South Africa Weighs Killing "Excess" Elephants in Parks

Leon Marshall in the Kruger National Park
for National Geographic News
November 5, 2004

South Africa's Kruger National Park elephant population has nearly doubled in recent years, causing heavy habitat destruction and invasion of adjacent farms.

Now conservation authorities are considering a plan to kill perhaps thousands of elephants to restore the balance of nature in the park.

A conference of specialists and stakeholders recently met to discuss the problem. They concluded that the only effective way out of southern Africa's elephant-overpopulation dilemma is to lift the nine-year moratorium on killing elephants.

The conference was named the Great Elephant Indaba, "indaba" being an African word for "meeting". It was convened by South African National Parks (SANP), in the Kruger National Park last week. SANP manages South Africa's 20 national parks, including Kruger, the largest.

It is in Kruger, South Africa's flagship reserve, that the problem of too many elephants is most acute. The park stopped killing elephants in 1995, in response to pressure from conservation bodies. Since then its elephant count has shot up from fewer than 7,000 to about 13,000. The park's carrying capacity is thought to be a maximum of 7,500 elephants.

Hector Magome, SANP's director of conservation services, said the effects of too many elephants on Kruger have become clear. It has reached the point where even tourists who are normally obsessed with seeing Africa's so-called big five—lion, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, and leopard—have started complaining about the scarred landscape, he said.

Magome showed the conference comparative photographs of areas where tall trees once stood. The elephants had killed the trees by uprooting and debarking them.

Magome said the incidence of elephant attacks on other animals has increased. One species that has fared particularly poorly is the black rhinoceros, the browsing species of rhino that is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as critically endangered. The rise in elephant attacks, Magome said, is because of the growing competition for food and space inside the 8,000-square-mile (about 20,000-square-kilometers) Kruger park.

Foraging on Adjacent Farmland

The same pressures were also thought to be the reason elephants were increasingly breaking through the reserve's game fences to forage on adjoining private and community land.

David Mabunda, chief executive officer of SANP, said killing the surplus elephants was a hard option. "But our first responsibility is to care for the biodiversity of our parks. It is our legal duty. We cannot favor one species at the expense of the rest."

Continued on Next Page >>


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