Cape Town - Water conservation is of paramount importance as unpredictable weather patterns and severe drought across a number of South Africa's provinces, including the Eastern Cape, see it becoming a scarce resource that needs to be actively managed.
South African National Parks (SANParks) Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) is doing exactly that it says, by maintaining natural water processes in the park as best as possible.
Fayroush Ludick of SANParks explains that provision of water in Addo is being looked at in order for the park to be sustainable into the future.
"Addo Elephant National Park is managed with a natural gradient of water in place. Nowhere in a natural system would one find water holes dispersed evenly across the landscape. Nature has a way of avoiding this at all costs to prevent the homogenous use of vegetation which ultimately will lead to the extinction or degrading of species," he says.
"We have to try and mimic nature as closely as possible". This is why the Park has a water gradient in place "that has been around for a couple of years now".
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"Drought times are supposed to induce stress, which affects the elephants’ inter-calving intervals," says Ludik and "stress is part of nature".
He says, "Conservationists need to mimic this or else our elephants will keep a growth rate up of between seven and nine percent per annum. This is not a sustainable model and the very elephants we are trying to protect will become the biggest threat to our precious national park."
'Natural gradient of water avoids extinction or degrading of species'
"AENP’s unnatural river is represented by Hapoor, Spekboom, Ghwari, Woodlands, Nyathi and Domkrag, where large amounts of water are provided. The remaining water holes in the Park are not in place to quench elephant water needs, but rather to meet the needs of other species," he says.
"Take a look at Hapoor, for example, if one wants to see what could potentially happen at water holes if limitless water is provided. The habitat is altered significantly and we have to try and avoid the same happening around all water points," Ludick adds.
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Ludick maintains that by respecting the natural supply of water in the park, elephants are forced to not homogenously use the landscape.
"In times when there are good rains elephants will be found across the landscape when all pans and dams have water. During drier periods, elephants move back to the main water sources, thus protecting the Colchester thicket from being over browsed during dry periods. The water holes in the Colchester section are purposefully limited in number as well as the quantity of water available," says Ludick.
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"Currently AENP is experimenting with elephant exclusion water points outside of the public eye. This is to ensure that elephants don’t out-compete other species, especially the rare and threatened species. This is the case currently and we need to manage all species, not only elephant," he continues.
SANParks will erect these exclusions around Lismore and Peasland in the near future, Ludick says, adding "hoping that the general, loyal visitor will understand".
The elephant exclusion water points are structures that are rectangular in shape, with four telephone posts in the corners. An electric strand is suspended at two metres in height and has vertical one metre strands hanging off the main strand at 800mm intervals.
"These strands are electrified to stop elephants from walking in, who will soon realise that water point is not available to them and proceed to areas with water that is able to sustain them. Other game is then able to use those water points without having to compete with elephants," says Ludick.
"Some may think this is cruel, but the alternative requires the reduction in elephant densities. This buys us time and protects the Park from catastrophic homogenisation of the landscape."
The Park is hoping to extend the elephant home range in the near future. "We are currently completing a fence in the Darlington section which will see the introduction of elephants from the main game viewing area into a 50 000 hectare area around the Darlington dam.
Furthermore, we are shortly going to request funds to fence off another 29 000 hectares of land in the Kabouga section which will allow us to move another large number of elephants across to this area.
"Lastly, we are currently making use of contraceptive drugs to halt the growth in elephant numbers in the Nyathi and Kuzuko contractual areas of the Park. This is an expensive method but works very effectively," says Ludick.
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