Partner spotlight: download CERU's beautiful and moving "Elephants – A Way Forward"
One of the things that the scientific discipline teaches us is just how little we know.
With the plethora of information on elephants that passes my desk on a daily basis, be it in the conventional media, the various social media channels, or in the scientific literature, you would think we know all there is to know about these magnificent creatures and how they interact in their environments.
This couldn’t, however, be further from the truth, especially when you consider attitudes, behaviours and values that inform conservation planning and management decisions. The more we dig, the more we realise just how shallow our understanding really is and just how biased past management decisions were…
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been working with the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) of the University of Pretoria (UP) for over a decade in trying to unravel the rather complex underpinnings of the ecological dynamics of elephants in southern Africa.
Given that management decisions and subsequent actions of the past (e.g. culling) were not based on science, the IFAW/CERU partnership initially sought to set the record straight.
However, this could not have been done properly without delving into a comprehensive assessment of the dynamics of elephant populations throughout the region, especially given the focus on populations and not management entities/units (e.g. the Kruger National Park elephant population forms part of a larger, contiguous population incorporating sub-populations in Mozambique and Zimbabwe).
The partnership has come a long way in addressing numerous outstanding questions; questions that have continued to polarise elephant management objectives.
We now know, for example, that elephant numbers in certain populations, e.g. the Kruger National Park, have stabilised naturally, that others are increasing, while some populations are being depleted by escalating poaching and habitat loss. We also know more about what factors (e.g. space and water availability) are driving these dynamics. While there are many questions that remain unanswered and thus the focus of an on-going research approach, in some instances, the research can be turned into practical management solutions that are both ethically and scientifically grounded.
We have indeed come a long way.
In a new and exciting joint venture between CERU and IFAW, Professor Rudi van Aarde and his team have documented just how far we have come in furthering our understanding of elephant dynamics in southern Africa.
In “Elephants – A Way Forward”, Prof. van Aarde calls for a “solutions-focused” approach in developing ecological networks that will address the needs of elephants, normalise their ecological roles and allow them to operate within the limits set by ecological realities.
IFAW continues to work with CERU in promoting this approach with a view to ensuring that future management decisions are based on sound scientific and animal welfare principles, and not politics.
After all, an elephant can’t vote – it is incumbent upon us to make responsible decisions on their part.