With international fish stocks plummeting and global food demands soaring, we will soon need another protein source - and elephants could just fill that role. Being terrestrial, they are easy to manage and harvest and they are a renewable resource. In addition – you can get far more tins of meat out of a single elephant than you can out of your average-sized tuna! And as a bonus, elephants aren’t threatened – in fact the opposite is true. With elephant populations increasing and overpopulating protected areas, something will have to be done soon.
Most protected areas that are large enough to house elephants already have a burgeoning population, thus translocations are no longer viable. Even the opening of the new Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park will only form a temporary solution to the elephant population, as the lack of water and generally low carrying capacity of the veld will result in only a moderate dispersal of elephants from high-density areas in Kruger to these areas.
Contraception, although effective in confined areas, has its own inherent problems and is not a feasible proposition for an area as large as Kruger. The closing of artificial waterholes, although being the best solution, will have a long delay period before becoming effective. During this delay period, elephants will concentrate around the remaining waterholes, resulting in heavy habitat destruction and ecological damage at these points. Thus culling may prove to be the only solution to the elephant question.
But what would become of all the culled animals? Those readers old enough to remember the last culling operations undertaken by Kruger may remember the tinned meat that was available in the shops at very reasonable prices, not to mention the packets of biltong that made delicious toppings for school sandwiches! And, as always, nothing has to be wasted. The hides can be tanned, the feet can be used as curios and table stands, the ivory can be sold to raise further funds for conservation and the bones can be carved for curios or be ground as a protein feed. But first we need to change our attitudes.
Most of us have a very biased view of conservation, being very selective in what we deem expendable and what needs to be conserved. As such we are happy to go to a supermarket and buy a box of hake or a tin of tuna (conveniently forgetting all the dolphins, turtles, sharks and albatrosses that die as by-catch). Likewise we have no qualms buying beef or lamb from the butcher. What is the difference between a cow, a lamb, a tuna and an elephant? All of them are living organisms, all of them fulfill an important ecological role and all of them are protein. Yet very few people would entertain the thought of eating an elephant! The standard argument goes that cattle and sheep are raised for the sole intent of being slaughtered and eaten.
Yet is this humane? Who are we to decide which species can be farmed for meat and which cannot? Aren’t elephants also edible? The only difference is that the “farm” on which the elephants are bred is a lot larger and a single elephant can feed a lot more people than a tuna, cow or lamb; and elephant meat could be a lot cheaper than any other!
The only thing preventing elephants becoming a cheap, sustainable protein source is our distorted view of elephants. If we would just accept that all animals are equal, and that they are all tasty and edible, we will in effect have a very cheap, sustainable and manageable protein source at our disposal. And we would be able to effectively manage the growing elephant populations in protected areas – to the benefit of the environment and other species.