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  1. #1
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    Default Elephants in the KNP

    I recently visited the KNP entering at Malelane and exiting at Phalaborwa.

    One cannot help but notice the number of elephant as one drives along. And of course the number of trees that have been ring-barked and are dying or have been pushed over, many of them recently but also many trees have been felled a long time ago.

    So it is no wonder that the martial eagle, white-backed vulture, secretary bird, ground hornbill and even the bateleur are now all on the IUCN's red list of critically endangered species. Besides having to survive other onslaughts such as muti in the case of the white-backed vulture and no doubt other threats such as poisoning, all of these raptors no longer have the abundance of habitat, the tall large canopy trees to nest in as these have been felled. And in my passage through the KNP this seems to be en-masse in certain areas.

    Seeing this phenomenon with some horror got me doing some reading and research.

    How many elephants are there in the KNP and when last was a census conducted? This was a question posed by the MP Dave Bryant in Parliament in February this year.

    An official document from the KNP listed the number of elephants counted based on a total aerial census undertaken in 2015 at 17 086 elephants that year. The written answer to the question posed in Parliament and replied to in March this year was that the last count that was undertaken was in 2017, two years after the one referred to. This census resulted in an estimate of between 21 000 and 23 700 elephants to be present in the KNP in that 2017 year. Now I am not a statistician but I would guess that the midway point of 22 350 would be reasonable to take as the number of elephants in the KNP in 2017 which means that in the two years since the total aerial census of 2015, the density of the elephants in the park grew by 5 264. If this is indeed correct it translates into an annual compounded growth rate of over 14% per annum over those two years. Should this growth rate be sustained through to today, by simple extrapolation it means that by the end of this 2021 year there will be close to 39 000 elephants in the KNP.

    The information that I have dug up indicates that adolescent bulls are the ones that push over trees - they can do so easily purely to show off their strength. And no, it is not so as to browse off the foliage or the roots. I have seen an elephant push over a tree and then simply walk away from the felled tree. That was one more tree removed as a potential nesting site for the martial eagle.

    By the way, when last did you see a martial eagle? I am told that it only nests in the KNP and the Kalagadi.

    Food for thought this is - so I am continuing with my reading and research. I have sunk my teeth into it.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Quote Originally Posted by Del View Post
    ..........By the way, when last did you see a martial eagle? I am told that it only nests in the KNP and the Kalagadi...........
    We were in Kruger - mainly in the north - for 3/52 in Feb this year and had 3 separate martial eagle sightings.

    To limit the range and the fertility rates of the elephants in Kruger - I think - they are steadily decreasing the number of artificial waterholes and dams to spare some areas from the depredations of elephants on the large canopy trees. Many share your concerns about tree damage from elephants, including expert advisors to SA Parks.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Too many ellies in Kruger..... heck yeah, far too many. Ideally they would like 12 - 15k.
    Like the original rhino reintroduced the elephant also found fertile grounds t increase their numbers and with poaching on ellies being a lesser concern they are doing well .... up to a while ago.

    The new water policy have had a side effect, ellies must drink almost daily and that is where the breaching of the man made dams have had the effect of inhibiting their numbers. Originaly done to protect the more picky eaters from over grazing by the elephant the ellies now have to follow early trekking routes for water and that is claiming more older and younger elephant through natural causes.

    An easy solution would be to just cull as before but that has some severe side effects. Ellies are only now getting gentle and less aggressive because of the trauma of culling and just the mention of such a thought gets such a knee jerk reaction from major international as well as local donors and threats of millions donations being stopped makes it an impossible solution and I must say one that I am also totally against.

    Putting them on birth controll is also not as easy as it sounds, in ellies it is the bull that comes in to season or musth as it is known. Stop this with medication and all that happens is a younger or smaller bull goes in to musth. Big bulls coming in to season actually prevents younger bulls from doing so. Inserting an iud in cows is going to be such a huge project and so costly and then it will only start having a positive effect in how many years.

    Elephant in Addo have not been hunted or culled and are of the most gentle and well behaved I have come across, I have been in breeding herds where they approached us with tiny babies and all they were interested in was the spekboom around us.

    That there is more ellies in Kruger than its carrying capacity is an accepted fact and one that is giving Sanparks a huge headache, one that unfortunately does not have a gentle and easy solution.

    One point to considder is that the last drought has had a devastating effect on the tree and plant life. Grasses and smaller vegetation have the ability to snap back quite rapidly where big trees take a lifetime, trees like the leadwood (combretum imberbe) is highly endangered and grows very slowly (for what it's worth it is one of the bushwillows).
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    Default Elephants in the KNP

    Yes, in my reading I have come across the claim that the closure of the artificial water holes in the KNP had resulted in a reduction in the growth rate of the elephant but this notion has subsequently been debunked.

    Following the most severe two-year drought period – 2015 and 2016 – an official of the KNP informed a workshop of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), that, against all expectations, the elephant population over the two-year drought period grew by 13% (or 6.5% pa). This was the same growth rate that prevailed in 1994 notwithstanding those waterholes having been shut besides there being the drought on top of it. No carcasses of elephants that had succumbed to thirst were noticed. The drought impacted severely on other animals, particularly hippo but the elephants were not affected.

    For such a growth rate of 6.5% pa to be in place that drought, severe as it was, seemingly did not even impact on the elephant inter-calving cycle which is between 3.7 and 4 years. With the home range of an elephant in the KNP being on average 880 km2 all that seems to have happened is that the elephants moved to another place within their home range where there is water, even if they have to dig for it. An elephant can walk the entire 350 km length of the KNP from Crocodile Bridge to Pafuri in 3 days.

    Contraception is also not an option for an elephant population in an area the size of the KNP as the elephant has to be re-treated every so often which means that one needs to be able to keep track of the particular elephant’s movements, which elephant has been treated and which not. Besides this practicality I gather that it is extremely expensive and also has negative side-effects on the elephant itself.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Quote Originally Posted by Del View Post
    I recently visited the KNP entering at Malelane and exiting at Phalaborwa.

    One cannot help but notice the number of elephant as one drives along. And of course the number of trees that have been ring-barked and are dying or have been pushed over, many of them recently but also many trees have been felled a long time ago.

    So it is no wonder that the martial eagle, white-backed vulture, secretary bird, ground hornbill and even the bateleur are now all on the IUCN's red list of critically endangered species. Besides having to survive other onslaughts such as muti in the case of the white-backed vulture and no doubt other threats such as poisoning, all of these raptors no longer have the abundance of habitat, the tall large canopy trees to nest in as these have been felled. And in my passage through the KNP this seems to be en-masse in certain areas.

    Seeing this phenomenon with some horror got me doing some reading and research.

    How many elephants are there in the KNP and when last was a census conducted? This was a question posed by the MP Dave Bryant in Parliament in February this year.

    An official document from the KNP listed the number of elephants counted based on a total aerial census undertaken in 2015 at 17 086 elephants that year. The written answer to the question posed in Parliament and replied to in March this year was that the last count that was undertaken was in 2017, two years after the one referred to. This census resulted in an estimate of between 21 000 and 23 700 elephants to be present in the KNP in that 2017 year. Now I am not a statistician but I would guess that the midway point of 22 350 would be reasonable to take as the number of elephants in the KNP in 2017 which means that in the two years since the total aerial census of 2015, the density of the elephants in the park grew by 5 264. If this is indeed correct it translates into an annual compounded growth rate of over 14% per annum over those two years. Should this growth rate be sustained through to today, by simple extrapolation it means that by the end of this 2021 year there will be close to 39 000 elephants in the KNP.



    The information that I have dug up indicates that adolescent bulls are the ones that push over trees - they can do so easily purely to show off their strength. And no, it is not so as to browse off the foliage or the roots. I have seen an elephant push over a tree and then simply walk away from the felled tree. That was one more tree removed as a potential nesting site for the martial eagle.

    By the way, when last did you see a martial eagle? I am told that it only nests in the KNP and the Kalagadi.

    Food for thought this is - so I am continuing with my reading and research. I have sunk my teeth into it.
    Last edited by Peter Betts; 2021/04/24 at 05:17 PM.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Elephant Numbers can increase As a couple of Conservation mates in Krger have told me. Good indicators are the increase of Ground Hornbills in Kruger which NEED Large trees to nest in.
    Martial Eagles are found throughout the Arid less human habituated parts of S Africa < Mates of mine farm between G Town and Bedford E Cape where I first saw the Breeding Martials as a School boy in the 1960's, They still breed on that farm I have seen Martials at All days , Mapungubwe , Blouberg, Marakhele , Askham, Graff Reinet, Willowmore , Baviaans , Addo, Mt Zebra Park all in the last 10 yrs

    The Ellies in Kruger now have Moz to go into and they are doing so in increasing Numbers < I wouldnt worry its a Cyclical thing like Tsavo and Chobe have proved

    White backed Vulture Numbers and other vultures too are decreasing because of the Muti Trade not elephants. Bateleurs cant handle human pressure and readily abandon nests as a result >> Nothing to do with Elephants. and as I said Groundhornbills have turned the corner in Kruger and numbers are increasing despite the increase in ellie nos and the so called destruction of Habitat < Nature adapts as it always has
    Last edited by Peter Betts; 2021/04/24 at 05:34 PM.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Thanks for those encouraging observations and comments Peter.

    One hopes it is not a flash in the pan that the ground hornbills have turned the corner. Would be interested to hear more about the proof coming out of Botswana and also out of Tsavo.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Closing artificial waterholes have a great impact on other animals. You don't find animals were you used to and the population is way down.
    Like the Lower Sabie - Tshokwane road but one.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    I believe a large part of the reason Ground Hornbills are making a comeback is the work being done in the APNR (the private reserves bordering the central Kruger near Hoedspruit) with artificial nest-boxes. This program has been running for at least 20 years now.

    I don't believe it is cyclical, but subscribe to the theory that we as man have succesfully eradicated the only predator that was capable of effectively killing the pachyderms, being the sabre-toothed cat. As a result, we have to control their numbers ourselves now, which due to the pressure from environmentalists we stopped doing a couple of decades ago.

    I firmly believe the system is heading for disaster. Elephants are very inefficient but also very adaptable, and as a result they are among the animals least affected by food shortages. Just like us humans, they will eat themselves out of existence but most of the other animals will go first.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Connan View Post
    I believe a large part of the reason Ground Hornbills are making a comeback is the work being done in the APNR (the private reserves bordering the central Kruger near Hoedspruit) with artificial nest-boxes. This program has been running for at least 20 years now.

    I don't believe it is cyclical, but subscribe to the theory that we as man have succesfully eradicated the only predator that was capable of effectively killing the pachyderms, being the sabre-toothed cat. As a result, we have to control their numbers ourselves now, which due to the pressure from environmentalists we stopped doing a couple of decades ago.

    I firmly believe the system is heading for disaster. Elephants are very inefficient but also very adaptable, and as a result they are among the animals least affected by food shortages. Just like us humans, they will eat themselves out of existence but most of the other animals will go first.
    I think bringing in the Sabre toothed cat into this conversation is taking it a bit far back.
    They last lived in earth a few tens of thousand years back and I certainly don't think humans are to blame for them going extinct across the globe. Certainly not in southern Africa. And I am not sure if there were any of the larger sabre tooth cats present in Southern Africa in any case.
    The elephant issues are complex and looking for a single cause or solution to the problem is not going to happen.
    Last edited by HannoK; 2021/04/24 at 11:12 PM.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    A large issue you have with elephants today is that they have a much greater value in terms of revenue to the economy being alive compared to being culled. This is due to the income they bring from various global programs to save endangered species and all of those various types of programs etc. It basically means that globally you can generate far more revenue from donations via all these programs from people who have never even seen an elephant in the wild before but are willing to contribute just to know that they are making a difference. There was scientific research done in this regard to prove what an elephant is really worth which was lead by Prof Bob Scholes from Wits University if I can recall correctly. As soon as you start to cull elephants in large quantities this revenue stream is effectively cut off and unfortunately money in today's world almost always has the final say.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Perhaps we don't need less elephants, but far more game reserve land . Would seemingly suite me!
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Is it practical or even possible to move substantial numbers to other places where poaching has devastated the population.

    Can Dinokeng handle more elephants?

    Hooefully this is not as farfetched as Piets cats.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Quote Originally Posted by Mal Hannes View Post
    Is it practical or even possible to move substantial numbers to other places where poaching has devastated the population.

    Can Dinokeng handle more elephants?

    Hooefully this is not as farfetched as Piets cats.
    Not really possible to move elephant from Kruger in the numbers that would result in more than a dent in the population.
    Last edited by HannoK; 2021/04/25 at 09:55 AM.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    From what I remember a rule of thumb for the carrying capacity for elephants in South Africa is maximum 1 elephant to 1000 hectares (In bushveld environment). Yes I do know that it is dependent on the rainfall, habitat etc.
    About 40 years ago KNP management claimed that a sustainable number of elephants in Kruger was 7000. (During the time they practiced culling)
    If the present number is 24000 then Kruger will look like Chobe soon.
    But what is the solution? Elephants seem reluctant to move into neighboring countries in trans frontier parks.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Some interesting and revealing stuff reading about the elephant population in the KNP. I came across a paper "Elephant management issues - October 2018" penned by the erstwhile executive director of the KNP, Dr Salomon Joubert. He would surely be a good source of information.

    Yes, initially the number was set at 7 000 but after a survey and accompanying research had been undertaken by Van Wyk et al in 1969 this number was in fact reduced to 6 000 elephants or 0.75 elephants per mile2 , if the total destruction of the vulnerable areas near water was not to be a result. This lower number was subsequently endorsed from follow up studies undertaken by Viljoen 20 years later in 1989 and again by Trollope et al 10 years after that, in 1989.

    The Research Section of the KNP had received negatives of 5 aerial-photo surveys that had been undertaken over the 45-year period 1940 to 1985 by the then Department of Trigonometrical Surveys. These photos revealed the loss of large trees with a canopy in excess of 5 meters or more as from 1965 onwards. Elephant activity was identified as being the major cause while fire also played a role but a lesser one.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Quote Originally Posted by Del View Post
    Some interesting and revealing stuff reading about the elephant population in the KNP. I came across a paper "Elephant management issues - October 2018" penned by the erstwhile executive director of the KNP, Dr Salomon Joubert. He would surely be a good source of information.

    Yes, initially the number was set at 7 000 but after a survey and accompanying research had been undertaken by Van Wyk et al in 1969 this number was in fact reduced to 6 000 elephants or 0.75 elephants per mile2 , if the total destruction of the vulnerable areas near water was not to be a result. This lower number was subsequently endorsed from follow up studies undertaken by Viljoen 20 years later in 1989 and again by Trollope et al 10 years after that, in 1989.

    The Research Section of the KNP had received negatives of 5 aerial-photo surveys that had been undertaken over the 45-year period 1940 to 1985 by the then Department of Trigonometrical Surveys. These photos revealed the loss of large trees with a canopy in excess of 5 meters or more as from 1965 onwards. Elephant activity was identified as being the major cause while fire also played a role but a lesser one.
    That is roughly 3 ellies per 1000Ha. Even if relocation from KNP, or Bots, was practical and affordable, it would be to areas where numbers were reduced due to poaching, and these relocated ellies would be poached there as well. IMO, the solution is still culling of complete herds, however inhumane this may seem.
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    I doubt whether the small extrapolated "censuses" done by Kruger are accurate/trustworthy at all, and think elephant are approaching 50 000 at an exponential rate.

    Another point is that culling and providing the meat to communities would actually be the mother of all successful sustainability and social upliftment projects, virtually eradicating hunger in the northern provinces of SA.

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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Many elephants, although a “drop in the ocean” in terms of the overall KNP population, were translocated over several years after the moratorium on culling was imposed in 1994 such that all areas to which they could be moved to are now saturated.

    Moving them further afield is simply not an option. Because of their social structures one needs to move elephants in family groups which are normally about 12 animals at a time. Three elephants can be handled in one day – that is to dart it from a helicopter and then herd it with the helicopter so that when it collapses it is accessible, take measurements and record data, load it onto a trailer, transport it to and transfer it into a recovery truck, administer the anti-dote, wait for the elephant to recover and then for it to back off backwards into a transport trailer wherein it is secured before the next elephant can be tackled. With the current KNP elephant population likely to be around 33 000 elephants, at the conservative growth rate of 6 ½% pa, 5 elephants are added to the numbers each and every day so one is still on a positive growth of 2 elephants per day.

    Clearly a much bigger and progressive issue at that if the numbers are indeed at the 39 000 level by the end of this year as alluded to earlier moving to 41 500 in numbers next year. And then, Richprins, what if your gut-feel of 50 000 is in fact the true number?

    One of the options contained in the Elephant Management Plan that emerged after the "New Norms and Standards" were published in 2008, was range manipulation which entailed amongst other options the closure of waterholes. This would result in curtailing the growth rate of elephant numbers. It is the "natural way" of limiting numbers as this initiative was referred to, this being that young calves and old cows who now have to walk much further to get to water, would succumb to thirst and die a slow death. Maybe, Mike, such a "natural way" is indeed a more humane way of managing the numbers in the eyes of the authorities - but, as mentioned before, it did not work to reduce the growth rate - see an earlier post above.

    As for the census numbers coming out of the KNP, the last seemingly reliable census number taken by helicopter that descended down to tree-top level to disperse herds so that they can be counted properly took place in 2007. The elephants bunch up on the approach of a helicopter concealing their young so they need to be dispersed.

    2007 was also the year when it was announced by a professor that large herbivores such as elephant (and probably also rhino) cannot be counted in an area the size of the KNP, this notwithstanding the fact that for the prior 37 years annual total aerial census counts of elephants were undertaken by helicopter each year. While one cannot talk of accuracy one can talk of the reliability of the outcome of a census. I read that the confidence level of those annual surveys way back then were very high - in the region of 95% and better! As far as I can so far make out three further total aerial surveys were undertaken - in 2012, 2015 and again in 2017 but the numbers emanating from these are all over the place and simply do not add up. Other than these the population numbers seem to be estimated using statistical block-counting and extrapolation methods - certainly not ideal.

    With the steady growth in elephant numbers it would take longer and longer each year to conduct the total aerial survey and with it more and more costs would have been incurred in this exercise. This reality may give rise to the desire to do the job quickly but in the process compromise the reliability of the outcome.

    I continue with the reading!
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    Default Re: Elephants in the KNP

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Betts View Post
    Elephant Numbers can increase As a couple of Conservation mates in Krger have told me. Good indicators are the increase of Ground Hornbills in Kruger which NEED Large trees to nest in.
    Martial Eagles are found throughout the Arid less human habituated parts of S Africa < Mates of mine farm between G Town and Bedford E Cape where I first saw the Breeding Martials as a School boy in the 1960's, They still breed on that farm I have seen Martials at All days , Mapungubwe , Blouberg, Marakhele , Askham, Graff Reinet, Willowmore , Baviaans , Addo, Mt Zebra Park all in the last 10 yrs

    The Ellies in Kruger now have Moz to go into and they are doing so in increasing Numbers < I wouldnt worry its a Cyclical thing like Tsavo and Chobe have proved

    White backed Vulture Numbers and other vultures too are decreasing because of the Muti Trade not elephants. Bateleurs cant handle human pressure and readily abandon nests as a result >> Nothing to do with Elephants. and as I said Groundhornbills have turned the corner in Kruger and numbers are increasing despite the increase in ellie nos and the so called destruction of Habitat < Nature adapts as it always has
    Care to share some links to hard research?

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