From: Gershwin Wanneburg, Reuters
Published October 22, 2004 12:00 AM

South Africa Weighs Killing Off Excess Elephants

KRUGER PARK, South Africa — South Africa is weighing the option of killing off its excess elephants, 10 years after the practice known as culling was banned amid pressure from animal rights activists.

"It (culling) remains an option," said David Mabunda, the head of South African National Parks (SANParks) on Thursday on the sidelines of a three-day conference on controlling elephant populations in the Kruger National Park.

He added other options, such as contraception, were also being considered, and several approaches need to be taken. South Africa imposed a moratorium on culling in 1994.

Senior park officials have conceded off the record that they were leaning toward reintroducing culling, which involves killing off entire family groups at a time as survivors could become "rogues" prone to attacking humans.

Soaring elephant populations are seen as a threat to ecosystems which can only support so many of the pachyderms.


Regarded by many in the West as highly endangered, South Africa and its neighboring countries in fact have healthy and growing elephant populations. And this is proving a headache, as South Africa's roughly 16,000 elephants are all in enclosed areas.

Big Problems

South African authorities maintain problems are inevitable when the world's largest land mammal reproduces at will within enclosed areas of bush. This is even the case in the famed Kruger National Park, which is the size of Israel.

In the decade since culling stopped, Kruger's elephant population has almost doubled to close to 12,000. Adult elephants have no natural enemies and they have long lifespans.

Scientists say Kruger's population growth is unsustainable, as the huge beasts are literally eating themselves out of house and home — to the detriment of other wild creatures.

"What I've seen from the naked eye ... is the total decimation of a number of big trees in the park. You don't need a Ph.D. degree to tell you that there's an impact in terms of trees that have been felled," Mabunda said. "We do have a serious problem in terms of numbers of overpopulation in our parks. What is important to us is to see those numbers being reduced, and we need to look at options that can reduce those numbers," he said.

Kruger has been transferring live elephants to other locations, but there is only so much space in a developing country with a growing and land hungry rural population.

Moral Issues

Animal welfare activists say there are ethical issues involved, not least because elephants are highly intelligent, emotional, and social animals — which makes them perfect "poster creatures" for conservationists.

"Violating the rights of elephants by culling them will evoke an outburst of anger and opposition from concerned people across the globe," said Michelle Pickover of Justice for Animals.

Pressure from animal welfare activists may have contributed to the cull moratorium in 1994, when Nelson Mandela came to power as the country's first black president.

There are some conservationists who argue that that decision was based more on politics than science.

Source: Reuters

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