When a population proliferates too fast which measures should we take to reduce the population? Is it wrong to artificially reduce a population when humans are forcing the limitation? How accurately can we decide the carrying capacity?
Ashamed that I didn’t find the time to post about World Elephant Day yesterday I figured I would at the very least post about a significant issue that has been at the forefront of conservation ecology in SA for the past several years.
Kruger National Park is one of the most well known safari sites in the world, drawing in roughly 1.4 million visitors per annum to the ~20,000 square kilometer area. The park boasts the sought-after ‘big-5’ wildlife and claims to contain the highest number of large mammals of any South African reserve. Despite this it is arguably their population of African Elephant that draws the crowds, notoriously common and easy to track, visitors are almost guaranteed to view a large herd close-up even on a short safari by staying close to the watering holes as such large individuals drink between 150-200L water per day. And hence, Kruger and most other parks of South Africa have been eager to maintain the ellie population for tourism revenue (~$50 billion across SA since 2003) and maintaining the ecological equilibrium as such influential ‘habitat engineers’.
However, the elephant population has recently been dubbed ‘The Elephant Problem’, as a lack of understanding of the relationships entwining habitat impact and use, diet and the subsequent impacts on biodiversity in previous decades has lead to greater research regarding carrying capacities, which have hence spurred the presentation of new population management strategies. Presently, Kruger estimates a population of nearly 20,000 elephant and an area carrying capacity of only 10,000.
So how do we reduce the population? Gradually or more abruptly? Culling or vasectomisation? Or will the population naturally fluctuate to a ‘healthier level’ as it is believed to have done previously? All options have sparked heated debate on the grounds of financial resources, ethics, stakeholders and time with many conclusions as to the impacts and outcomes still undecided.
This is an area of conservation biology on which I will endeavour to keep updated, both due to my love of elephants, their personalities, family dynamics and general awe inspiring presence in the wild, but also as a possible future job/research area. Any ideas or further information would be greatly appreciated!