A simmering battle over culling elephants has brought to light sharp divisions in the green movement over how to restrain a burgeoning population from outgrowing the confined wilderness of South Africa's parks.
JOHANNESBURG — A simmering battle over culling elephants has brought to light sharp divisions in the green movement over how to restrain a burgeoning population from outgrowing the confined wilderness of South Africa's parks.
A senior South African National Parks official told Reuters at the weekend the country may cull elephants for the first time in a decade to control surging populations of the huge animals, with the most pressing need seen in the famed Kruger Park.
His comments have drawn strong responses from both sides of the green divide, which can become a chasm when "poster animals" adored by humans, such as elephants or seals, are invoked.
There are some greens who see red when any policy could be construed as cruel to animals, and others who say there is sometimes no choice and that scientific evidence shows that the numbers must be reduced.
"SANParks has had 10 years to come up with an appropriate and scientifically sound management plan for elephants and haven't done so," said Jason Bell-Leask, the southern African director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
"Now, with their backs against the wall, it seems they are looking for a quick-fix solution for reducing the elephant population," he told Reuters by e-mail.
IFAW favours measures such as contraception and relocation, but both are seen by park managers as costly and impractical.
He said the scientific jury was still out on the ecological impact of Kruger's swelling population of the pachyderms, which by some estimates has grown to close to 12,000 from around 7,000 a decade ago.
Kruger officials have long argued that the park is straining in the face of the rising elephant numbers. They say the elephants are eating themselves out of house and home and that other species are suffering as a result.
A final decision on culling is expected by October.
"The Kruger is a managed habitat and they have very few management options left. And at the moment culling is the only one," said Tony Frost, the chief executive of WWF-South Africa.
"The national parks people would not rush into something like this, it is really a last resort ... but there are too many elephants," he said.
Culling would be sure to provoke protest from animal welfare groups worldwide who argue that elephants are intelligent and emotional animals and the practice is cruel.
Before South Africa stopped culling in 1994, scenes of it shown on television provoked an outcry at home and abroad.
"The South African public and international community will surely not tolerate a call for a resumption of culling, particularly in the light of there being no scientific justification for one," said IFAW's Bell-Leask.