April 20, 2008
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) — South Africa's 13-year moratorium on elephant culling was set to be lifted on Thursday to combat a surge in population numbers, despite an outcry from animal rights activists.
The South African government earlier this year authorised the killing of elephants from May 1 as a last resort in limiting the numbers of the African elephant that have more than doubled since culling was halted in 1995.
Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the issue of population management of the animals had been "devilishly complex" after a long and emotive public debate over plans to reduce elephant numbers.
"Our department has recognised the need to maintain culling as a management option, but has taken steps to ensure that this will be the option of last resort that is acceptable only under strict conditions," he said at the time.
However animal rights activists who feel the new guidelines for elephant management are flawed, are taking the matter to court while rallying the international community to boycott tourism in South Africa.
A group of scientists and elephant researchers from across the globe meeting in South Africa last week, said the elephant warrants special management as the largest land mammal with a large and complex brain and social behaviour.
"They are capable of learning. They experience fear, pain and (apparently) a sense of loss," the experts said in an assessment of elephant management in the country compiled during the meeting.
As a megaherbivore capable of transforming eco-systems in dramatic ways with a lifespan of up to 60 years and few natural predators, the increase in numbers of elephants from 8,000 to 18,000 has put pressure on the country's game parks.
According to the new norms and standards, contraception and translocation would continue to be the preferred population control measures, with culling only undertaken when recommended by an elephant management specialist, and on approval by authorities.
The assessment report said hormone-based contraception caused unacceptable levels of aggression and was not a method that would reduce elephant numbers in the short term.
"Culling and translocation are the only management options for reducing elephant densities where intervention is urgent - that is, taking effect immediately or within five years," read the report.
"Negative interactions include loss of crops and infrastructure due to elephant damage, infection of livestock as a result of elephants having breached veterinary fences, thus allowing the mingling of wildlife and domestic stock and direct injury or loss of human life."
South African National Parks (SANParks), which manages the country's parks, and called for government to allow culling, said that while the moratorium would be lifted on Thursday there were no immediate plans to implement a cull.
"It will be decided through the planning process, we need to be thorough," said SANParks spokeswoman Wanda Mkutshulwa.
Elephants are killed by a marksman who delivers a single lethal shot to the brain from a helicopter, and an entire family group is killed at once, away from other elephants, to prevent trauma.
Michelle Pickover from Animal Rights Africa, said the animal rights group was taking legal action against the inclusion of culling in the guidelines.
"The process and procedures of using culling as a last resort is not properly articulated ... Essentially the document has a lot of stuff left out which makes it easy for managers to employ culling."
She said culling was not a practical solution as damage to the environment was very localised and not irreversible.
"To say you are going to use a method very similar to mass murder or genocide, as a society this should not be a method that we should be using. To actually say we are going to kill them en masse is a terrible thing to do."
The organisation is putting together an international campaign for people to boycott South Africa, deterring tourists from visiting during the upcoming football World Cup being hosted by the country in two years' time.
"2010 is coming and we are going to use that. We will discourage people from coming here."