A television production team recently visited the Kruger National Park (KNP) to film the clash of the titans - the relationship between the park's mighty baobabs and the ever-hungry elephants. The story was being filmed for SABC 2's 50/50 audience by Sanhu, based in Skukuza, and featured Michele Hofmeyr, the latest researcher to study Kruger's baobabs.
Kruger's baobabs have received some scientific attention over the years, starting in 1977 when aerial censuses showed that a large number of baobabs in the Pafuri region were being de-barked by elephants.
Baobabs are remarkably resilient amongst trees when it comes to de-barking, but there were fears that elephant activities may have been putting the baobab population under pressure especially during drought years.
Dr Ian Whyte has estimated that Kruger has about 20,000 baobabs in this most southern population, but that about 1,000 trees died between 1985 and 1995. Dr Whyte's study of Kruger's baobabs follows on from that of F Nel in the 1980s. The baobabs have also been studied by HLP Kelly and most recently by Michele Hofmeyr.
Hofmeyr's work has shown that baobab trees appear to grow in what is known as episodic recruitment, where seeds that germinate only survive to maturity under certain conditions that happen infrequently, such as low herbivore numbers.
During filming, Hofmeyr explained her research and the interactions between baobabs, elephants and the environment to Johann Botha and the crew. A wide range of baobabs was visited, from the tender saplings that Hofmeyr has germinated in the Skukuza nursery to the thousands of years old monster of a baobab in the Pafuri area.