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EXTRACT FROM THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Written by: Lesley Nyawo, Public Relations Assistant at SANParks – Kruger National Park

The large herbivore biomass is currently the highest ever in Kruger’s history – with +- 20,000 elephant, 47,000 buffalo, and 7,500 hippos – which results in significant changes in habitat.

©David Winch
©David Winch

Buffalo and hippo are drought-sensitive species, and previous droughts in Kruger National Park have shown population declines of up to 50%. The buffalo population is at higher densities than previous droughts, so it is, therefore, expected that the population will incur huge losses during the current drought. If the numbers that remained after the previous droughts in the 1990s for buffalo and hippo are considered (14,000 and 2,000 respectively), significant mortalities are anticipated. Hippos and buffaloes are the largest grazers with the highest biomass and impact on habitats. The purist way of allowing natural attrition to take its course is not always ecologically the best, especially if populations are unnaturally high due to man-made influences.

©Lantern Works
©Lantern Works

Removals will be focused on alleviating pressure on sensitive areas in the park e.g. removing hippo from small natural pools where they have concentrated in unnaturally high densities and defecate in the water, making it unusable for other animals. These hippos generally originated from man-made dams that dried up and now populate small natural pools in large numbers.

Culling, cropping, harvesting, ecological removals, sustainable resource use are all terms that have been used. If the term culling in your book means controlling the size of these populations, that is not what SANParks is doing. The numbers are also not cast in concrete, purely as it is not possible to determine how the situation will unfold as the drought further develops. However, the numbers will be kept very low (between 0.5 and 1% of the respective populations).

Logistically it will not be possible to remove higher numbers now, and ecologically it will not be suitable to remove unsustainably high numbers in future. In view of the huge populations of these large herbivores and the mortalities we have already observed amongst buffalo and hippo this year, as well as the anticipated mortalities later in the year, these numbers to be removed are not significant at the population level.

The current drought is being noted for its unprecedented impact on human well-being with an estimated 22 million persons in Southern Africa in need of some assistance. SANParks cannot remain oblivious to this issue. Kruger National Park is, therefore, planning to use the opportunity to sustainably harvest in the region of 350 animals during this drought in order to test different models for meat distribution to disadvantaged, low-income communities on the border of the park. The Kruger National Park will be targeting quintile primary schools, part of the National School Feeding scheme and will use these drought-related removals as an ad hoc opportunity to share benefits with communities.

In light of veterinary regulations with regards to foot and mouth disease, the park will be testing the feasibility and suitability of cloven-hoofed animals products permitted to leave the park, which include: break-dry biltong (BRB) and well-cooked meat (WCM). A secondary objective of the removals will be assessing genetic selection for fitness during droughts and the interactions between disease and drought.

This is not a “sneaky reintroduction of culling by SANParks” as put by some. Kruger National Park is managed according to an approved management plan that makes provision for both biodiversity management and sustainable resource use. Part of the process of drafting this plan was an intensive public consultation process. It is practically not possible to consult the public on each and every management action implemented. A new round of revisions of the Kruger National Park Management Plan has started and will come in full swing in the year 2017. The public is encouraged to register and take part in this process.

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