There are too many elephants in Kruger National Park in South Africa.
What? That cannot be!
I know that this flies in the face of the dire predictions that we receive from wildlife foundations.
But it is true. South Africa and its bordering countries have too many elephants.
It is estimated that Kruger National Park can support about 7,000-8,000 elephants. Experts estimate that there are 20,000 elephants and the herds are growing rapidly. Elephants are destroying the trees, bushes and the entire landscape of the park.
Due to anti-poaching efforts, fences, and the unfortunate value of rhinoceros horns, elephants have no natural enemies and are able to live long lives and reproduce at will.
So, if you are riding through Kruger and it looks like a tornado hit it, don’t worry, a herd of elephants has simply ambled through another landscape.
South African officials don’t know what to do about the elephants.
In the 1990’s, they allowed hunters to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to “cull” (read massacre) some herds. While they attempted to obliterate entire families, some elephants escaped and reported what had happened to other elephants. Soon elephants began attacking humans.
At another lodge, the owner asked a ranger to roust the elephants from the lodge using a white Range Rover. From then on, the elephants attacked any white Range Rover that drove on park land.
Don’t mess with an elephant’s memory.
As authorities learned more about elephant intelligence, language and familial bonds, they lost their appetite for “culling.”
So fortunately, that option is “off the table.”
Another possible solution would be to transport elephants to countries that need them. That is problematic as well. Elephant family bonds are so strong that breaking up a family is simply cruel. They would have to move the entire clan. But even if South Africa had the funds to do so, bordering nations have too many elephants. The elephants would have to be shipped great distances to countries that do not protect elephants. In short, sending them to their death.
So, they don’t know what to do.
We are the beneficiaries of this “problem” and we got to observe elephants almost every day.
One night, I watched an elephant obliterate a poor tree in the backyard of my hut. He ripped off the branches so that he could dine on the leaves. He balanced himself by putting one foot on my tiny deck. I watched it through the glass doors, it was very dark, a little scary, but thoroughly mesmerizing.
On one dusk game drive, we encountered three bull elephants. All three slowly plodded over to our parked open-air Land Rover. The elder one wanted to connect with us and walked around our vehicle several times, brushing against the rear bumper. He stopped to look each of us in the eye. He kindly paused in front of me until I realized that I was still wearing my sunglasses. After I removed them, he looked into my eyes and then slowly and peacefully resumed walking around our vehicle and observing us. After a final nod, he peed next to the Range Rover and slowly ambled away, signaling to the other bulls to do the same.
As I watched those mammoth creatures slowly slip into the night, listening to the crunching sounds of their footsteps in the bush, I wondered what that elder elephant was thinking. I don’t know if my presence had any impact on him, but his sure had an impact on me.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.