SA to Lift Moratorium on Elephant Culling

©Raymond Travers

As of May 1, 2008, a moratorium that was placed on the culling of elephants in 1995 will be lifted. This was one of the options in the final norms and standards for elephant management announced by environmental affairs minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk on Monday, February 25, 2008 Other options included range manipulation, removal by translocation, introduction of elephants and contraception.

'The necessary amendments to the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations, essentially to the section on penalties and offences, will be published for public comments on 29 February 2008, with a view to finalisation before 1 May 2008.

'Our department has recognised the need to maintain culling as a management option, but has taken steps to ensure that this option be the option of last resort that is acceptable only under strict conditions,' said the minister, speaking at the launch of the publication of the final norms and standards for elephant management.

In 2007, the department published the Draft Norms and Standards for Elephant Management for public comment. The minister said intense emotions from all stakeholders in the debate were part of the process reports Michael Appel of Bua News.

'Our simple reality is that elephant population density - that is the number of elephants per square kilometre of current elephant range - has risen so much in some southern African countries that there is concern about the impacts on the landscape, the viability of other species, and the livelihoods and safety of people living within elephant ranges,' said the minister.

Emerging out of the in-depth consultative process with ecologists, scientists and the public at large, is a thoughtful piece of legislation that balances the interest of elephants with other aspects of biodiversity, and societal values. The minister said the norms and standards apply to all protected areas, as well as private land on which elephants are present.

While the guiding principles contained in the document were well received, an issue that raised significant public concern was the capture and treatment of elephants in captivity, he said. '... we have decided to prohibit the capture of wild elephants except for purposes of relocation into the wild.

'In the case of genuine orphans on private or communal land they may be relocated and reintroduced into the wild, or as a last resort, into bona fide sanctuaries if they cannot be rehabilitated,' said van Schalkwyk. 'Culling is justifiable only if other species are threatened with extinction, and other options have been considered and rejected,' said Dr Bob Scholes from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

He is head of the Assessment of Elephant Management report which government used to inform its decision. Dr Scholes said due to the sheer mass of elephants and the vast tracts of land they require to roam, there are severe ecological and environmental consequences. "In large protected areas, the main ecological concern is slow plant recovery and severe damage to ecosystems."

He added that lethal management of elephants should only be considered if there is an immediate threat to human life and for an immediate reduction in elephant numbers. "Like all hard-to-reverse, high impact actions, culling should be undertaken only once all management options have been evaluated, and culling found to be the best based on a balanced assessment of all considerations," said Dr Scholes.

Damage Causing Elephants

In terms of the final norms and standards, the obligation to control an elephant that has escaped from a protected area or an adequetely enclosed area lies with the responsible person. The responsible person is defined as the owner or manager of the land on which the elephant normally ranges or the management authority of a protected area.

The repsonsibility is also shared by the issuing authority, as is defined by TOPS, to act as facilitator between the responsible person and the owner onto whose land the elephant has escaped, to identify appropriate steps that may be taken to deal with the escaped elephant and the consequnces of its escape.

These steps may include permission from the issuing authority to capture the elephant and return it to its normal range, or subject to written approval of the owner of the property onto which the elephant has escaped: hunt or arrange for the elephant to be hunted or to destroy the escaped elephant. The escaped elephant must be reported to the issuing authority within a period not exceeding 24 hours after the incident occured.

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