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- Ivy Terry
The Controversy of Elephant Culling
Press and media have pushed the idea that elephant populations are threatened, diminished by habitat loss, poaching and a variety of other reasons. In the 1930s habitat loss and heavy ivory poaching had decreased South Africa’s elephant population from 3-5 million to around 500,000 (Harmse, Riana). Since then, through protection, laws and regulations the elephant population in South Africa has increased dramatically, to the point of overabundance. Due to the recent prosperity in the elephant population, measures to control their ecology is crucial to the health and wellbeing of the ecosystem, neighboring species, and the prevention of elephant-human conflict. In South Africa’s Kruger National Park, in particular, this wildlife management is a necessity in keeping a successfully thriving park. There have been many ways Kruger has pursued in solving the elephant population issue. Including birth control in females, birth control in males, relocation and the establishment of corridors, but the most popular in past years has been culling (Harmse, Riana). Culling is a controversial subject when it comes to management because it entails physically killing elephants in a population to reduce its size. So controversial in fact that it was outlawed in Kruger in 1995 but then recently reintroduced back as a management method, in smaller scale (Harmse, Riana).
Kruger today has around 13,050 elephants and this population is growing exponentially (“Role of Bull Elephant”). With lack of predators and an abundance of artificial and natural watering holes, as well as other natural resources, there is no controlling the rate of population growth of these animals (Harmse, Riana). This growth is an imminent problem for the park as well as its surrounding areas. First of all, elephants move in herds, this means they have a substantial effect on landscape and tree cover in the environment. These herds are also constantly moving, covering and destroying vase amounts of land per day (“Role of Bull Elephant”). Kruger is 7,523 square miles, though this seems large, it is not enough space to support such a population of large mammals (Harmse, Riana). This issue of space contributes to greater and more frequent human-elephant conflict as well as the destruction of park boundary fences and more frequent crop raids (“Role of Bull Elephant”). There have been many other suggested and tested methods of elephant population control in Kruger but none have been proven to be as effective as annual culls. Contraceptives in male or female elephants prove to be expensive, invasive, time consuming and not always successful. Relocation resulted in elephants coming back through the park boundary as well as being massively expensive and dangerous for both parties. Finally, the introduction of corridors from park to park has shown to be too expensive and there is simply no land available to dedicate to this sort of expansion (Harmse, Riana). It is out of the ashes of these other methods of management that culling was reintroduced to Kruger. Currently 500 to 600 elephants are killed in Kruger each year in order to keep the population as close to 13,000 as possible (“Elephants To Cull or Not to Cull That Is the Question”). After these elephants are killed they are immediately removed and taken to processing locations to which all parts of the animal are used; meat for food, bones for jewelry and tools, organs for medicine and medical research etc. (Harmse, Riana).
Though culling is the most widely used form of elephant population management used in Kruger today it is also the most contested. Each year 950, 000 people visit Kruger and these visitors account for millions of dollars worth of income for the park annually (Harmse, Riana). Obviously any detriment to this tourism would be to the disadvantage of the park and elephant culling, even if hidden from the public, has proven to cause a drop in visitors (Harmse, Riana). Culling in the park is not only affecting tourism but the well being of the elephants as well. Elephants are one of the most sensitive mammals on the planet and one could only imagine the psychological damage that occurs to young after a culling. Typically, hunters go in and wipe out the elders of the herd, leaving the young (Harmse, Riana). This terribly disrupts the age structure of the population by removing the experience necessary to raise the elephant young. This has been known to cause said young to grow up as rogue elephants, removing themselves from the herd, wreaking havoc on the park and neighboring areas (“Elephants To Cull or Not to Cull That Is the Question”). These elephants have to be killed due to them posing such a significant threat to humans. Apart from being sensitive, elephants are intelligent creatures. They have been known to communicate from herd to herd by using low frequency grunts very similar to how whales communicate. Therefore, if elephants are culled in one area others know about it, this aggravates them and they can get very frightened, leading to panic and further damage to the environment and danger to humans (“Elephants To Cull or Not to Cull That Is the Question”). Another major concern with culling in elephant populations is the fact that professional hunters are not always used. This is a considerable issue. These kills needs to be clean and fast, injured elephants are very dangerous, and their cries cause more stress to the remaining herd and can provoke permanent psychological damage on the young. Quick removal of the bodies is also very important due to the fact that remaining elephants often will go back to see their dead companions and this puts even more stress on the animal (“Elephants To Cull or Not to Cull That Is the Question”). Finally, elephants have a keen sense of smell. So much so that they can smell elephants that have been in distress, blood on the ground, and other signs of death. Elephants are warded off by these smells and will no longer range in areas where a cull has taken place, even years after the event. This can pose problems if the area had been a migratory route for the herd. The elephants would have to take alternate routes to avoid the area, potentially bringing them into contact with farms and villages as well as the possibility of them never finding their traditional feeding grounds, leading to starvation (“Elephants To Cull or Not to Cull That Is the Question”).
The culling of elephants as a management approach in Kruger National Park is a widely debated topic. Personally I believe that the culling of elephants in Kruger or in any other location should be outlawed. I am not necessarily against culling all together but with such a sensitive animal as the elephant it is not appropriate. There are other circumstances in which culling may prove useful and not be of such detriment to the species. Authoritize in the United Kingdom, for example, have recently started regulated culling of badgers. The massive local badger population has been thought to spread tuberculosis to neighboring cow herds. In response, two major culls have taken place, these culls have proven to lower the tuberculosis in herds without having any detriment to the age structure, mental health or the badger population’s overall well being (“Second Year of Badger Culling Begins”). For this reason it is of the utmost importance that before any sort of culling occurs a thorough analysis of family structure, age structure, mental health and behaviors is looked into on an species to species basis. From there, other strategies can be weighed based on population size and situation. Culling is a viable option for population management but on a situational basis and in terms of the elephant it is inappropriate.
“Elephant Population Management.” Kruger Park News. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
“Elephants To Cull or Not to Cull That Is the Question.” Kruger Park Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
Harmse, Riana. “Elephant Population Management In Kruger.” Olifants Reserve, Kruger National Park, Limpopo, South Africa. Aug. 2014. Lecture.
“Role of Bull Elephant.” Elephant Culling. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
“Second Year of Badger Culling Begins.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
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