Once again the power of social media was on display as people entered the elephant discussion. I would like to thank all of you who contributed positively. To those who resorted to mudslinging you contributed nothing, you achieved nothing and you show cased your ignorance. All of us want the best for our last great wilderness area in South Africa and all of us want the best for our elephants.
I went on several culling operations in Kruger in the 80’s, it is a traumatic experience to say the least.
In those days Kruger Park had an abattoir where the meat was processed and the ivory was traded. The elephant population was held at about 7,000 animals.
I stay in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Sabi Sand in those days had no breeding herds of elephant. (Sabi Sand was separated from Kruger by a veterinary fence). Indeed on a game drive to find an elephant was quite an achievement.
In my first letter to Glenn Phillips, I indicated that culling is the only option. This is not strictly correct.
I was fortunate to fly with Bill Woodley over Tsavo in the 70’s, this was after the die off of elephant in the 60’s (Bill Woodley, the Warden, told me between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants died of starvation).
David Sheldrick was the warden of Tsavo at the time of the elephant build up. He too turned to science and the scientist Richard Laws suggested a cull of several thousand elephants. David Sheldrick rejected the culling and allowed nature to take its course. The result was the commiphora woodlands were destroyed and the black rhinos habitat went within it. (actually more black rhinos were poached than actually died). Some 15,000 elephants died of starvation.
Lex Hes believes that we should sit back and allow the natural process to continue. In other words, let the full cycle of elephant build up collapse of the habitat, elephant die off and renewal from a smaller population of elephant.
Certainly in the flights I did with Bill Woodley, there were beautiful productive grasslands and fountains were flowing. (Tsavo had had excellent rains). The browsers were gone but the grazers were plentiful. The black rhino was extinct in Tsavo. It could be argued that Tsavo had lost biodiversity but it had regained new biodiversity.
The second scenario is Luangwa Valley in Zambia. In the 60’s, Luangwa was reputed to have 100,000 elephants (I'm not sure how accurate this figure is, Norman Carr told me this number).
The Zambian Wild Life Services also turned to science for answers and Professor John Hanko conducted a survey. An abattoir was built and culling began. However the abattoir turned into a white elephant and culling ceased.
When I got to Luangwa in the 80’s, the number of elephant was between 15,000 and 20,000. The reduction of the elephant was due to poaching.
Indeed, when I released the lioness Shingalana, there was not a single cow elephant with tusks in the vicinity of our camp. Any elephant with ivory had been poached. The tuskless elephants were exceedingly aggressive to say the least.
Therefore history provides us with the result of the laziest fair approach where elephants overpopulate, modify the habitat, die off and then regenerate. This is the Tsavo example. Luangwa provides us with a reduction of elephant by poaching. Kruger National Park during the 70’s and 80’s provides us with the management of elephants by culling.
However my letter is a call for leadership. We desperately need the available brain power to be brought together to decide on which strategy to follow. I believe lack of leadership will be disastrous for the smaller game reserves and their tourist businesses.
The numbers of elephant in the smaller reserves is higher than the Kruger Park, because they have more artificial water. At the same time, if Kruger are reducing their water, the pressure on the smaller reserves will increase.
The smaller reserves have neither the expertise or the ability to tackle the problems. Furthermore the smaller reserves are compromised, because they think from a tourist perspective not an elephant perspective.
Once again this is an appeal to Glenn Phillips to champion the cause for the entire region. I respectably ask that the process gets underway sooner than later.
Tread Lightly on the Earth