14 March 2005

South African rangers mull pros and cons of culling

South Africa may cull elephants for the first time in a decade, a move animal welfare groups say is cruel and unacceptable but which may be needed to control a surging population.

"We are strongly leaning towards culling and we want the public to digest this hard fact," Hector Magome, director of conservation services for South African National Parks, told Reuters in an interview.

"There is a consensus that we need to reduce the population now in the short term while we look at long-term solutions."

He said a decision should be made by October.

His comments are the clearest so far to indicate conservation officials may push for culling. They have worried for years about how to prevent elephant herds growing and many see it as the only effective solution.

No longer free to roam, elephants can wreak havoc in their restricted terrain, destroying large areas of trees and making survival hard for other animals they share their space with.

But culling would be sure to provoke strong protest from animal welfare groups worldwide who argue that elephants are intelligent and emotional animals and the practice is cruel.

Before South Africa stopped culling in 1994, scenes of it shown on television provoked an outcry at home and abroad.

Culling typically involves the herding and then shooting of whole family groups - a practice even supporters say is highly unpleasant.

But biologists say South Africa's flagship Kruger National Park is in crisis because of rising numbers of the world's largest land mammal, which can eat up to 170kg of vegetation a day.

Roughly the size of Israel, the Kruger is enclosed and its elephants are gradually eating themselves out of house and home. Other species are suffering as a result.

Since culling was halted under a moratorium when apartheid ended in 1994, the park's elephant population is estimated to have swelled to close to 12 000 from around 7 000.

"We are going to publish four proposed options in the government gazette in April and invite public comment on them," Magome said.

"We hope to have the final elephant management plan approved by the environment minister by October."

He said the first option was culling, the second was relocation, and the third was contraception.

The fourth would involve a combination of culling in larger parks and contraception in smaller ones.

"For contraception to work in Kruger, we would need to put 4 000 sexually active females on the pill," he said - a policy that was effectively being ruled out on grounds of costs and practicality.

Relocation remained an option but the number of places that could take the animals was dwindling, with smaller reserves also facing elephant overpopulation.


At 5:20 PM, Blogger C said...

I grew-up and lived in southern Africa until 20 years ago and remember distinctly that nature always found its balance although sometimes the prevalence of certain species was noticeable. Its a matter of time. I cannot possibly understand the justification for culling as if Man were a policeman of Nature. It was never necessary before Man decided what "the right numbers of a species" should be. I do not believe them for a moment.


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