A wildlife conservation group has questioned the motives behind the SA National Parks’ (SANParks’) proposed culling of several species of animals, saying the move is probably the result of food scarcity in the area for people, rather than a shortage of grazing owing to the drought.
SANParks says its intention to cull species of certain animals in the Kruger National Park (KNP) is due to the drought, which has gripped the country since last year. But the Conservation Action Trust is “not buying any of it”. “One would hope that the drought is not a cover for SANParks to start a ‘silent’ culling programme,” said the trust’s Ian Michler.
“To their credit, SANParks themselves admit to the errors of too much management in the past – it’s why they closed down so many waterholes and changed the fire policy. Taking it upon themselves to decide how many animals may die through natural circumstances seems then to be a return to heavy-handed meddling.”
Michler’s view was that food scarcity in the region was the reason for culling.
“If government has identified food scarcity as an issue of serious concern, then they need to deal with improving the socioeconomic drivers of this ongoing problem,” he said.
“Culling or harvesting buffalo and other large species from national parks to feed people is not a responsible or acceptable way of doing it. And none of this has anything to do with sustainable use, a catchphrase increasingly being resorted to as a sweeping justification for almost every intervention involving wildlife.”
The trust recently published an article on its website in which it stated that “rangers have been out with their rifles and the Skukuza abattoir is open for meat processing”.
SANParks acting head of communications William Mabasa could not give a clear indication of the number of animals to be culled – or when the culling would occur. But he said this was not a “sneaky reintroduction of culling by SANParks”.
“Culling, cropping, harvesting, ecological removals, sustainable resource use are all terms that have been used. If culling in your book means controlling the size of these populations or numbers, that is not what we are doing.”
While SANParks agreed that the “purist way of allowing natural attrition to take its course is probably ecologically the best”, it ignores “moral issues” such as allowing animals “to die and rot in the face of the huge need in neighbouring areas”, he said.
“The current drought is being noted for its unprecedented impact on human wellbeing, with an estimated 22 million persons in southern Africa in need of some assistance. SANParks cannot remain oblivious to this issue.”
Mabasa said the numbers were not cast in concrete, as it was not possible to determine how the situation would unfold.
“The large herbivore biomass is currently the highest in Kruger’s history – plus or minus 20 000 elephant, 47 000 buffalo and 7 500 hippo – and we see significant changes in habitat caused by these high numbers. Buffalo and hippo are drought-sensitive species and previous droughts in KNP have shown population declines of up to 50%.
“Given that the buffalo population is at higher densities than previous droughts, it is expected that the population will incur huge losses during this drought. If the numbers that remained after the previous droughts in the ’90s for buffalo and hippo are considered (14 000 and 2 000, respectively), significant mortalities are anticipated.”