Control plan for thirsty jumbos

GENTLE GIANTS: A group of African elephants have their turn to get an early-morning drink at the Hapoor Dam in the Addo Elephant National Park
Picture: GERMARI HERSELMAN

Simple measures used to divert elephants from Addo waterholes in park management strategy

The South African National Parks (SANParks) is experimenting with an “elephant exclusion” apparatus at two Addo waterholes to allow other animals better access and protect the integrity of the surrounding veld.

SANParks regional spokeswoman Fayroush Ludick said the measure was part of the park’s strategy to manage limited water resources, vegetation diversity and a burgeoning elephant population.

The simple apparatus had been installed at the Lismore and Peasland waterholes in the south of the Addo Elephant National Park, she said.

The structures comprise an electrified wire suspended about 3m off the ground encircling each of the two waterholes.

Electrified strands of 800mm dangled down from the wire. Incoming elephants walked into these strands and soon realised the water point was not available to them, Ludick said.

Addo’s senior ranger, John Adendorff, said he and SANParks’ planning and development head, Dr Mike Knight, had picked up on the strategy on separate trips to East Africa parks.

“I’m not aware of it being used anywhere else in South Africa,” he said.

He and his team have also installed a bee-alarm system, another East Africa innovation, to steer the Addo jumbos away from particular water points.

A wire is suspended between two beehives and if it is touched it arouses the bees – which elephants are terrified of.

“So far these initiatives are working well. Our work involves a massive juggling act and we have to adapt,” Adendorff said.

Ludick said the elephant water exclusion strategy “buys us time and protects the park from catastrophic homogenisation of the landscape”.

This homogenisation was avoided by channelling elephants into certain areas which then allowed the veld to recover, Adendorff said.

“By doing this we have to accept some deforestation around our main waterholes, but the benefit is maintenance of structural integrity and ecological systems across the greater area,” he said.

“Elephants are picky eaters and if they had water available everywhere all the time they would wipe out their favourite species, with serious knock-on effects.

“When good rains return and the park’s natural pans fill up, the elephants will spread out again naturally.”

The water exclusion strategy also induces a very necessary and natural stress in the elephant herds.

“Drought periods are supposed to induce stress which affects the elephants’ inter-calving intervals.,” Adendorff said.

“Conservationists need to mimic this or else our elephants will keep up a growth rate of 7%-9% per annum. “This is not a sustainable model.” The Addo team is also working on other strategies to reduce elephant density.

One is a new fence in the Darlington Dam area which will allow the introduction of elephants from the park’s main game viewing area into 50 000ha around the dam.

Funding applications will be sent off soon to fence off a further 29 000ha in the Kabouga section, allowing elephants to be moved into this area.

Ludick said: “We are also making use of contraceptive drugs to halt the growth in elephant numbers in the Nyathi and Kuzuko contractual areas of the park.”

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