Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 June 2019
THE ELEPHANT debate deals largely with population size, how elephant numbers change over time, how they may affect other species (e.g. Owen- Smith et al., 2006; Van Aarde et al., 2006), and how elephants should be managed (e.g. Whyte et al., 2003; Van Aarde & Jackson, 2007). Changes in elephant numbers are the basis of many management plans and policies. For instance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) utilises trends in numbers and poaching data to inform ivory trade decisions (Hunter & Milliken, 2004). Past decisions to cull elephants in several parks across the southern African subcontinent have also been motivated by numbers and trends in numbers over time (Cumming & Jones, 2005).
The focus of past management on numbers, rather than impact, may have detracted from the ultimate goal of controlling or reducing the effect elephants had on vegetation, other species, and people. The limited options available when managing numbers (see chapters on contraception, translocation and culling) and the emotive issues that surround this may also detract from its popularity and effectiveness. However, a multitude of options exists and can be developed to manage impact (see Chapter 12). Ultimately, the effectiveness of management hinges on monitoring the outcomes for impact, which include the response of affected species, ecological processes, elephant range utilisation, and elephant numbers. This monitoring may be done on a local scale (e.g. around waterholes), at the park level (e.g. to monitor the effectiveness of contraception and culling), or on the regional scale (e.g. to monitor the effectiveness of restoring seasonal and large-scale movement patterns). Therefore it is important to unravel and understand the mechanisms that determine spatial utilisation patterns and how numbers vary across space and time. This chapter focuses on assessing our understanding of the factors that determine these variables.
In this chapter we compare the social, spatial, and demographic profiles of South Africa's elephant populations to those of elephant populations elsewhere in Africa. We also make a concerted effort to explain similarities and differences, and we use these to evaluate the response of elephant populations to their living conditions in South Africa's conservation areas.