(This is courtesy of the Africam Indaba Newsletter)
Media Statement Game Rangers' Association Of Africa (GRAA) With Regard To The Management Of Elephants The GRAA recognizes that
1. It is every country's sovereign right to manage its
wildlife populations as it deems appropriate. GRAA condemns decision making which is in any way compromised by the external influences of funding agencies, which in turn may threaten the countries' biodiversity Protected Areas (PAs).
2. Elephants pose particular management problems that can
usually not be solved by means generally accepted as appropriate to other species.
3. Overpopulations of elephants (particularly in fenced-in
PAs) may pose significant threats to biodiversity.
4. The options for managing elephants are limited, and that
all have inherent logistical and ethical constraints. Decisions taken on the management of elephants will not be universally applicable â an option relevant to one PA may not be useful or applicable in another. The GRAA assessment of the various current management options and their limitations are as follows
Translocations are considered to be the most ethically acceptable method as long as only intact families are moved. Bulls can be moved singly or in groups as they have no particular social allegiances to others. Considerable stresses and traumas will be experienced by translocated animals until they have settled, and possibly also for wider family members left behind. In this respect, translocations are similar to culls as elephants not selected will permanently lose family members. Opportunities for translocations are currently extremely limited as there is a very limited market for live elephants.
Non-hormonal contraception programs are also considered to be ethically acceptable, but there still are some concerns and limitations. Elephants have powerful social structures particularly with regard to families. Contraception will change these family structures and therefore also the fundamental fabric of elephant society in the long-term. The impacts that such changes will have are unknown. There are also some concerns for the long-term health of treated females as pathologies have been diagnosed in zoo kept females that were prevented from conceiving. Costs may prove prohibitive in large free ranging populations and may compromise funding for other important conservation projects. Contraception can not reduce a population in the short-term, as elephants are long lived animals. To await the decline of a contraceived population resulting from natural mortalities may require time spans which some management authorities can not currently afford. Local communities have shown little sympathy for an expensive contraception program which precludes the use of wild animals as a sustainable resource.
c) Corridors and range expansion
The acquisition of land for range expansion and creation of corridors between elephant ranges has recently been proposed as possible solution. While these are clearly desirable options not only for elephant management but for conservation in general, the potential is considered to be extremely limited. Apart from cost factors, elephants and humans favor similar habitats, and therefore land will not easily become available. These options may also result in an increased potential for human-elephant conflict. Land acquisition will be a protracted process which may require time spans which some management authorities can not currently afford, and can thus not offer solutions for current overpopulation problems. As most conservation agencies in Africa are short of the funds and the capacity to manage their existing PAs, the development of new areas to accommodate expanding elephant populations is likely to be at the expense of the capacity to manage the present estate.
The expansion of elephant range will result in greater populations that will inevitably have to be managed when these areas reach carrying capacity.
d) Culling (includes hunting)
Animal rights sensitivities are in conflict with this option, but when weighed up against human-elephant conflicts and biodiversity losses, culling (if conducted in the most humane way possible) is considered by the GRAA to be an ethical and valid option for elephant management, particularly where the implementation of other options is not possible due to economic or logistical constraints.
As with translocations, complete families should be culled. Bulls can be culled singly or in groups. Groups to be culled should be selected so as to minimize impacts on nearby groups.
The option of doing nothing (laissez-faire) is in conflict with the management-for-biodiversity option. While it is every country's sovereign right to manage its wildlife populations as it deems appropriate, the adoption of this option should be a considered, rational management decision which has taken full cognizance of the potential costs to biodiversity, and not result from policies imposed by, or negotiated with funding agencies with alternative agendas.
The GRAA fully supports current South African legislation which mandates Protected Area Management Authorities to conserve indigenous biodiversity. GRAA accepts that each and all of the above options are valid for the management of elephants, but urges that full stakeholder participation and transparency are required in the decision making process. The GRAA will support final decisions taken by the PA management authority, provided that such decisions are in the interests of sound holistic ecosystem conservation.
Disclaimer This statement was prepared by members of the Executive Committee of the GRAA and was circulated to its members for comment. While the majority of members support the contents of this statement, there are some who may not be in complete agreement, and the statement may thus not represent the opinions of all its members.