South Africa is about to lift a 13-year ban on elephant culling, as the animal’s population rises and encroaches on areas where people live. However, it’s unclear just how many elephants might be killed after the moratorium is lifted Thursday.
Dr. Rob Little, director of conservation for the World Wildlife Fund South Africa, says controlling the elephant population is a complex process. From Cape Town, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
“The four options, which have been investigated and further developed, are expansion of the conservation estate, trans-location of elephants to new areas within the previous historic range, techniques of contraception and reproductive control and fourth, the physical reduction of numbers, which is known as culling. WWF does not oppose the use of all options. However, the norms and standards were released and require now that each protected area thoroughly look at their management plans and objectives for the particular reserve and thereafter thoroughly consider all of these options as tools for use in elephant management,“ he says.
Little says that only after full consideration of the options could one or more be used to control the elephant population in a particular area.
Asked why after 13 years is the ban on culling being lifted, he says, “It’s not really a matter of 13 years. What has happened is that elephant populations in Southern Africa have increased significantly over the last couple of decades. It is in fact an irony of success of conservation in South Africa and South Africa…(that culling) is now needed to be done. And this is largely because conservation areas have large boundaries. They have fenced edges against the agricultural and settlement areas of people. And these hard boundaries mean that these populations of these mega herbivores, these large habitat manipulants (sic), do need to be kept at certain densities.”
It matters which elephants are culled. Random killings of the animals could cause trauma among the herds as some family members are culled and others are not.
“A lot of work has been done on that social side of herd structure and social complexities over the last decade. And the decision now is where it absolutely needs to be used, culling as the tool, individual animals will no longer be removed from the herd, which used to be the case…but latest information has shown that entire breeding herds need to be removed so that there’s as much reduction as possible to any impact of other individuals,” he says. Previously, it was debated whether adults should be culled to prevent breeding or young animals simply to keep the herd size in check.
Media reports in South Africa have said as many as 5,000 elephants might have to be culled. But Little says looking at sheer numbers is the wrong way to approach the issue. “It’s not a matter of estimates of numbers because we don’t regard the population management as a pure numbers game. It’s in fact managing densities, which is numbers in space. Just using Krueger National park as an example, there are some 12,000 to 13,000 elephant in the…park. One needs to look at that two million hectares and say, well where are the vulnerable sites? Where are thresholds of impact on vegetation and other species mostly occurring? So, although we’ve had it in the media in South Africa and globally, like 5,000 elephants must be removed, in reality there’s a large buffer against that because some of those elephants may be in areas that are not high impact or with threshold zones. And therefore, the whole number do not need to be removed,” he says.
The WWF conservation director adds, “The exercise of managing numbers is over time. It will not need to be done in one, as it were, fell swoop.”
Some groups are opposed to culling, saying it’s a poor solution. They plan protest action, including discouraging tourists from coming to South Africa.