South Africa May Kill Elephants to Manage Populations

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg, South Africa
for National Geographic News
March 1, 2007

For the first time since 1995, the South African government is advocating killing elephants as one way of controlling growing populations.

Without some kind of action, the animals will overburden many of the country's public parks and private reserves, officials and conservationists say.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism, announced the decision yesterday at Addo Elephant National Park near the city of Port Elizabeth (South Africa map).

Van Schalkwyk insisted that culling (killing for management purposes), should be undertaken only as a last resort.

"Culling may be used to reduce the size of an elephant population, subject to due consideration of all other population-management options," he said.

Among the other options in the proposal are moving elephants to less-crowded areas, expanding parks, and administering contraception—all of which are costly, cumbersome, and not without their own complications.

For one thing, the proposal says, elephant contraception's "long-term social, physiological, and emotional impacts on elephants are not yet fully understood, and current contraception methods are highly invasive and should therefore be used with caution."

(Related: "African Elephants Slaughtered in Herds Near Chad Wildlife Park" [August 30, 2006].)

South Africa's cabinet has already approved the "draft norms and standards for elephant management." The draft is now open for public comment for 60 days before becoming official policy.

Though some conservationists decry the proposed policy as inhumane, others welcomed the elephant plan and even characterized the proposal as a bittersweet sign of progress.

"Our conservation efforts have been too successful," said Graham Kerley, director of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at South Africa's Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.


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