Elephant population management

10. September 2018

Botswana,  the country with the reputation of the best wild-life conservation record in Africa,  suddenly has its own elephant conservation problems. Pressure from hunting groups (mostly large private Safari operators)  are working hard to overturn the Botswana hunting ban. They argue that revenues from hunting help to generate funds for conservation, decrease poverty of local human populations, curtail poaching and reduce elephant/human conflict. According to the hunters, there are simply too many elephants in Botswana.

In reality, funds generated from killing elephants seldom trickle down to local populations and do not support conservation efforts.  Also, statistics of elephant numbers in Botswana do not support the notion that the elephant population has increased during the last 5 years.  Over time, Elephants are quite capable of reducing their birth rate to the available food supplies, as they have done for millions of years. Elephant/human conflict is growing as a result of increasing human pressure reducing existing elephant habitats.  Recent studies have also shown that killing elephants through hunting, culling and inadequate protection against poaching, destroys the social fabric of extended elephant families, converting peaceful herbivores into aggressive killers.

Desert elephant in Namibia, a prime example of elephants adapting to harsh environmental conditions.  Photo credit: Glen Bloomfield

The Global Mail article published August 29, 2018 written by Geoffrey York, African Bureau Chief, entitled Southern Africa has too many elephants and lions. Is contraception the answer ? explores a far more humane manner to control elephant populations within sustainable elephant habitats.

Experiments with contraception began in Kruger Park in the late 1990’s and are now successfully employed in a number of private game reserves with no side effect and a 100% success rate. Using dart rifles from helicopters, female elephants are injected with a vaccine that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that block fertilization. The vaccine can be re-inforced with annual boosters and can be reversed. What is missing  from the findings in the Global Mail is, that reducing elephant populations in proportion to the available sustainable environment by itself does not prevent elephants’ extinction. While, certainly more humane than culling, it ignores the problem of diminishing elephant habitats  due to human pressure. Survival of elephants and the plants and other animals that depend on them, also requires dedicated, safe elephant habitats, free from increasing human population pressure.

 

Savannah elephants at water hole. Photo credit: Original Mostert / shutterstock

 

This goal could be achieved by finding ways to distribute the larger part of the substantial profits generated by wild-life eco-tourism to the local population suffering from poverty and elephant/human conflict. It should also be a two pronged approach, by training and employing locals as rangers, and by providing a minimum universal income to everyone in and around elephant ranges. Once it is understood and experienced that elephants and other wild life, if properly managed, can largely eliminate the risks of everyday human life, attitudes towards conservation and poaching are bound to change.

 

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