South Africa May Kill Elephants to Manage Populations

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South Africa stopped culling elephants in 1995 in response to pressure from international animal rights and environmental groups. Since then the country's elephant population has more than doubled, to nearly 20,000.

Ian Whyte is program manager for large mammals in Kruger National Park, South Africa's flagship reserve.

He said that when culling was stopped 12 years ago, the park had nearly 8,000 elephants—a thousand more than the preferred population at the time. Now the Kruger population is approaching 14,000.

When Addo Elephant National Park, where the proposal was announced, was established in 1931, the number of elephants in the region had gone from thousands to 25. Eleven were put under protection in the park.

Now Addo, like Kruger and other South African parks, is under pressure from too many elephants, said Kerley of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology.

The conservation organization WWF South Africa and the country's Elephant Management and Owners Association (EMOA) agree that elephant populations are too large for many of the country's parks and preserves.

"In some cases elephants are becoming so abundant that they are causing problems such as the destruction of habitat from overgrazing, and damage to water sources," the conservation groups said in a joint statement.

"This can degrade the environment, reducing the food and water available for the elephants themselves as well as destroying the habitat of other wildlife species.

"High elephant densities can also lead to higher intensities of human-elephant conflict, with elephants raiding farmers' fields and destroying village infrastructure and livelihoods," WWF and EMOA added.

Collaboration

The elephant-management plan comes after extensive consultations with interest groups. It is largely based on proposals by a "science roundtable," consisting of experts convened by Minister van Schalkwyk.

"We have listened to numerous discussions about the merits and demerits of the various management options," van Schalkwyk said at the press conference.

"Some, such as culling and contraception, I would personally have preferred not to consider. But I am persuaded that all these options have a potential role to play under different circumstances."

Rob Little, director of WWF South Africa, cautiously agreed.

"Although WWF does not advocate culling as the preferred management alternative, we recognize that it is a management option and reiterate our view that all other options should first be explored," Little said in the joint statement with EMOA.

There had been hopes that the South African elephant population boom might slow naturally, as the elephants' habitats and food became sparser.

"But sadly it is now clear that we cannot rely on them to regulate their numbers," Kerley said.

"We have to intervene, otherwise there will be nothing left."

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