Blogging About Critters Since 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pachyderms on the Pill

In this case, we are talking about female elephants in South Africa that are on contraception. And to be fair to the ladies, males are also getting vasectomies.

{The irony is that we recently posted a story about the controversy over breeding zoo elephants so they WILL reproduce and here's an article about managing wild elephants so they WON'T reproduce. Gaaah!}

It is part of a national research effort to answer pressing questions about South Africa's elephant population: In short, given the animals' humongous appetites and destructive habits, is the 20,000-strong population threatening the habitat of other species? If so, how do you control population growth?

There are only four known solutions to too many elephants: birth control, relocation, so-called transfrontier parks that span borders and the one that people do not really like to talk about, shooting the animals from helicopters. The South African government's draft policy on elephant population control, released this year, includes all four options.

Some South African conservationists believe a cull (mass elephant kill) is inevitable in hugely popular Kruger National Park, which is nearly twice the size of Los Angeles County and had 12,500 elephants at last count in 2006.

Wanda Mkutshulwa, a spokeswoman for the government's parks agency, SANParks, refused to comment on the likelihood of a cull. "We made our recommendations in 2005," was her only comment, referring to SANParks' controversial call on the government to allow culling.

But shooting elephants would surely cause a storm of international protest, given human sentiments about the animals and the widespread perception that they are an endangered species (correct in other parts of the continent but not in southern Africa). There is talk among animal rights organizations of organizing a tourist boycott of South Africa should culling take place, threatening one of the country's most important industries.

Culls do not involve selectively shooting the oldest or weakest. They mean shooting whole herds, including youngsters, because the animals' social structures are so complex and interdependent.

Photo by Andrei_S.

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