15 August 2007
South Africa will only consider culling its elephants as a last resort, after either translocation or contraception, says the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
The department’s chief director, Leseho Sello, was briefing a parliamentary committee on environmental affairs and tourism this week on managing the country’s vast elephant population
Sello said Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk had instructed that culling only be considered as a last resort, while noting that massive local and international pressure from animal welfare groups and others made culling a very unattractive option.
The culling of these huge but gentle beasts is a delicate and extremely emotional issue for many people, she said.
South Africa is developing a strategy to deal with the increasing numbers of elephants in the country, which presents a threat to the sustainability of the environment they inhabit.
Sello was unable to provide the committee with actual figures of elephant populations, or the number of elephants the Kruger National Park could handle, but one Member of Parliament said “anecdotal evidence” pointed to a population in excess of 6 000.
Sello said reports indicate that the large numbers of elephants in areas like the Kruger National Park could harm the environment to such a point where large sections of the park could become completely barren.
This would reduce the animals’ own food sources and ultimately result in a situation where the growth of the population could then threaten their survival.
She added that neighbouring countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania were facing similar problems.
Sello told the committee that lobbyists had sent many petitions against elephant culling to Van Schalkwyk, with some even threatening to organise tourist boycotts should the government resort to culling to reduce elephant populations.
Given that tourism is a major contributor to South Africa’s economy, and with eco-tourism being one of the fastest growing areas in the sector, such actions would be undesirable.
“It is not wise to fix one problem and thereby create an even bigger one,” Sello said, adding that a moratorium on culling had been in place since the mid-1990s.
However, she said one could not conserve elephants at the cost of all other species.
Translocation of the animals remained a key option but was also one that needed to be handled sensitively, because the social nature of elephants meant that entire herds would need to be moved to single destinations, making it an expensive option.
While many of South Africa’s neighbouring countries also have large populations, the committee pointed out that countries emerging from recent wars had radically reduced animal populations and that they could benefit from such translocations.
Such countries include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Mozambique, with the latter already being a recipient of several elephants.
Sello added that other countries, such as Tunisia, were continually approaching the ministry asking for animals.
She said that once the department had finalised its strategy, it would need to be applied uniformly across the country, and that both government-funded parks and private game farms with elephants, most of whom are represented by the Elephant Management Owner’s Association, would need to abide by the regulations.