Short Communication

Elephant population growth in Kruger National Park, South Africa, under a landscape management approach

Sam M. Ferreira, Cathy Greaver, Chenay Simms
Koedoe | Vol 59, No 1 | a1427 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v59i1.1427 | © 2017 Sam M. Ferreira, Cathy Greaver, Chenay Simms | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 July 2016 | Published: 25 August 2017

About the author(s)

Sam M. Ferreira, Scientific Services, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa
Cathy Greaver, Scientific Services, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa
Chenay Simms, Scientific Services, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa


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Abstract

South African National Parks (SANParks) manage landscapes rather than numbers of elephants (Loxodonta africana) to mitigate the effects that elephants may have on biodiversity, tourism and stakeholder conservation values associated with protected areas. This management philosophy imposes spatial variability of critical resources on elephants. Restoration of such ecological processes through less intensive management predicts a reduction in population growth rates from the eras of intensive management. We collated aerial survey data since 1995 and conducted an aerial total count using a helicopter observation platform during 2015. A minimum of 17 086 elephants were resident in the Kruger National Park (KNP) in 2015, growing at 4.2% per annum over the last generation of elephants (i.e. 12 years), compared to 6.5% annual population growth noted during the intensive management era ending in 1994. This may come from responses of elephants to density and environmental factors manifested through reduced birth rates and increased mortality rates. Authorities should continue to evaluate the demographic responses of elephants to landscape scale interventions directed at restoring the limitation of spatial variance in resource distribution on elephant spatiotemporal dynamics and the consequences that may have for other conservation values.

Conservation implications: Conservation managers should continue with surveying elephants in a way that allows the extraction of key variables. Such variables should focus on measures that reflect on how theory predicts elephants should respond to management interventions.


Keywords

African savanna elephants; population estimates; trends; vital rates; helicopter-based surveys

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doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0360