In January 2006, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, minister of environmental affairs and tourism, convened a scientific roundtable (SRT) to advise him on policies regarding elephant management.
Although the appropriate management of South Africa’s elephant populations is frequently at the center centre of an often heated national debate, the ultimate responsibility for establishing national policy lies with van Schalkwyk, directed by the Biodiversity Act of 2005 and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.
“The minister mandated the SRT to propose a research programme that would reduce the uncertainty regarding the consequences of various elephant management strategies.
The first activity initiated by the research programme is a scientific assessment of the state of knowledge regarding elephant-ecosystem-society interaction,” says Bob Scholes, of the CSIR, who has undertaken to lead the assessment this year.
The aims of the assessment are to tap into the existing information that has not yet been incorporated into the policy and to establish an information baseline against which to evaluate the success of the programme and to identify critical research gaps that still need to be addressed.
In addition, “the management of South Africa’s elephants is a lightning-rod for a whole range of associated value-based policy issues, and this assessment may pave a way to a better resolution of this type of issue.”
An assessment only provides information, “on which decisions can be made by appropriately-mandated bodies.” It is not an advocacy document, nor does it anticipate the outcome or make hard decisions.
The current elephant assessment comprises twelve chapters which includes the history and distribution of elephant in southern Africa; elephant population and biology; effects of elephants on ecosystems and biodiversity; elephant translocation; reproductive control; containment by fencing; culling; ethical considerations; economic value of elephants; international and national law and management principles.
The assessment is not a research project and all the information included in the final document is already collected and in the public domain.
Input from all affected and interested parties is essential part of the assessment process, and key to creating a unbiased and balanced result. The first of these commentary processes, the expert review, is planned for completion this week and will be discussed at a meeting between the lead authors and review editors on 30 and 31 August.
“We will send out a second draft of the assessment for a full stakeholder review, incorporating the opinions of trackas many as 250 to 400 interested parties, towards the end of September or beginning of October,” says Kathleen Mennell, the assessment coordinator.
These inputs will be integrated into the assessment in a similar meeting to that which will be held at the end of August. Following a third writing period the document will be handed to an independent steering committee, consisting of representatives of the stakeholder groups elected by the department of environmental affairs and tourism, prior to final submission to the minister.