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Addo Facing a Jumbo Population Crisis

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Anonymous's picture
Addo Facing a Jumbo Population Crisis

Business Day (Johannesburg)
Chris Van Gass
Addo National Park

Top environmentalist Prof Graham Kerley conceded yesterday that while he personally would not kill an elephant, there were circumstances in which culling could occur.

The question being asked by experts is whether overpopulation is sufficient justification.

Kerley is head of the centre for African conservation ecology at Nelson Mandela University and is one of Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk's scientific round table of elephant experts who are helping to formulate a draft elephant management plan.

Culling is the seven-letter word that everyone is trying to avoid since South African National Parks stopped this activity in 1995 amid intense pressure from elephant lobby groups and the concern that this form of population "management" might not wash scientifically.

It is still, however, one of four options being presented by Van Schalkwyk's experts.

Addo Park's elephant population has grown by 5,8% a year, which is "as fast as elephants can reproduce without involving Viagra", said Kerley.

This means that the elephant population in Addo, as in the Kruger National Park, will double in the next 13 years. By then, despite the planned expansion of the park to nearly double its present size, and relocation of some of its 450 elephants into the enlarged area, Addo will be in the same position it is in now -- under pressure to find more space or to revert to other methods of population control.

Kerley said there is no quick fix for the problem.

"Planning elephant conservation is a long-term process and there is no instant solution," he said. "Addo has the best-kept database of any elephant population in the world, but it also shows the effect they have on the environment."

Elephants are destructive to the habitat within which they move. Bulls eat up to 300kg of vegetation a day and cows 150kg.

Addo has found that 75 plant species have become rare and one, the Aloe Africana, has become extinct in the area roamed by elephants. So, in managing elephant populations, there will always be priorities about what is to be conserved.

Another consideration is the value of these animals when it comes to bringing in revenue. It is estimated that elephants can generate up to 70 times their value in money spent by tourists on accommodation, airfares and other costs.

Kerley said scientists were looking at a "toolbox" of solutions, including culling, relocation, enlarging the range of elephants and contraception (for cows) and vasectomies (for bulls).

A problem is that finding the ideal population for a park is dependent on the management plans for that park.

Anonymous's picture

Culling is a reprehensible solution to a man-made problem. Elephant populations have never been a problem, but exponentially expanding human populations encroaching rapidly on wild areas without check certainly is. Elephants are extremely intelligent and social animals, and young elephants learn from their experiences just as we do. The International Fund for Animal Welfare says:

The shooting of large numbers of elephants has a significant effect on behaviour amongst cull survivors. There is scientific research to indicate they suffer psychological trauma which can later result in behavioural abnormalities.
in this article on the subject: http://www.ifaw.org/ifaw/general/default.aspx?oid=155903

Anonymous's picture

Sadly the options are limited, contraception and vasectomies have limited effect and it is impossible to keep track of treated animals roaming free in large areas (unless you want to paint them with big red dots, put tags in their ears or fit them with collars).

Relocation is an option, but only if there is an area large enough to sustain an elephant herd safely (and sometime in the future, if they are successful, we would be faced with the same problem again). It is also stressful on the elephants - they get buzzed by a helicopter, get drugged and loaded onto trucks, receive an antidote to the drug to enable them to stand and be moved into a crate with the help of an electric prodder, drugged again, shipped off to some faraway location and then released into an area they are completely unfamilar with (sometimes after being held in virtual captivity for a while in order to aclimatise).

Culling, while not a solution that I would actively support and certainly would not like to be involved in, seems, that in order to ensure the survival of all species (animal and plant) living in what is effectively a closed ecosystem (thanks to the fences separating man from wild animal), may be the only option available.

Personally, my opinion is that the animals should be allowed to roam free where they roamed for thousands of years, whether they affect the humans or not. Realistically though, that will not happen and the animals will loose out. :cry:


DrSnuggles's picture
Joined: Jan 26 2007

If the cows get contraceptics, and the Bulls will be sterelised, what happens to the genetic pool ?

I doubt, that the KNP can treat all Animals they want to. A Collection of few reproductive Animals stay in "working order"

The natures rule is "Only the strong survive"

By above mentioned impact, you weaken the genetic pool, and the blood lines do get more narrow than wanted.

The variety gets lost to a certain extend.

I assume that in the long term ( and it was said ""Planning elephant conservation is a long-term process ...") the Elephant population gets more vunerable to deseases etc.

The first Contraceptic programm is supposed to show an effect like that.

Relocation or culling is the solution.

This mirrors my sole own opinion here.

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