Nica Richards

By Nica Richards


Plans to cull thousands of animals in SA’s National Parks

In SANParks' latest culling tender, they explained that there are too many herbivores that roam in smaller national parks, which can harm other ecosystems.

South African National Parks (SANParks) has issued a culling tender to eradicate 590 ostriches, 200 gemsbok, 1,400 warthog, 200 springbuck, 20 waterbuck, 100 kudu, 100 Plains Zebra and 10 fallow deer in the Eastern and Western Cape.

A total of 2,620 animals will be culled from August until March 2021 at the Karoo National Park, Tanqwa National Park, Camdeboo, Addo Elephant Park, Mokala National Park and Namakwa National Park. They have made it clear though, that this is not an opportunity for trophy hunters to score some kills.

In this case, there are too many herbivores that roam in smaller national parks, which can harm ecological processes, explained SANParks veterinary wildlife services general manager, Dr Charlotte Nkuna. 

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“Habitat isolation and fragmentation together with robust fencing and the provision of additional water are key features of small national parks,” Nkuna said, which in addition to a lack of predators and often sex-skewed populations, has prompted the culling of smaller parks’ hoofed residents. 

If there are too many herbivores making use of a contained area, this threatens the balance of other ecosystems and their species’ diversity. 

And although this is a moral conundrum, Nkuna said it was essential that small areas and degraded ecosystems are managed by “mimicking the outcomes of ecological processes that cannot play out fully.” 

In order to mimic nature, which never stagnates, means routinely introducing, relocating, and in this case, killing certain amounts of specific species. This is done in a way that ensures “no detectable impact on a species’ population dynamics,” Nkuna assured. 

Graphic: Costa Mokola

SANParks combines stocking rate and dynamic population model approaches to determine which animals should be removed and introduced.

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The intricate balancing act essential to keeping ecosystems thriving is a difficult task, with many complexities and emotions, said Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) Eastern Cape chairperson, Mervyn Brouard. 

He touched on the cascade effect if culling or species management does not occur, explaining that many micro-habitats in ecosystems that are interdependent could suffer if animals, especially buck, are not displaced or culled. 

One reason behind culling is the fact that animals are in fenced locations, which means no free reign opportunities. The result is possible landscape exploitation due to certain populations clustering, which will mean an untimely end for the species earmarked for SANParks’ latest culling. 

“At the end of the day, if you can’t increase the areas you’re managing, then the numbers will start having a massive impact on the environment.” 

Any animal when existing in excess as per small national parks’ standards runs the risk of destroying other species, which would have serious ecological consequences. 

“Organisations have started creating corridors between national and private land so that you can have species expanding or moving depending on where resources are. But the issue of culling is a sensitive topic, that needs to be delicately balanced,” Brouard explained. 

Brouard added that some species are extra-limital, such as warthogs residing in Addo Elephant Park, and fallow deer, who originate from Europe. These species are routinely culled, but should not be in certain habitats at all. 

This was reiterated by Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) wildlife trade programme officer, Dr Andrew Taylor, who explained that all listed species are not threatened, and that warthog and fallow deer tend to be “somewhat invasive”. He added that all species listed are often hunted by culling operators and biltong hunters “because they are popular among people who eat game meat.” 

Nkuna confirmed that the carcasses of animals that were culled are processed for human consumption at a registered abattoir. She added that the culling of game species means opportunities to assist with ecological restoration of other protected areas, money, and assists with “the transformation of the thriving wildlife economy industry.” 

Taylor acknowledged culling spin-offs, but said as long as it was done responsibly and falls within “the principles of ecologically sustainable use that government endorses,” there is nothing wrong with generating revenue from culling game. 

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On the surface, culling seems a cruel and unnecessary way to help regulate nature’s constant state of flux. This is compounded when artificial dams are built in parks to enhance tourism, which is often exploited by large mammal herbivores. 

Restoring environmental gradients such as water in larger ecosystems, such as in the Kruger National Park, benefits herbivores, which are notorious for being large and having fluctuating populations. Grazer populations are particularly sensitive to droughts, with population declines acting as a way to cleanse ecosystems and enhance resilience within herbivore populations, explained Nkuna. 

The parks and features were built by mankind to keep animals in, and usually, the fenced-off wildlife community is able to keep itself in check. 

But every once in a while, humans must assist with this process, or risk losing more vulnerable species. To the untrained eye, this is morally wrong, but to members of the scientific and zoological community, it is often the most effective way to improve the biodiversity of an area. 

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