South Africa may resume culling elephants by May 1, says minister

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2008:
JOHANNESBURG–South Africa could resume
culling elephants as early as May 1, 2008,
ending a 13-year moratorium, environment
minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk announced on
February 25.
Van Schalkwyk said his department had
“taken steps to ensure that this will be the
option of last resort, acceptable only under
strict conditions.”
Offering a concession to animal
advocates, Van Schalkwyk added that capturing
wild elephants for commercial purposes would be
forbidden effective on May 1.


The South African elephant population has
increased from about 8,000 in 1995 to 18,000
today, Van Schalkwyk said.
“The issue of population management has
been devilishly complex. We would like to think
that we have come up with a framework that is
acceptable to the majority of South Africans,”
Van Schalkwyk added.
“There is no estimate” of the numbers of
elephants to be killed, environment ministry
spokesperson Riaan Aucamp told Fran Blandy of
Agence France-Presse. “Everything will depend on
the management plan of each park,” Aucamp
insisted.
“In 2005, the government recommended the
cull of 5,000 elephants, which would have been
the largest slaughter anywhere, causing a storm
of protest and a rethink,” recalled Xan Rice of
The Guardian.
Van Schalkwyk himself called estimates
that between 2,000 and 10,000 elephants would be
culled “hugely inflated.”
The resumption of elephant culling came
as South Africa prepared to sell a large
inventory of ivory stockpiled from past culls,
natural deaths, and seizures from poachers.
“China, one of the world’s largest
traders in illegal ivory, is vying to buy up
South Africa’s massive elephant ivory stock which
has built up as result of the worldwide ban” on
ivory trafficking, reported Sheree Béga of the
Cape Argus on March 1.
“Conservation authorities must first
decide whether China is a suitable destination
for the ivory, the national Department of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism said this
week,” continued Béga.
South Africa in June 2007 received
permission from the Convention on Inter-national
Trade in Endangered Species to sell ivory to
Japan. The Japanese purchase is reportedly to
include 40 tons of ivory from Kruger National
Park, where 16,210 elephants were culled from
1966 to 1994.
South African Department of
Envir-onmental Affairs spokesperson Mava Scott
told Béga that, “The products from elephants who
might be culled will be stockpiled,” but added
that, “A nine-year ban on ivory trading will
begin once the ivory sales approved in 2002 and
2007 have taken place.”
Animal Rights Africa trustee Steve Smit
alleged that Van Schalkwyk had essentially
proposed “to undermine the entire international
ivory ban to make money.”
Culling would replenish the South African
ivory inventory, and the existence of the ivory
would increase pressure to cash it in, while
marketing ivory in any manner “stimulates demand
and the incentive to cull,” Smit charged.
“Elephants are being commodified into
goods and chattel,” said an Animal Rights Africa
media statement, promising to respond to culling
with “international tourist boycotts, public
protests, and legal challenges.”
“The big problem,” assessed Steve
Connor, science editor of The Independent, “is
that elephants in Africa can no longer roam
freely. In the past, as the population of a
herd increased, it would migrate to less
populated region, thus allowing the grazed and
degraded habitat it left behind to recover.
However, there would have been some sort of
natural culling process as well. Major droughts,
for instance, would have occurred every couple
of decades and would have killed off many
elephants. Whatever the arguments against the
cull, not least the cruelty involved,” Connor
wrote, “death by drought is a long, drawn-out
process, and much less humane than culling.”
But Earth Organization founder Lawrence
Anthony called the proposed culling “unwarranted,
as there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate
that the animals are affecting biodiversity in
the Kruger National Park.” Anthony told the
South African Press Association that the
scientific advisory board of the Earth
Organisation has evidence that there is no
factually established carrying capacity for
elephants, damage to flora is inflicted chiefly
by lone bulls living outside of matriarchal
herds, and that many tree species depend on
elephant activity to facilitate regeneration.
Anthony said that plants in general recover from
elephant damage within five years, and that more
lasting damage is done by impala.
The previous South African culling method
involved herding elephants together by
helicopter, darting them with the tranquilizer
Scoline, and then dispatching them with gunshots
to the head. Van Schalkwyk is believed to favor
sharpshooting, which would eliminate the herding
aspect.
“In no way do we condone culling as an
option. If it is to be, then it really must be
with only the most careful management,” Christina
Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal
Welfare told Celean Jacobson of Associated Press.
“We are not pleased with the thought of
culling elephants, but we do recognise culling
as a management tool,” World Wildlife Fund
representative Rob Little told Agence
France-Press. “WWF does not advocate culling as
the preferred population management alternative,”
Little added, “but recognises that government
managers may deem it necessary after
consideration of all other options has been
exhausted.
“In all likelihood a few of our
neighbouring elephant range states are watching
South Africa to get guidance,” Little noted.
“It’s not something anybody welcomes at
all, but we also have to look at the broader
conservation management issues,” WWF global
species director Susan Lieberman told Robyn Dixon
of the Los Angeles Times. “The option of doing
nothing does not exist.”

Zimbabwe

Parks and Wildlife Management Authority
of Zimbabwe director general Morris Mtsambiwa
used similar rhetoric in a January 4, 2008
announcement that his agency will produce biltong
[dried meat] from elephants for retail sale as
part of a “sustainable use” scheme. Mtsambiwa
said the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority
would “apply to the Ministry of Environment and
Tourism for a quota of elephants to slaughter
every year, after which it would build some
abattoirs,” reported the government-controlled
Harare Herald.
“Currently the country slaughters at
least 500 elephants every year, with the meat
distributed to communities living adjacent to the
game parks,” the Herald said.
Zimbabwe claims to have more than 100,000
elephants, and estimates there are about 400,000
elephants in the whole of southern
Africa–100,000 more than the South African
projection. Botswana is believed to have the
most elephants, about 165,000 at present, more
than 25% of the total wild African elephant
population.

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