and its multiple diverse habitats, and maintaining it (them), and returning the species spectrum (plants and animals) to that sustainable and optimum/climax state, is what we should all be aiming at. And THAT is NOT a personal preference factor at all.
    My response: Same as my previous answer. It will just be a different state/condition. I didn’t say I agree, but that is just how nature works when there is a disturbance.
    PM: Even with 3000 elephants the Kruger, by its mere fenced and restricted nature, will change over time anyway. If Kruger were managed properly the habitats and species spectrum would stabilize – within a natural range (yes) – but it would stabilize within an acceptable ‘wavy’ range – As ecologists, we must not fall into the old “preservationist” trap.
    RT: WHAT TRAP? That nature is fragile and in a delicate balance and equilibrium.
    PM: We work in a complex dynamic environment for which we barely have definite answers. Soule’ did not call conservation biology a “crisis” discipline for nothing. Further, in your video, you claim a carrying capacity of 3000 elephants in Kruger.
    RT: No I do not. I stated that the elephant carrying capacity in 1955 (when the habitats were still relatively healthy) was 3500 (+/- 500) Show me the data.
    PM: How do you get to such a finite
    RT: (???) (?)
    PM: figure when scientists who are actively working on it, cannot, and not through incompetence
    RT: (?????), (?)
    PM: reach a carrying capacity figure?
    RT: I did not reach a “FINITE” figure at all. And that carrying capacity figure (3500 +/- 500) will decline – at the same rate that the elephants are destroying their own habitat. AND you ask: How can I make such claims when I am not “on site” and actually engaged in the problem? (I have been ‘engaged’ in this problem for over 60 years!) Look at “THE FACTS” (the truth) as I have explained them in the documentary. You will see that ‘the facts’ are not mine. They are the facts derived from the scientific workings of the SANPark’s scientists at Kruger. It was THEY who determined the “FACTUAL” figures. I merely took all those figures and created a scientific equation around them. So, “the facts” and the “truths” that I quote are not at all based upon my ‘observations’.
    My response: I disagree, you base your knowledge on your extensive experience over many years but no one is going to take you seriously unless you show the numbers.
    PM: How can you make such claims when you are not on-site actively engaging with the problem but seemingly basing your “facts” and “truths” on observation?

    RT: So, if you wish to criticize my presentation – which I really don’t mind – because I would like “the truth” to emerge from this debate – but please pick me up when I fall down. You see, “MY FACTS” and “MY TRUTHS” are not mine at all. All the work and tabulations were actually determined and carried out by the Skukuza scientists. I cant say I saw that coming out of your video.
    May I suggest that you reconstruct the scientists figures in your own way and see if you don’t come to the same conclusion that I HAVE COME TO? For 27 years (1967 to 1994) the scientists of Kruger culled the park’s elephant herds down to 7000 every year. They carried out autopsies on every carcass; and they determined that every year for that entire period the elephant population’s annual incremental rate was 7.5 % (Dr Ian White et al) – and STILL periodically (1965; 1967; 1994; 1981 and 1994) the Satara Top Canopy Trees declined in number (from 13, to 9; to 6; to;3; to 1.5 and, finally to zero. THIS should tell even the most inept student that 7000 elephants (the culling target) was far above the park’s elephant carrying capacity. Then look at my reasoning (explained fully in the film) how I used these figures to determine the 1955 elephant carrying capacity figure as I did. Please do your homework – and THEN let me know your conclusions.
    My response: I don’t have to come to any conclusions because I don’t work directly with this issue and perhaps your own conclusions are incorrect. Look, I’m not saying that elephants are not a problem
    but I do question your numbers based on what I have been told by scientists working inside, and outside of the park. I’m just comparing what you say against what they have told me.

    But, be that as it may, there is a big problem in Kruger and everyone is aware of this, even the people in the park and at Head Office. They have been given little space to move because of the animal rights groups, some of whom sit in government. We all know that stopping the culling programme was wrong but, I ask the same question I did in my first communication, in this political climate, how do we reduce elephant numbers to sustainable levels.
    Disingenuous or not, the people responsible for the current Kruger debacle are the SANpark’;s wildlife managers who were responsible for allowing the elephant population to grow beyond the sustainable elephant carrying capacity of the Kruger habitats. Who else could it be?
    My response: No, it is not the (all) managers, it is the politics. You should know that!
    I hope this has steered you in the right direction.
    My response: Be serious Ron, a dogmatic approach to the problem is not going to win anyone over.
    Kind regards
    Peter Mills

    Reply
    • Dear Peter,

      I have this morning  responded to you directly and civilly – which has been your desire.  I hope that what I have said in my today’s email to you will eventually make sense to you. It is the only approach that any responsible wildlife manager should and can entertain.

      If you know there are too many elephants in Kruger (as you say you do) then I don’t understand your “case”. If there are too many elephants in Kruger (as there are; and which you admit) the only thing you can do is to reduce their numbers to a level that their habitats can support. That means carrying out what is called a “population reduction exercise” (which is NOT “culling”; it is heavier than “culling”; it is humane slaughter). If the elephant counts I have been given are correct (34 500) – and I believe there are more than 34 500 – and if my calculated elephant carrying capacity  is correct (which it is) then the wildlife managers must reduce the population to the carrying capacity level (which is 3500) – although it is probable that the carrying capacity since 1960 MUST have been considerably reduced by now (due to the continuous destruction of the elephants’ habitat).

      You imply that the Kruger scientists have carried out “research”. Tell me: What “research” have they done to determine the elephant carrying capacity of Kruger National Park? I will tell you what research they have done in that direction: NONE!

      The currency of ‘conservation’ is NOT ‘statistics’.  It is “management” carried out according to scientific objectives and principles. And the ONLY objective (and principle) we need consider in Kruger National Park is “MAINTAINING THE PARK’s BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY”. And the only way that ANYBODY is going to return Kruger to its former biological diversity is to restore the Kruger Habitats to their former state; and the only way to restore the Kruger habitats TO THEIR FORMER STATE is to reduce the park’s elephant population to its sustainable elephant carrying capacity level.

      THESE ARE THE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES OF WHICH i SPEAK.

      DO i HAVE TO SAY ANY MORE?

      KIND REGARDS

      rON tHOMSON. CEO – TGA

      Reply
  • Dear Ron,
    No, your reasoning doesn’t make sense at all, and I don’t have a case either, I merely do not agree with your figures and how you reached them with such definitive confidence. There is no disagreement with the fact that there are too many elephants and that many elephants must be removed in one or other manner. This notwithstanding; I question your numbers, I think your anger at the incompetence of KNP staff is misplaced (the guys on the ground are acutely aware of the problem and desperately want to react. The problem lies higher up the echelons of SANPARKS and in higher political circles. The incompetence of all our conservation agencies is beyond dispute. It’s a leadership problem), and there remains the prickly issue of society allowing the “removal” 25 000 odd elephants.
    While I understand your frustration, with your current vitriolic approach to anyone who vaguely disagrees with you, I don’t think you are going to garner much support for your cause other than from the exceptionally conservative right-wing conservationists. The problem in Kruger Park is huge but calling out everybody as incompetent is not going to win you any friends or influence anyone.

    Just my thoughts,

    Regards
    Peter Mills

    PS: Answering in capital text is just plain rude.

    Reply
    • Dear Peter,

      You are entitled to your ideas and thoughts. I have done what I had to do and that is to present the facts of the matter about there being too many elephants in Kruger. It was not my idea to be the person who dictates what has to be done to rectify the matter. THAT I have left to those who saw the documentary and want to take the matter further. People like you. Who can support me (AND KRUGER) by projecting my “case” with another viewpoint. The fact that you agree there are too many elephants in Kruger takes you half way along the road to success. Go for it.

      I think our conversation now is “done”.

      Kind regards

      Ron

      Reply
  • Dear Ron,

    I have seen the Kruger National Park since the early 1970’s and it was a beautiful environment to visit and enjoy. ( In Afrikaans meer duidelik gestel, dit was ‘n lushof van dig begroeide oerwoud areas wat lower groen lang grasse en struike daaronder ‘n algemene gesig gemaak het, met net hier en daar klein groepies olifante.)
    Here I am specifically referring to the route from Skukuza down to Komatipoort area.

    On a recent visit to KNP, roughly 50+ years later, I was totally devastated to see the absolutely badly mismanagement in practically all areas in the park. (BTW, reason we stayed away from KNP for many years is that my wife had to have her enlarged spleen removed, resulting in a zero tolerance for malaria – no immunity against it at all – and doctors advised her not to visit any area where there is a slight chance of getting malaria.)
    Elephants were roaming round every corner – almost like Impala used to be way back in the 70’s.

    I 100% agree with you that the carrying capacity of elephants in the KNP should be at most 3500 animals, as a matter of fact I would guess rather 3000 animals.

    How people don’t see this for themselves, is something I can understand at all.

    I’m afraid that this once beautiful park is going to be something of the past if anything drastically is not done to it straight away, and that simply implies taking elephants off in large numbers, whether the ‘greenies’ like it or not!

    Kind regards,

    Koos Geldenhuys.

    Reply

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