Time to Rethink Elephant Culling

Wednesday, 23 November, 2005
Cape Town, South Africa
To conserve or to cull? In a nutshell that is the question facing the South African Government in coming weeks as decision time regarding the future of the Kruger National Park (KNP) elephant population draws closer.
On Monday when they make presentations to the Department of Environment & Tourism (DEAT) headed by Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, a number of local and international animal welfare groups and scientists will present their views on why culling as a management tool to curtail the KNP’s elephant population is not an option.

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) and others will be weighing in against South African National Parks (SANParks), the custodians of KNP, which is calling for culling as a method of elephant population control and proposes to kill literally thousands of elephant to reduce numbers.

“IFAW believes that culling is cruel, unethical and a scientifically unsound practice that does not consider the welfare implications to elephant society as a whole,” says Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW’s Southern African Director.

“It is too soon to be thinking of a cull and our opinion – and that of many eminent elephant biologists and other animal welfare groups – is that SANParks simply doesn’t have the science to support its demands to kill elephants,” he said.

SANParks claims that culling KNP’s elephants is necessary because the population is negatively impacting on biodiversity in the park – currently the KNP’s elephant population numbers about 12,500. Elephant culling in KNP was suspended in 1995, mostly because of international and local pressure.

Other concerns behind the urgency of SANParks call for a cull are raised in the IFAW document The Debate on Elephant Culling in South Africa – an Overview which will become available later this week.

IFAW and others believe there are alternative elephant management options open to SANParks, which have not been appropriately explored.

“These include the creation of “megaparks” – or cross-boundary/border parks – which will allow a greater migration of elephant groups between parks and countries in Southern Africa, as well as the use of immuno-contraception in certain areas of the park,” says Bell-Leask.

“So far, SANParks has not looked carefully enough at these options and is ignoring a groundswell of demands from opinion leaders that far more research into the KNP’s elephant population is required before an informed decision on a cull can be made.”

Bell-Leask warned that a decision to cull elephants would bring a barrage of international and local protest that could badly damage opinions of South Africa’s commitment to wildlife management.

“KNP attracts 1,3 million tourists a year – South Africa’s reputation as a custodian of wildlife can only suffer if the shooting starts again.

“It’s not too late for SANParks to review their opinions and to take heed of the advice of many authoritative voices that say that only a decision made on sound science and ecology should drive their decision making.

“We will be urging the Minister to accept that alternative viewpoints exist and that further research must be done before the triggers are pulled,” he said.

“Otherwise a decision to cull will be a political one and not one based on sound ecological principles.”

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