Born Free is extremely sad to report that as of 1st May, despite widespread international protests, the ban on culling of elephants as a management practice in South Africa has been lifted.
While the practice of culling is being slated as the option of last resort for South Africa, and no specific plans to cull elephants have yet been announced, Born Free remains gravely concerned about this irresponsible and poorly-informed decision. We question the notion that there are too many elephants in South Africa, and believe there are a suite of alternatives to culling widely available.
A Price On The Head Of Every Elephant In Kruger National Park?
The Born Free Foundation, exposes serious flaws in the logic of South Africa’s argument in favour of elephant culling and questions whether justifications for culling are, in fact, economically motivated.
Between 1966 and 1994 more than16,000 elephants were slaughtered in Kruger National Park, South Africa, as a method of population control. Traumatised orphans from these culls were often displaced, and today many remain languishing in foreign zoos. Born Free maintains that culling is not only objectionable, but completely unnecessary and illogical given the number of alternatives available.
“Culling is a short-term fix, not a long-term solution”, said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation. “Scientific research has shown that culling, far from reducing numbers of elephants, may have actually increased them by accelerating breeding rates. We should have learned from the 27 years of systematic lethal elephant management in Kruger that culling simply doesn’t work. This proposal should be an embarrassment for those policy-makers who have had a hand in promoting this inexcusable situation.”
Contraception of female elephants is one method that has been developed to keep elephant numbers under control. Implementation of contraception programmes have shown it to be safe, effective and reversible. However, the South African government states that it is too difficult to properly implement a contraception programme in larger elephant populations such as that found in Kruger.
Scientists involved in developing the contraceptive methods, contend that the only constraint to implementing contraception in larger populations are economic.
“Leading scientists have reported that it costs around £50 to contracept each elephant. If you look at the number of reproductively viable female elephants in Kruger (roughly 3,700-4,500) that means that for between £180,000 and £225,000, a contraception programme could be implemented throughout Kruger National Park.” explains Will Travers. “For a country with a GDP that outstrips most other African economies more than ten-fold, (SA GDP 2005 US 239 billion) this is peanuts. I have no doubt the authorities could afford it if they really wanted to”.
Sadly, it appears that elephant culling may be more of an economic than an environmental decision. The draw of the dollar may be simply too strong. Ivory is regarded as a valuable by-product of culling – valuable enough to make culling economically viable. Although a widespread international ban on trade in ivory is currently in place, there is no doubt that the expansion of national ivory stockpiles that would result from elephant culling will lead to considerable pressure to further exploit ivory on the international market in the future.
“Born Free supports real conservation, and contends that non-consumptive wildlife utilisation can indeed be beneficial and profitable for wildlife management and African communities.” concludes Will Travers. “National parks should be safe havens for elephants—not killing fields.”
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Scientists have recently published a report, providing a revealing round-up of issues relating to culling. Download this article (pdf - 198KB)
Born Free has some video footage of a cull. We must stress that this very disturbing footage. Do not follow this link if you are easily upset. Link to cull footage >
South Africa is a wonderful country in many respects, famous for its hospitality, people, scenery and wildlife.
Born Free has for many years worked with the compassionate conservationists at Shamwari Reserve to provide lifetime care for rescued big cats in need.
However, South Africa’s statement that culling will be part of the country’s management plan for elephants, could cause people to reconsider their travel plans to South Africa since there are other countries with elephants that do not have such a policy. The Public Comment period, announced by the Government runs to the 1st May 2008 and it is still possible for the policy to be reversed in light of public concerns. Naturally we will be making our views clear to the South African authorities at every opportunity.
Born Free is asking tourists and visitors to South Africa to only visit those reserves with a humane non-lethal elephant management policy.