News - December 2, 2010

Put elephants in Oostvaardersplassen?

I’ve written about the Oostvaardersplassen twice before in this column, and I've been preparing to do so again this winter, as it is obvious that the whole discussion about the management of this Dutch nature reserve is going to flare up again.

What with the new cabinet and the active role played by animal lover Dion Graus, the question of whether to feed the deer, horses and cattle that roam there, shoot them or leave them to perish, is right at the top of the agenda again. I think I've found the answer: elephants. Until the end of the ice age, the forest elephant (Elephas antiquus) - four metres tall and weighing nine tons - was one of the main grazers in our neck of the woods.
Partly thanks to hunting by humans, the forest elephant is extinct, so we shall have to look for an alternative. That is perfectly in keeping with the philosophy of wilderness thinkers, as the same goes for the Heck cattle and other hoofed animals that have to stand in for the long-extinct aurochs. Elephants will make short shrift of the forest in the reserve: they will have no problems pushing over a few trees or trampling the bushes. What will their impact be exactly? I wouldn't know, but that is not the issue: what matters is the process.
And yet I do expect a problem: We could end up with too many elephants. In the Kruger Park in South Africa this problem led managers to resort to culling. Until they came up with another solution: expanding the reserve into the neighbouring Peace Park in Mozambique. So why not connect the Oostvaardersplassen in Flevoland with the Horsterwold?