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ENVIRONMENT & TRAVEL January 2006
Is Dumbo dangerous or endangered ?
by Anne-Laure COZANNET

Some elephants in South Africa’s Kruger National Park might have to be culled.

Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism has to decide whether or not to kill between 5,000 and 7,000 elephants in the Kruger National Park.

The Kruger Park is the largest of South African National Parks. David Mabunda, SANParks chief executive, says culling is most urgent. A recent study has shown that elephants damage the biodiversity of the park and destroy the habitats of endangered animals such as the rare black rhino and the roan antelope. Each elephant eats 170 kg of plants per day, which explains why the herds are quickly modifying the vegetation of their own habitat.
This is not the first time this problem is being debated : between 1967 and 1994, as many as 14,562 elephants were culled in SANParks. The Kruger park, which has an area the size of Israel, is entirely fenced off. The elephants cannot migrate as they normally would and are confined in the park as if it were a very large pen, but not quite large enough. The culling was stopped in 1994 and a moratorium was put in place.

The pro-culling supporters say the moratorium badly needs to be lifted. The South African people are divided. Those living in the Western part of the country are strongly opposed to the elephant massacre, whereas people in other parts of the country are either resigned or very much in favour of the culling.
Obviously activists and animal rights defenders strongly oppose the lifting of the moratorium. In November, they met with Mr Van Schalkwyk and proposed several alternatives to avoid the culling. Contraception and transportation are the two other options, but contraception would be too costly and difficult, while transportation is out of the question since all other parks have already reached their elephant quotas. To animal rights defenders, the environmental issue is nothing but a pretext. According to them the government wants to kill these elephants for financial reasons. It would benefit from the various permits they would sell to hunters willing to pay to take part in the culling, and it would also benefit from the consequent increase in ivory sales. South Africa is one of the main ivory exporters in the continent.

The elephant culling conundrum is not an easy matter to solve. If it were to take place, its impact on tourism might be devastating. For instance seal hunters in Canada are said to have deterred numbers of wild-life loving overseas visitors from spending their holidays there. Would tourists continue to visit an elephant-killer-country ? Mr Van Schalkwyk's decision will be a particularly painful one to reach since he is in charge of both the Environment and Tourism !


Sources:
« Plan to Cull Kruger Elephants is Deeply Flawed, » The Mail and Guardian 28 November 2005.
« Does it Make Sense to Cull Elephants ? » The Guardian 24 September 2005.
« Don't Shed Too Many Tears For The Elephants, » The Guardian 22 September 2005.
« Mulling a Cull, » The Economist 17 March 2005.


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