Too many elephants

The Okavango Delta in Botswana may have as many as 200,000 elephants, and the number grows each year as the newborns join the matriarchal breeding herds.

Elephants in the Okavango delta

Their long lifespan (about the same as humans) and reproduction every 3-4 years with little predation on the young ensures a steadily growing population.  However, too many elephants in a limited space is a recipe for environmental change that might not be compatible with other wildlife.

Elephants in the Okavango delta

A solitary young bull elephant crosses a branch of the Okavango river delta in front of our tent camp.

Black-backed Jackal, Okavango Delta

A black-backed Jackal cruises though the grassland. Downed trees in the background indicate elephant damage.

Elephants eat a lot!  And they are very inefficient in their digestion, excreting 60% of the biomass they take in.  While their poo might make good fertilizer, or fuel for human use, there is very little natural degradation of elephant waste at this time of year, and it sits around for months in big piles.  To meet their daily energy needs, they eat everything in sight, and this time of year when there is little green grass, they resort to eating twigs, branches, bark, and what fruit might be lying on the ground.

African elephant chewing on a tree branch

This elephant was munching on a tree branch.  Tusks are handy for stripping bark off trees, as seen in the background.

if those elements are in short supply, they push trees over in order to get at the leafy branches and fruit at the top of the tree.  Consequently the woodland starts to look like a war zone with downed trees and branches.

Waterbucks in the Okavango delta

Waterbucks graze on the short grasses left in the shade of trees. Downed trees leave little shade and add to the drying of the habitat.

Although numbers of African elephants are in decline throughout most of their range, the opposite is true of their populations in their confined park environments where they have a powerful impact on other wildlife.  How many elephants are too many?

Elephant in the Okavango delta

3 thoughts on “Too many elephants

  1. Sue, loved your photos and write-up – I don’t know if you saw in my post that our guide told us there weren’t too many elephants because they migrate and only congregate part of the year in the same area – I hope he’s right about that, and that the migration corridor being set up between 5 countries to reimburse farmers whose crops are stomped will solve the issues. It would be traumatic to cull elephants because the family that survived would be traumatized by the event yet how ghastly to kill the entire family group — wish they could send them to other parts of Africa where they’re overhunted (perhaps minus tusks).

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