"There are few other creatures on earth that have the ability of elephants to 'connect' with humans in a very special way," he said.
African elephant populations in other countries are low, and the animals are classed as "threatened." Trade in ivory has been banned since 1989 to try to combat poaching.
The new regulation said that elephants' survival often depends on their operation as a family unit, and "an elephant may not be culled if it is part of a family, unless the matriarch and juvenile bulls are culled as well."
It said killing may be carried out only under a plan prepared with a recognized elephant-management ecologist and approved by relevant authorities.
Animal Rights Africa said killing elephants was "undeniably cruel and morally reprehensible" as well as counterproductive.
"It's hugely problematic and it does the opposite of what they want it to do," spokesperson Michele Pickover said.
She argued that when elephants are killed, the herd automatically breeds more, and other elephants move into the space of the slain elephants, resulting in a larger population than before the killing.
Her organization also argues that there are not too many elephants in South Africa.
She also said the latest research has proved that elephants have a sense of self-awareness and cognitive powers that place them in a special category together with great apes, dolphins and humans.
"How much like us do elephants have to be before killing them becomes murder?" Pickover asked.
A total of 14,562 elephants were killed in South Africa between 1967 and 1994. Without that campaign, their numbers would have rocketed by now to 80,000, according to the national parks service.
Many elephants were traumatized by the killings and some became aggressive as a result.
Bob Scholes, lead author of the elephant management regulations, acknowledged to reporters that there is a "down side" to killing.
"It changes the way they behave; there is a lot of evidence for social behavioral consequences as a result of culling" he said.
The new regulations say that killing should not be carried out near other elephants.
Contraception also is fraught with problems. A female normally breeds every four years and does not mate while nursing. With contraception, a female is in heat every four months—but cannot become pregnant—and so suffers the physical stress of frequent copulation with bulls four times her weight.
And moving elephants, another alternative, can be prohibitively expensive.
The era of the big white hunter in the 1900s brought Africa's elephants near to extinction. South Africa had just 200 elephants at the turn of the 20th century.
Now South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana all have booming elephant populations—a result of their conservation efforts—while the animals' numbers in east and west African nations are struggling because of large-scale poaching. (See map.
Van Schalkwyk said he had discussed the new regulations with other southern African countries facing the same dilemma.
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