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

We made a documentary film about it. And now we have had a reaction:

SANPARKS, presumably with Minister Creecy’s approval has arranged for the Humane Society International (HSI South Africa) 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!

In my opinion, the Humane Society International is a fanatical animal rights NGO that should not be allowed to get involved with the management of South Africa’s wildlife heritage. I am personally affronted by this development. I am concerned that our Minister doesn’t know this!

I must now make a observation about the duplicitous Humane Society International (HSI). One minute they are telling the world that the elephant is an “Endangered Species” (of which, I might add, there is no such thing); and the next thing we hear is that HSI is not only supplying contraceptives to render elephant females infertile (ostensibly to stop them being culled), they are actually participating in its administration and enjoying the ride. Surely, if they really meant what they tell the public – that the elephant is an endangered species – they should be providing elephant bulls with viagra and cialis to make them more sexually potent which will help them produce more calves, not less!

The elephant, an “endangered species?” What bunkum! In all southern African game reserves there are ten and twenty times too many elephants. How can they be endangered?

In the same vein, HSI are one of these crazy bunny-hugger entities that tells the general publics of the world that animals should have the same legal and personal rights as those enjoyed by humans. That being the case, I have to ask HSI how it obtained permission from the thousands of elephant cows that they will be injected with contraceptive hormones to stop them breeding. That will cause them to be physically and horribly subjected to continuous elephantine rape. Speaking on behalf of these cow elephants – and I am sure this would apply to all human females subjected to same kind of sexual injustice – they will not want to be subjected to the unwanted and continuous sexual attentions of hundreds of randy old bull elephants all year round, for every year into future.

The truth of the matter is that HSI, like all the other animal rightist NGOs in this disjointed world, couldn’t care a damn what they tell the public – even, if it is a blatant lie – just so long as what they say, stirs the public’s emotions and gets them to loosen their purse strings. DONATE, DONATE, DONATE is their never-ending war cry!

Our own government officials ought to understand the implications of all this, too. And that, when they rub shoulders with social racketeers who make money out of telling lies, they are consorting with classical mafia. Anyone who wants to understand this intended slur better, are advised to look up on the internet: The American Racketeering Influenced and Criminal Organisations Act (The RICO Act) and see just how you can tick all the boxes that prove the validity of this statement.

Personally, I don’t think that the Kruger administrators or its 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 problem 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 be taking 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 inside our premier national park, is a disgrace. Makes me wonder just how much money this time round has changed hands during the process. In the last debacle of this nature, the sum exceeded a ten million rand donation to a self-serving scientist.

If I am 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 blatant capture of our wildlife management affairs by foreign imposters.

Two things further aggravate my chagrin.

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 flawed. So much did they find it wanting that they refused to continue with the contraception experiment. 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 that 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 person doing the contraceptive-darting determine which cows had been darted six months previously, and which had not? For such practical reasons alone, 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 oestrous and they were mated so frequently by bulls that were looking for a cow-in-oestrus, that the continuous sexual attention they received exhausted them.

So much for the Human Society International’s concerns about the need for the humane management treatment of the elephants.

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 principle problem, at this time, is that there are too many elephants doing too much escalating damage to some very sensitive habitats. Also, a second and equally important problem, is that too many elephants are a serious survival threat to major plant and animal species. As I write these words, those too many elephants are causing massive 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 at all costs.

The real problem is that there are too many elephants in Kruger National Park which the game reserve’s habitats cannot sustainable support. And stopping cows having more calves is not going to solve such a problem.

The only way to solve it is to reduce the number of elephants to a level that the habitats can sustainably support. In other words, we are going to have to reduce their number to a level that is below the habitat’s sustainable elephant carrying capacity. And the only way we can do that, is by culling.

There is no use in stressing the HSI point that contraception is more humane than culling (or rather population reduction). We are not, however, talking about whether the best management action is humane or not. All managers involved in any population reduction activity will want the killing process to be as humane as possible. I know that for sure because I was once one of them!. But it will be a totally futile exercise if the management objective is not achieved.

So Mr HSI executive, get out of the way and let the people who know best what to do, get on with the job they know how to do it. There is no other way – unless you want some of the elephants to be shipped alive to West Africa, if that is what you would like to do. That can be done. But we mustn’t let anything get in the way of our primary management objective – which is to reduce Kruger’s elephant numbers to at least 3500 in the immediate future.

Anyone who delays this process will be guilty of allowing the Kruger National Park to degrade into becoming a desert.

I fear the hand of Minister Barbara Creecy is behind this debacle. So I will make sure that she gets a copy of this opinion statement.

Ron Thomson. CEO. TGA


  1. Louw Hoffman

    Hi Ron.
    If they were to cull, with the run down status of the abattoir at Skukuza, how long do you think it will take?
    As it stands, I doubt it if they can do more than 10 elephant a day:, partly due to lack of infrastructure and partly due to trained personnel. The latter could improve with time.

    • Dear Low,

      I originate from a another country (Rhodesia) where I “managed” elephants for some quarter of a century before escaping from Zimbabwe into South Africa in 1983.. So my perspectives are very different to the thought processes (as to what can and cannot be done) of most South Africans.

      I was also the game warden-in-charge of the elephant population reduction operation in the Gonarezhou National Park (1971/72) where I was required to reduce the elephant population from 5000 to 2500 inside a (collective) period of two months (one month in 1971 and one month in 1972). I selected two
      experienced game rangers to assist me with the killing and, together, using R1 military rifles (7.62mm NAT0) , the three of us accounted for (on average) 41.6 elephants per day, every day (without a break) and we were ‘putting down’ between 30 and 50 elephants in one ‘go’, inside a period of 60 seconds (many herds took longer than 60 seconds to dispatch – but, whatever the time factor was the killing was always very quick). After 60 seconds every animal in the herd was dead with a single bullet through the brain. None were wounded. None ran away unwounded. We were shooting, of course, at point-blank range (at between one and ten meters range – mostly under five meters), so you couldn’t miss the brain. We had a big ‘research staff” with us- who came in after the kill was over – and they did biopsies in the field on every elephant killed (exactly as the Kruger scientists did in their abattoir).. The hide was cut off in large panels; the tusks were punch-marked and removed; the meat was recovered, ‘biltongised’ in ropes, salted and dried out in the sun – and sold for human consumption. The hides were stripped and scrubbed clean, salted, and stacked to dry in the shade (of tarpaulin tent roofs). And the biggest number of elephants killed and processed like this in one day was 57. And we did this EVERY DAY for a whole month (without a break). And, at the end of every day, the bones and the intestines of every the carcass were buried in deep graves in the ground (6 feet deep) – this, to not attract vultures from not-so-faraway Kruger National Park – where Anthrax is endemic. Our vets did not want the vultures to introduce Anthrax to the Gonarezhou.

      So an abattoir is not necessary. In fact, I would not recommend the need for an abattoir. Everything CAN be “done” in the field.

      So, to answer your question: How long would it take to remove 30 000 elephants from Kruger? The answer is, “A hell of a long time” – depending on how many population-reduction teams you establish to do the job; and how long each team operated. As you can see, we were able to average at least 40 elephants a day in the Gonarezhou, every day, during a one-month period. You could, therefore, probably take-off an average of 1200 a month per team; and you could operate each team over a six months long period every year. Let’s say, therefore, that you could probably remove 5000 (in cow herds) elephants every dry season. And maybe 1000 bulls, too. But a lot could change these kinds of figures if different take-off-options were considered. I believe the bulls should be taken off (inside the park) by high-fee-paying licensed hunters under the supervision of professional-hunter-trained game-ranger guides. THAT would make MORE sense to me. But whether SANParks would apply such common sense considerations I don’t know!

      Nobody can say that such a population reduction operation cannot be done. I know it can be done! I have done it!

      And if any such an operation were to be seriously contemplated I would insist that major benefits should flow to local African village folk just outside the boundary of the national park. And THAT is a whole new ball game.

      Finally, in my humble opinion, it is vitally important – if Kruger National Park is to escape the “Death Sentence” – for 30 000 elephants to be removed from Kruger National Park as quickly as possible.

      Hope this explanation is what you wanted, Louw. If you want more detail on this subject I would suggest you get hold on my book “ELEPHANT CONSERVATION – The Facts and the Fiction”

      Kind regards,

      Ron Thomson. CEO – TGA.

  2. Anyone with half a brain should be able to comprehend that what you are saying is the absolute truth ( i have been saying the same for years ) So sad that the vast majority of modern people can not grasp what is happening . Thanks for all your efforts

  3. No jest, never truer words spoken, thanks Ron

  4. Mylapanahalli Shivashankaraiah

    What is happening in KNP is real. Excess number of elephants are causing irreversible and permanent damage to the eco system, despite the size of KNP. Every species is at the brink of extinction if we don’t do anything. One single species is causing severe damage and that need to be controlled. They can only be controlled by culling. This has worked before, and it can be done again. We are extremely lucky to have Ron Thomson who has decades of hand on experience of elephant management in Southern Africa. President Ramaphosa should intervene and overrule the Minister and sanction culling of Kruger elephants before it is too late.

  5. Good Morning Ron,

    Firstly, having read all your articles on elephant management in the KNP, especially this latest one, and the above comments all in agreement with your view as to how the KNP can be saved from total destruction by the MUCH over-populated elephants, namely urgent culling at a fast rate and

    Secondly, having seen the KNP recently having been turned into a semi-desert already in many areas,
    I feel very upset about all this and I fully agree with what you said here:
    “Anyone who delays this process will be guilty of allowing the Kruger National Park to degrade into becoming a desert.”

    I definitely don’t want to be guilty of delaying this process.

    My question to you then is what is happening right now to get this process going?

    Kind regards,

    Koos Geldenhuys.

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