More on Managing Kruger National Elephants by Ron Thomson


Yesterday I wrote a piece on the two kinds of population management that could be applied to Kruger National Park’s excessive elephant population: 1. Culling which involves the reduction of the population’s annual incrementally and 2. Population reduction which is the reduction of elephant numbers down to the sustainable elephant carrying capacity level. Kruger does not need to cull it’s elephants, it needs elephant population reduction management which is far more drastic.

The public literature in 2021 suggested that the Kruger staff had finally admitted to having 34 000 elephants in Kruger National Park today. That is possible and if that figure is true, then Kruger needs to reduce its elephant numbers by 30 500. I myself worked out that Kruger’s elephant carrying capacity is as near as dammit to 3 500 (+/- 500). That is the number to which I believe SANParks needs to continuously keep its elephants numbers at! Getting the elephant carrying capacity figure right, is key to understanding the kind of management we need to apply to Kruger National Park.

Doing nothing is not an option. And doing nothing is not an option that most responsible South Africans would choose.


In 1944, the Kruger staff (Stevenson Hamilton and Albert Viljoen) determined that the park’s growing population of elephants would one day destroy the park’s then virgin woodland habitats and it was decided to set aside a significant number of one hectare plots in the Satara area of the park on which were counted the numbers of top-canopy-trees. The Satara area was chosen for this task because Viljoen believed that the Satara area contained the best examples of what he considered to be the most regular examples of the park’s high quality deciduous woodland habitats.

It is important to note this statement, because it has recently been mooted that the Satara area was previously grassland, which it may well have been a long time ago. It is significant to record Viljoen’s comments, however, regarding what the habitat was like in 1944. According to Viljoen (and probably also Stevenson Hamiliton agreed with him in 1944) the habitat in the Satara area of the park was at that time typical Kruger National Park deciduous woodland. And it was on that assumption that the Satara Top Canopy Tree Study was based in the Satara area. And the average number of top-canopy trees (in 1944), those with 15 m canopies, was 13 trees per hectare. And those numbers seem to have remained unchanged until 1960, whereafter every single tree in that botanical study was removed (by too many elephants) between 1960 and 1994.

Today the Satara Tree Study area has been reduced to, basically, bare ground. And it seems to stay as bare-ground (which means it won’t ever recover on its own).

It is my contention that we can make of the bare ground at Satara whatever kind of habitat we would like to make it. If we got trees growing – any kind of local indigenous trees, nature would shape the habitats into a natural state all by itself (in due course).

The important thing to understand about this state of affairs is that nobody will be able to return Kruger National Park to its former healthy habitat state (i.e. prior to 1960 state) without reseeding the bare-ground comprising the current Satara habitats. Reducing the number of elephants on its own isn’t going to make any difference unless the Satara bare ground soils are reseeded and protected from elephant and small herbivore feeding whilst the woodland recovers. It will probably, therefore, also require some degree of fencing (for a limited period of time) to protect the young trees from all herbivore feeding as the tree-seedling growth becomes mature. I believe if this venture can be extended to all South Africans and if schools are roped into the programme too, that it can be done. And the TGA is well positioned to supervise the development of this programme. If we can get everyone associated with SUCo to agree, therefore, the TGA can forthwith start the ball rolling. The biggest hurdle, however, will be to get SANParks to join with us in such a venture.

This is a BIG programme. So, if we are not prepared to go through with it in good heart, we should drop it before it is even begun.

But, I think we should go for it because Kruger National Park holds some very important wildlife heritage assets that cannot be saved without South Africans making it happen.

Kind regards and encouragement to everyone who receives this message. What a great wildlife programme this operation could be!

Please join with the TGA in getting this done.

Ron Thomson. CEO – TGA

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