KNP is on the Point of Total Collapse Into Becoming a Desert

Ron Thomson responds to a comment made by Grant on You Tube where you will find the documentary Ndhlovu
This is a very interesting film and it’s doubtless correct in its observations on the current state of the park. However, it might be argued that the ecosystem should be left to itself. Eventually, the elephants will die when their food sources are depleted, which will of course be a very gruesome spectacle, but nonetheless a completely natural one. The massive die-off of elephants will allow the ecosystem to recover, and gradually the elephant population will rise over decades, causing the same habitat degradation and elephant population crash. This is very normal in animal population dynamics, most easily recognised in the ratio between predators and their prey, which follows a cyclic increase in one with a corresponding decrease in the other, until the predator population crashes due to the population crash of their prey; the cycle begins again.
There are however very few natural ecosystems left in the world: Kruger Park was (perhaps still is) one of the most intensely managed ecosystems on Earth – there is virtually nothing left of the original ecosystems in place when the park was created. So, perhaps it’s just best to let nature take its course…
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Hello Grant. I have multitude of questions and observations for you, starting with the observation that this film is NOT “Just Doubtlessly Correct”, it is “Absolutely Correct”.
(1) In 1926, when Kruger National Park was handed on a plate to the South African National Parks Board (now SANParks) to “manage” the Board was handed a parliamentary mandate (an instruction)– which was : ”to maintain species diversity at all costs”.
Now, IF what became SANParks had worked on this objective it would have  retained all the park’s species of plants and all its species of animals (including reptiles, insects and bacteria-in- the soil) up to the present day.  But it elected not bother too much about HOW it managed the biological components of the park so long as TOURISM thrived. As a consequence, the  Park’s ecosystems crashed and with that catastrophe the very foundation of the parks wildlife spectrum, including the foundations of its tourism, are all falling down around our feet.
Once a major herbivore – like the elephant gets out of hand – everything else falls down like a pack of cards.
And THAT has happened in Kruger National Park today. Because SANParks did not bother to determine the true elephant carrying capacity of the national park’s habitats, the elephants are in the process of systematically destroying the park’s many critically important ecosystems. Since 1960, for example, the park’s top canopy trees have been reduced in number by “MORE THAN” 95 percent.  That means the numbers of big trees that Martial Eagles, Tawny Eagle, Snake Eagles, Fish Eagles, Bateleurs – and Ground Hornbills – were wont to breed in, in 1926, have been almost eliminated to nothing. And when all these big trees  are gone, the big eagles that depend on them for breeding sites will never come back again- EVER –  because, if the can’t breed, these species will become extinct. Kruger represents the last stronghold for these species in South Africa. So when you claim that “nature should be left to her own devices’ – whereafter you believe everything will eventually return to a normal natural equilibrium – you do not understand how wrong you are. Just think about it!
When a species – like the giant baobab tree disappears – it will be gone forever. When the big eagles are gone, they are gone forever,
(2) When you say that Kruger National Park is “ONE OF THE MOST INTENSELY MANAGED ECOSYSTEMS ON EARTH” you are clearly wrong. It is one of the worst-management national parks in the world. How can I say that about our beautiful and beloved Kruger National Park?  EASY!  I can say it because it is on the point of total collapse into becoming a desert: I say it easily because there are umpteen species of plants and animals on the verge of extinction – brought about by very poor wildlife management; And I say this because I do not want Kruger sink into the mire of history as a once beautiful wildlife heritage that is being destroyed by the mismanagement of the game reserve by the very custodians who were appointed to protect it.
(3) You must understand that man is the ultimate APEX PREDATOR everywhere in the world. Man with his knowledge about ecosystem management is the once ‘thing’ on this earth that can save game reserves like Kruger from the iniquities of mankind. When you take man out of nature’s equations you remove a critically important cog in the wheels of natural processes.
(4) Your understanding of the way that nature works is simplistic in the extreme. Your understanding of the way that man works in natural systems is, seemingly, non est! It is because there are lots of people like you around that our wildlife resources are in the state they are in all over Africa.

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.

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3 thoughts on “KNP is on the Point of Total Collapse Into Becoming a Desert

  • 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. 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. Maybe not the way you would like to see it, but that’s your subjective perspective of what the Kruger should look like. Even with 3000 elephants the Kruger, by its mere fenced and restricted nature, will change over time anyway. As ecologists, we must not fall into the old “preservationist” trap. 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. How do you get to such a finite figure when scientists who are actively working on it, cannot, and not through incompetence, reach a carrying capacity figure? 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? I recall travelling in the Crocodile Bridge area in the late 60s when the landscape was not dissimilar to the images depicted in the video, but that is just my observation.

    And now towards more practical issues. Yes, there are too many elephants and they are affecting the habitat. Given that there are between 27-32 000 elephants, way too many, in the greater Kruger region how do you propose disposing of 25 000?

    And to the readers who might read this, the officials in the Kruger are well aware of the problem (not only the individual in the video) and are at their wits end searching for a solution in a very complex socio-political context. To lay the blame on the officials working in the park is disingenuous.

    Reply
  • Mr Mills
    I have to say that your comment is one of the finest examples of modern theoretical eco-myopia that I have seen in some time. It perfectly encapsulates the reason why South Africa’s breathtaking bio-diversity (and probably the whole of its wildlife industry) is doomed in the long term unless someone takes responsibility and gets a grip.
    It is not necessary to address all your points – you clearly do not (or won’t) understand much of what Ron has written, so repeating it all would be futile. On the question of capacity, however – for a start, one measures elephant carrying capacity by watching what they do to their environment. Is that so difficult? However, if you start with a belief that elephant numbers mustn’t be managed, you end up nit-picking for granules of supporting evidence – you observe that busy “Crocodile Bridge was barren in the 60’s” but ignore that elephants have, in the ensuing 60 years, done to the whole damn park what a localised tourist pinch-point did back then. You’ve got the cart in front of the horse.
    Ron is no civilian observer or ivory-tower theoreticist. What he writes is based on sound scientific ecology, factual reality and a lifetime in practical conservation and field managing large parks – and management is the important concept here. Most of those who you glorify as “on site, actively engaging” actually do what they are told. If told to do nothing, they do nothing. Academic tenure has the same limitation.
    You say one “should not fall into the preservationist trap”, but that is precisely where you nest – you want to throw a fence around Kruger and “preserve” it instead of actively managing it for the benefit of as much diversity as possible. In effect, you spend your time looking for interesting sheet music to play while the Kruger Titanic sinks. You should have listened when Ron shouted “Look out! Bloody great iceberg of elephants ahead”, not telling him he should listen to your soothing popular music.

    You identified the REAL elephant in the room here – your sensitivity to the “complex socio-political context”. A pox on your socio-political context, Sir. Public opinion (and thus every gutless, populist politician) is entirely subjective, about peoples’ own personal sensitivities and sentiments – they are not based on the objective needs of elephants, the environment or bio-diversity. The natural world couldn’t give a monkey’s about bureaucracy or human public opinion, so it is irrelevant here. Why? Because public opinion is skewed by Disney, sanitised TV and the anthropomorphic fiction of animal rights charlatans worldwide – hardly the best foundation for scientific decisions, yet you admit it as the “context” in which your theories reside. From a scientific point of view, it is foundation of quicksand.

    Bio-diversity? – how quaint and old-fashioned. By pandering to public opinion rather than scientific rigour, modern “conservation” paints itself into a corner – when elephants become sacred, you’re left with your quandary – “what do you do” when there are 25,000 too many? As Ron warns, without management, you will sit and watch them turn the Kruger into a dusty but popular (and profitable) elephant park. It will be a place where the public will be able to watch elephants “in the real Africa” but then go back to camp to watch everything else on virtual reality headsets.
    That’s what happens when management become a jelly-head politicised or sentimental collective – there’s no bloody leadership, and leadership, based on scientific fact, is really what is needed.

    Reply
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