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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Elephant Management Policy, SANParks

In April 2008 South African National Parks (SANParks) published their new Elephant Management Policy for South African National Parks. This is a brief précis of the introductory document. It includes some background on elephant management in South Africa and the new policy. More complete information is available from SANParks here.

Historical distribution and population

Historically elephants were distributed over almost the entire area covered by the present day South Africa. Exceptions were the Drakensberg Mountains and the arid central Karoo. It is difficult to estimate how populous they once were but by 1890 the population had been decimated by ivory hunting, human settlement and agricultural expansion. About 120 elephants remained in pockets around Knysna, Addo, the Olifants Gorge area and Sihangwe (Tembe). Fortunately people took conservation action at around this time and so began the era of recovery. There are now about 21,000 elephants in South Africa and 270,000 across the Southern African region.

Approach to Conservation

Prior to 1930 conservation management was focused on the preservation of parks as natural areas and on restocking their game populations. The National Protected Areas Act of 1926 introduced new stakeholders- tourists. With them came the potential for future revenue and a shift from the laissez faire management approach (protection from hunting) to ‘management by intervention’. Efforts were made to preserve the landscape and the game populations and the land were managed accordingly with the sinking of boreholes, creation of dams and so on. By the 1960s management by intervention had intensified to ‘command and control’ – a term given to the prevailing worldwide approach to natural resource management at the time. This highly interventionist management style was aimed at maintaining the ‘balance of nature’ and the pristine state of the environment. What was not considered was that the “ideal” landscape being maintained (as it was remembered from around 1900) was simply a reflection of recent conditions and not the natural environmental state without human influence.

Elephants have the most dramatic effect on vegetation and in the 1960’s, given the conservation approach at the time, the carrying capacity of Kruger National Park (KNP) was generally agreed to be about 7,000 elephants. Between 1968 and 1995 this policy resulted in about 17,000 elephants being removed from KNP, 2,500 of which were live transfers to other conservation areas. Over time the aggressive management in KNP had surprising and unwelcome consequences and a longer term view of has come to bear. Since the ban on culling in 1995 the population has grown to over 20,000.

Ecologists now believe that it is the existence of flux, variation and diversity that gives ecosystems their resilience in the face of extreme events. It is now expected that the natural environment should be more of a patchwork of vegetation in various states of impact and regeneration. This forms the basis of ‘hierarchical patch dynamics’– the current theoretical framework of choice for landscape ecologists.

Conservation management has become a lot more complex. Firstly we have the recognition of the flux of nature. Secondly, there are many more stakeholders now being considered. Tourism, the public, neighbouring communities, animal welfare groups and scientists to name a few. And thirdly since the conservation areas have unnatural boundaries preventing migration our protected areas are not large enough or diverse enough to allow elephant impacts to continue unchecked or unmanaged. Population management is necessary to prevent possible loss of biodiversity.

SANParks has chosen an adaptive management approach to managing ecosystems within South Africa’s national parks. Elephant management is but one component of a broader ecosystem management process that focuses on maintaining ecological processes, flux and diversity. A locally derived form of Adaptive Management termed Strategic Adaptive Management (SAM) has been developed through an interactive process with national and provincial conservation agencies.

In February 2008, following an extensive consultation process, The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mr Marthinus van Schalkwyk, announced the new norms and standards for elephant management in South Africa. These new norms and standards allow for the following management options should management be considered necessary to achieve the objectives of a particular park:

To manage the size, composition or rate of growth of a wild elephant population:
  • Contraception
  • Range manipulation (management of water or food supply, controlled use of fire,
  • fencing, creation of corridors of movement between different areas; or range expansion)
  • Translocation
  • Culling

To manage the distribution of a wild elephant population within the boundaries of the area:
  • Contraception
  • Range manipulation (management of water or food supply, controlled use of fire,
  • fencing, creation of corridors of movement between different areas; or range expansion)
  • Translocation
According to the 2008 norms and standards:
  • Management interventions must take into account the social structure of elephant populations, and take measures to avoid stress and disturbance to elephants.
  • Where lethal measures are necessary these should be undertaken with caution and after all other alternatives have been considered.
  • Because elephants are efficient converters of bulk plant materials into secondary products sought after by man the principle of sustainable use of these products should be permitted.
This picture courtesy of Lion Sands

This is a brief summary with some direct extracts from “An Introduction to A New Elephant Management Policy for South African National Parks”, April 2008. For further information please visit SANParks here.

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