IN another blow to the Erindi Game Reserve, its South African wildlife specialist, Dr Douw Grobler, was reportedly arrested two weeks ago for alleged ties to rhino poaching.
Grobler, who is described by Erindi management in court documents as “a renowned and distinguished expert” in elephant management, appeared in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s court two weeks ago. According to South African newspaper reports, Grobler was not charged and was released on N$5 000 bail.
According to sources who spoke to the South African newspapers, Grobler’s arrest “relates to the alleged illegal distribution of scheduled veterinary drugs, such as game-catching tranquillisers, popularly used by poachers to dart rhino for their horns”.
The case was postponed to February 28 for further investigations.
The news of Grobler’s arrest came just before Erindi Game Reserve’s application to import 200 elephants from South Africa was turned down by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The Ministry instead proposed a lease of 50 elephants from Tsumkwe, adding that this would suit an initial proposal of no more than 135 animals on the 71 000 hectares of land.
According to a source who worked closely with Grobler, his extensive elephant management plans drawn up for Erindi are not “compromised” by his arrest.
Yesterday, Gert Joubert, owner of Erindi, similarly dismissed the arrest and said he does not believe Grobler to be involved in the alleged activities.
He said it’s “total nonsense. I know him as a very strict, ethical guy”.
Grobler has been working together with Erindi on an elephant management plan during their bid to populate the game reserve with elephants.
In a management plan submitted to government in 2005, Grobler advised that according to his research, Erindi had a “estimated carrying capacity [of] between 45 and 80 animals [elephants]”. He added that with on-site monitoring, it could be possible that the “impact of a population of elephants beyond this size is still acceptable”.
In a revised management plan submitted in 2008, Grobler stated that a “safe conservative carrying capacity figure for Erindi is one elephant for every 400 hectares”. He based this on a total size of 70 000 hectares, which would have resulted in around 175 elephants. He added that an initial stocking rate of 100 elephants “will leave enough room for a safety margin” of roughly 700 hectares per elephant.
Grobler recommended a population of 85 to 120 elephants “to ensure a minimised risk of inbreeding”.
He did note in the revised management plan that while the estimated carrying capacity of elephants on Erindi is between 180 and 230 animals, “we will always manage conservatively and keep the numbers below 135”.
In the latest management plan, submitted in 2009, Grobler revised his numbers again. He recommended that 200 elephants should be introduced over “a reasonable period of time (two months)”. He stated that this would allow the herd to expand to a potential of “350 to 400” over 15 years.
Yesterday, Joubert said the increasing number of elephants proposed by Grobler was the natural result of ever-increasing and extensive research on the 71 000 hectares of land on which Erindi is situated.
Joubert said the negotiations have taken six to seven years and initially Erindi did request fewer elephants. He emphasised that the final studies done have shown that Erindi has a carrying capacity of 375 elephants.