The Elephants of Kruger National are Way in Excess of the Sustainable Elephant Carrying Capacity of their Habitat. What’s to be done about it?

The TGA is starting to get a reaction since the release of our FIRST video documentary on this subject..

After our examination of the impact that the  elephants of Kruger National Park had had on the park’s habitats since 1960 – and continuing since 1960 – our conclusion is that the sustainable elephant carrying capacity figure for the park’s habitats (in the 1950s – when the habitats were still healthy) was 3 500 (+/- 500).

This conclusion was calculated (pegged), mathematically and ecologically;  and it is particularly applicable to the year 1955. We invite anyone and everyone to check our calculations and to offer a contrary opinion if they so wish.

Our calculations and rationale were explained quite clearly in the documentary. Furthermore, if anyone would like to debate this figure, publicly, I am quite happy to take up that challenge personally. I am confident that nobody will be able to find a more acceptable number. The calculations are simple, easily understood and based on good sound common sense.

We have arbitrarily assessed that 3 500 was a valid elephant carrying capacity figure throughout the 1950s, up to the year 1960. 1960 was a watershed year.

It was the year when many old and established wildlife management programmes reached their climaxes. After 1960 the Kruger habitats were devastated by the park’s, by then, excessive number of elephants. Furthermore, since 1960, the Kruger elephant population grew exponentially.

And the fact that the habitats were continually and significantly degraded after 1960, reduced, still further, the numbers of elephants that the habitats could sustainably carry. That means the current sustainable elephant carrying capacity figure (in 2022) was considerably less than 3500.

And it will be getting less and less every year from now on which is a fact that will not change until the primary problem (too , many elephants) is addressed and properly solved.

Definition: “SUSTAINABLE ELEPHANT CARRYING CAPACITY” is the maximum number of elephants that a habitat can carry without them (The elephants) causing UNSUSTAINABLE habitat damage. 

Kruger’s at one stage much vaunted, extensive and science-based Satara top-canopy-tree-study must now be introduced to the equation. It was established in 1944 by the Park’s botanist, Albert Viljoen.

The study area was, in essence, a large number of one hectare demarcated plots. And, until 1960, it continued to support an average of 13 deciduous “top canopy trees” (very big trees) per hectare. The official Kruger records shows that after 1960, the elephants began demolishing the Satara trees study area at a very steady rate:

1944 – 1960, 13 trees per hectare (There had, in fact, been virtually no damage caused by elephants throughout the duration of this 16 year period);

1965 – 9 trees per hectare (i.e. four trees had been eliminated since 1960);

1967 – 6 trees per hectare (i.e. another three trees had been eliminated since 1965);

1974 – 3 trees per hectare (i.e. another three trees had been eliminated since 1967);

1981 – 1.5 trees per hectare (i.e. another 1.5 trees, on average, had been eliminated since 1974); and, finally;

1994 – Zero trees per hectare (i.e. by 1994 there were no top canopy trees left standing at Satara).

Between 1960 and 1994, the elephants had killed every single tree specimen in the Satara study area.  AND, throughout the 27 years of the culling era (1967 – 1994) autopsies on the culled elephants indicated that, every year, Kruger’s elephant population was reproducing at a consistent rate  of 7.5 percent per annum (ref. The Kruger scientists). Because elephant populations double their numbers every ten years when their incremental rate is 7.2 percent, an incremental rate of 7.5 percent means that the Kruger elephants (throughout the culling era) proved that they had the capability of EASILY doubling their number every ten years.

The annual culling objective (for the duration of the 27 years of the elephant culling era) was to cull the elephant numbers down to 7 000 animals by the end of every year. So, the ‘standing population’ size was 7000!

And because the elephants were then continuously demolishing more and more of the Satara trees, that tells us 7000 was far above the sustainable elephant carrying capacity of the Kruger habitats.

So, the TGA investigators worked out that the carrying capacity was, without any doubt, within the scope of 3 500 (+/- 500).  (HAVE ANOTHER LOOK AT THE DEFINITION OF “CARRYING CAPACITY” – Above)

Now we have had a reaction: SANPARKS, presumably with Minister Creecy’s approval (?), has arranged for the Humane Society International (South Africa) – which in my opinion is a fanatical Animal Rights group that should not be allowed to get involved with the management of South Africa’s wildlife heritage –  to start darting mature elephant cows with a contraceptive (ostensibly to stop them breeding so prolifically).

And in their video, HSI claim that THIS is the only way to deal with Kruger’s “too many elephants problem,” HUMANELY.

This turn of events just shows the whole of South Africa’s general public just “WHERE” the SANParks administration’s sympathies lie.

And, presumably, just where Minister Creecy’s sympathies lie, too.  As the minister-in-charge of SANParks, she must have had some say in this terrible decision!

Personally, I don’t think that the Kruger administrators or the scientific staff have had anything to do with this decision at all. This is a political decision that has been foisted on the Kruger staff.

And I will eat my hat without salt if that is not the case.  This elephant management matter is NOT a political issue.  It is a wildlife management matter that needs trained wildlife management people, our own scientists and qualified field staff,  to undertake.

THESE are the people that our political leaders should take their advice from. They, after all, have all been employed to do precisely THAT. It is their job to provide such advice to the government decision-makers. And the fact that ‘other uninformed people’ have been permitted to ‘take over’ such management responsibilities, is a disgrace.

Makes me wonder just how much money – this time round – has changed hands during this process. In the last debacle of this nature the sum, altogether, exceeded ten million rands.

If I can be proved right in this regard, everybody in South Africa, should be up-in-arms over this state of affairs. It is time that the general public started to object to this ‘capture’ of our wildlife management affairs by foreign imposters.

Two things further aggravate my chagrin.

1. This is happening when (and despite the fact that), several years ago, SANParks tested ‘cow-contraception’ as means of reducing Kruger’s  rate of elephant population increase; and they found it seriously wanting.

So much did they find it wanting that that they refused to continue with the conception experimentation.  

As I understood the situation, Elephant cows that are being given contraception – to make it work – need a booster every six months. Now, how, in a population the numbers somewhere between 34 000 and a possible 50 000 animals, all running. around a game reserve that is 20 000 square kilometers in extent, does the man doing the contraceptive-darting determine which cows had been darted six months previously, and which had not?  For practical reasons, therefore, contraception is an impractical procedure. 

Another reason why contraception was (apparently) abandoned was because cows that had been injected with a contraceptive came into a state of perpetual hormonal eostrous and they were ‘covered’ so frequently by bulls that were looking for a cow-in-eostrus, that the sexual attention they received exhausted them.

So much for the Human Society International’s concerns about the need for “HUMANE” management-treatment of the elephants.

2. The problem we exposed in KNP last October is a biological and wildlife management problem. Stopping elephant cows producing MORE calves is not the issue here.  The problem, at this time, is that there are too many elephants doing too much escalating damage to some very sensitive habitats. Also, these ‘too many elephants’ are a serious threat to major plant and animals species. As I write these words, those ‘too many elephants’ are  causing species diversity losses (of both plants and animals) in the country’s most important national park. And the purpose of that national park (according to a long-standing parliamentary mandate) is to maintain the country’s species diversity into posterity.

Yet, SANParks, many years ago, determined that contraception does not work on extensive elephant populations.

Ron Thomson

CEO TGA

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 270 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

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