During the past few months a select group of five elephant bulls have frequented the camp environment.
Considerable damage has been caused to the perimeter fence as well as camp infrastructure, lath screens and solar panel mounts. Under the heading “Fencing” in the September 2018 Reserve Report, the Conservation Manager summarises the challenges his team faces in maintain and improving the efficiency of the camp fence. The damage to camp infrastructure has resulted in the Maintenance Team spending much of their available time carrying out repairs. This has resulted in the delay of attending to other pending Job Cards. In addition, a significant amount of admin time was spent detailing, photographing and formulating quotations to support insurance claims on behalf of those bungalows affected.
Elephant movement and their individual behaviour cannot be controlled or predicted. The bull that is currently identified doing all the damage has learned how to break the camp electric fence using his tusks. This learned behaviour is problematic because this elephant now comes and goes as he pleases. Elephants want to be in camp to feed on the green browse that is not available in the much drier environment beyond the camp. What is an additional bonus to elephants is the availability of fresh water in camp. Elephants love fresh clean water being able to smell the water in the underground pipes. Many of our pipes are not buried deep enough, beyond the reach of elephants. This is due to a shallow rock bed beneath the camp’s upper soil surface. Whilst the elephants are in camp feeding they literally have as much water “on tap” as they please. Consider all the outside taps, outside showers and shallow buried pipes within easy reach of an elephant. Some mornings there are as many as a dozen breaks in the pipes in different places. It takes the staff considerable time to locate locate and repair these leaks, especially when camp occupancy is low and fewer Members assisting to report the water leaks.
Consider that Ingwelala and the greater region is currently experiencing a drought cycle in a water stressed environment. This influences the replenishment of the sub-terrain water resources. We know from experience that during the dry winter months boreholes replenish themselves far slower than in the summer months. It is for this reason we need to manage our daily water extraction carefully and use wisely the water stored in our main reservoirs. Currently our only management option is to turn the water supply off when we have elephants in camp, this is especially so when the camp is busy with high occupancy. We cannot afford to lose all the stored water every day. The boreholes cannot sustain themselves being pumped at capacity to refill the reservoirs on a daily basis.
An immediate challenge for the Conservation Team is to “strengthen” the perimeter electric fence by affecting full repairs to a level that hopefully deters elephants as far as possible from breaching the fence. The fence design is such to allow other wildlife through, without causing major damage to its structure.
As the elephant population numbers in the Greater Kruger area continues to increase annually, we can expect an increase in population density, resulting in an increased need for food and water. In the dry months when food resources decline, the elephants will continue to see the camp environment as an oasis.
by John Llewellyn