The minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, has supported the idea of further research into the management dilemmas caused by elephants through an accelerated elephant research programme, but has said that he will still make a timely decision in the elephant management debate.
This comes after an Elephant Science Round Table brought together ten southern African scientists who were considered to be elephant specialists by their peers. They advised the minister that “there is no compelling evidence to suggest the need for immediate, large-scale reduction of elephant numbers in the Kruger National Park”.
However, they added that some areas, including Kruger, may need local management of elephant density, distribution and population structure. How this would be achieved was not spelled out.
The panel suggested that more research should be done on an ongoing basis to help advise management policies, and the department of environmental affairs pledged some financial support to this research.
The panel consisted of Prof Norman Owen-Smith (Wits University), Prof Rudi van Aarde (University of Pretoria), Prof Graham Kerley (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), Dr Hector Magome (Sanparks head of research), Dr Ian Whyte (Sanparks large herbivore expert), Dr David Cumming (University of Zimbabwe), Bruce Page (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Prof Rob Slotow (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Dr Bob Scholes (CSIR). The meeting was facilitated by Dr Brian Huntley from the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
The minister will be publishing draft policy guidelines later this year, but has said that there may be further follow-up discussions with the panel and other scientists. Members of the animal-rights coalition Elephants Alive have criticised the make up of the scientific panel, claiming that the members were “pro-culling” and wanted to include other international scientists.
Michele Pickover from Xwe African Wildlife was quoted as saying that the scientists would only discuss how to carry out culling, rather than whether culling was necessary.
Environment affairs spokesperson J P Louw has said, “This is an enormously complex issue with a wide range of opinions that are passionately advocated by various stakeholder groups. The minister has undertaken to consider all opinions carefully before reaching a decision.”