If only the baboon ploy helped with elephants

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2005:

JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN–Baboons are a
traditional head-ache for South African wildlife
officials, but environment and tourism minister
Marthinus van Schalkwyk probably wishes elephant
issues could as easily be handled.
Failing to achieve broad-based agreement
in favor of culling the Kruger National Park
elephant population at a series of consultatation
meetings in November and December 2005, South
African environment and tourism minister
Marthinus van Schalkwyk scheduled another
consultation meeting for early 2006.
Van Schalkwyk is believed to favor
culling, but only with political cover
sufficient to prevent harm to the South African
tourist industry.
Van Schalkwyk’s Cape Province counterpart avoided
a similar confrontation over baboons when
CapeNature acting chief executive Fanie Bekker
appropriated 3.5 million rand, worth about
$530,000 U.S., to hire baboon monitors.

“The monitors, drawn from the unemployed
particularly in Masiphumelele, have been
successful in keeping baboons out of the smaller
Southern Peninsula villages of Kommetjie,
Scarborough and Da Gama Park,” wrote Melanie
Gosling of the Cape Times.
“The monitors employ the simple method of
lining up and making any form of noise, for
instance clapping their hands,” explained
Bekker. “This discourages the baboons from
crossing into an urban area. The monitors also
collect important scientific data regarding
baboon populations.”
Observed Gosling, “With increasing
numbers of houses springing up in baboons’
traditional foraging grounds, baboons have
turned to stealing food from houses, leaving
behind a mess of feces, spilt food, broken
furniture and electrical appliances. In
retaliation, residents have taken to shooting and
poisoning the animals, often maiming themŠMany
have been injured or killed by cars.”
Schemes have even been advanced to try to
control baboons by culling them and canning their
meat for export.
Eventually baboon control may rely on a
contraceptive approach. For now, however,
turning non-lethal baboon management into job
creation seems to satisfy all demands.

Cull recommendation

Momentum in favor of culling the Kruger
elephants built from a July 2005 recommendation
by South Africa National Parks chief executive
David Mabunda that the elephant population should
be almost halved.
Mabunda said, after months of testing the public
response to mentions of culling, that killing
elephants “should not be delayed beyond March
2006.”
Van Schalkwyk, perhaps stalling for time,
said in September 2005 that a cull would take 18
to 20 months of preparation.
“They’re going to leave elephants in
pools of blood all over Kruger,” objected Earth
Organization founder Lawrence Anthony, best
known for organizing the 2003 rescue of Baghdad
Zoo animals who were left unattended after the
U.S. invaded Iraq.
“An elephant slaughter of this size and
scope is unprecedented in international
conservation history,” Anthony continued to Tony
Carnie of the KwaZulu-Natal Mercury, “and will
undoubtedly precipitate a concerted international
animal rights campaign.”
Added Anthony to Pretoria News reporter
David Blair, “Elephants become traumatised,
they have long memories, and they react. What
will be the reaction of the remaining traumatised
elephants to the tourists?”
About 1.3 million tourists per year visit Kruger.
SANParks estimates that Kruger presently
holds 12,467 elephants, up from 7,500 in 1994,
with a population growth rate of 7% per year.
Since grown elephants have no natural predators
and closely guard their young, the SANParks
model projects that the Kruger elephant
population will continue to double every 10
years. It does not project that any natural
mechanism will slow the growth rate before the
number of elephants exceeds the carrying capacity
of the Kruger habitat.
Historically, South Africa culled
elephants to stabilize park populations, and
sold their tusk ivory. Between 1967 and 1994
SANParks killed 14,562 elephants. But culling
ceased to be a lucrative option after the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species imposed a global moratorium on elephant
ivory sales in 1989.
South Africa has sought ever since to
lift the ivory trade ban, as have Botswana,
Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
“Given elephants’ ability to transform an
entire landscape, action is needed, or the
result will be the mass starvation of elephants
and other species,” asserted World Wildlife Fund
South Africa conservation director Rob Little.
“We believe that more scientific research
is needed before any decision is taken. There is
not enough research on how many animals the
Kruger Park can carry,” responded Lawrence
Anthony to Moyiga Nduru of Inter Press Service.
Observed Blair, “There is no conclusive evidence
to show that elephants are inflicting irreparable
harm on vegetation.”
“There isn’t a shred of hard scientific
evidence behind that,” Southern African
Association for the Advancement of Science
president Ian Raper told Blair.
“Much of the perceived biodiversity
problem facing Kruger Park is the result of
decades of mismanagement. There are a variety of
non-violent, non-lethal tools available to
manage elephant populations,” Xwe African
Wildlife director Michele Pickover told
Associated Press.
The four alternatives considered by
SANParks are capture for export to zoos and
circuses, translocation to habitat where
elephants have been poached out, contraception,
and culling.

Favoring culling

“Some people living near Kruger National
Park are pleased with plans to cull elephants,”
Fred Katerere of BuaNews reported on December 6,
2005.
“Elephants destroy the park fence,
leaving holes for lions which later come for
cattle in the villages,” Makuleke primary
school teacher Samson Maluleke complained to
Katerere.
Three villagers in the past six years
have been killed by elephants who wandered out of
Kruger.
SANParks director general Pamela Yako in
September 2005 promoted Mabunda’s recommendation
in favor of culling by exhibiting photos of
elephants crashing through fences supposed to
have been “99% elephant proof.”
“Nothing stops a determined elephant,”
Yako said, asserting that elephants had killed 44
head of cattle at a village near Kruger only
weeks earlier.
Culling is the option reportedly favored
by the Botanical Society of South Africa, the
Elephant Managers & Owners’ Association, the
Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Wildlife &
Environment Society of South Africa, the
Wilderness Foundation, as well as WWF,
representing the “sustainable consumptive use”
philosophy of wildlife management.

Anti-culling

Raper, representing scientists, favors contraception.
“We get protein [porcine zona pelucida] from pigs, dart the animals, and it prevents
them from conceiving. It has been used since the
1970s on numerous animals like horses and seals
in the sea, and it has been tested [on
elephants] in Kruger National Park,” Raper told
Nduru of Inter Press.
“One dart can last for two years,”
Raper continued. “We are very close to having it
last for five years. The vaccine has minimal
side effects, with only a lump on the elephant
where she has been darted.”
“The vaccine has been proven to work in a
number of small game parks,” agreed Christina
Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal
Welfare. For example, in Makaladi Game Park,”
near the border of Botswana and Namibia, “they
use the contraceptive and find it very
successful,” Pretorius said. “It’s an option
that we need to explore.”
“People don’t know that contraception has
improved,” Raper emphasized. “It’s not hormonal
any more,” unlike the first contraceptive drugs
that were tested on elephants. “There should be
no fear of the vaccine at all,” Raper said,
whereas, he believes, “Culling is a terrible
prospect. The animals will be traumatized, and
become aggressive.”

Litigation likely

Elephants Alive, an umbrella for more
than 100 pro-animal groups, promised litigation
if van Schalkwyk opts for culling.
Central to the SANParks argument for
immediate culling is a government policy
declaring that, “Lack of scientific certainty
shall not be used as a reason for postponing
measures to prevent environmental damage.”
Elephants Alive attorney David Bilchitz
pointed out to Anél Powell of the Cape Times that
culling could affect the Kruger National Park
biodiversity just as much as not culling, and
that this policy statement could form the basis
of a legal challenge.
Xwe African Wildlife director Michele
Pickover told Powell that the plan to cull
elephants is “deeply flawed, ecologically and
ethically. My concern is that it is not all
about science,” Pickover continued. “There is
also a moral imperative that they have to take
into account. They are now completely ignoring
the moral imperative.”
Moving to strengthen South African animal
advocacy, Justice for Animals, South Africans
for the Abolition of Vivisection, and Xwe African
Wildlife have begun formal discussion of a merger
to form a new organization called Animal Rights
Africa, “to be an opposition group against the
mainstream conservation groups like WWF-South
Africa,” Pickover told Powell.

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