Friday, April 29, 2005

Elephants Targeted

African elephant populations are booming in southern Africa, largely due to the restrictions placed on elephant hunting in the 1990s. As a result, some park managers have been forced to begin culling Loxodonta africana. Apparently, their take is not enough. As a recent article in South Africa’s Sunday Independent makes clear, the elephants are placing undue pressure on the parks they inhabit. In Kruger National Park (South Africa) the ideal population is 7,000 animals; presently 13,000 elephants reside within park borders.

Culling is not popular with animal rights groups; these groups promote other options such as relocation or sterilization. These expensive and challenging alternatives are familiar to those of us who follow the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) population debate here in the United States.

The best option, as I see it, is the creation of wildlife corridors that will allow the animals to move freely from park to park without coming into contact with extensive human settlement. Barring the necessary legislation and land acquisition, however, culling will remain an unfortunate reality, animal rights be damned. It is also important to note that humans are one of the only natural predators for African elephants and, even with successful wildlife corridors and improved migration, a flourishing elephant population will probably demand some attrition via bullet.

Photo credit: George Reiger, Botswana, Africa, 1997 (image of Seba, a yearling African elephant, inspecting my camera bag in the Okavango Delta)


OGeorge said...

"As the Sunday Independent makes clear", South Africans, just like the rest of the world, still are in denial about human population. 43 million South Africans and 13 thousand elephants don't have room. People are not going to stop breeding without strict control brought on by an ecological disaster. Since no one will "cull" the human population, they might as well shoot all the elephants now. In 20 years there's not going to be room for the 7,000 "ideal" elephants, park or no park.

Elephants are not deer. These are big-brained, sensitive creatures. Would the proper decision be to shoot excess chimps or Gorillas or Orangutans if they had the numbers? What if there were a smaller brained member of our own genus Homo still alive? It'll hurt less to kill all the elephants now. Dragging it out over the next 50 years will stress both the elephants and me much more.

I just thank the stars that mammoths died out 10,000 years ago here in North America.

I'll get back to you when I feel better HH, right now I'm just pissed. I'm lucky I'm old and I won't have to live with this insanity too many more years.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Your post is troubling to me. It makes me ask questions that lead one to a very dark place. Your hypothetical question of population controls for a "smaller brained member of our own genus Homo" skirts the real issue. The root question here is one of morality; how do we view our own over-populated species in relation the others we share the planet with?

Whether deer, elephant or man, I am not inclined to rank species by brain capacity or sensitivity. Humans are undeniably more complex, but I think it unfair to consider ourselves superior until we prove as much. Inventions and table manners aside, I see little evidence of a species risen above the rest of the beastly din. We war and hoard, ravage our environment and thoughtlessly propogate like so many other large land mammals. By this logic, then, I should be comfortable with the idea of human culling programs. I am not. Genocide and eugenics are not acceptable.

How can I, in good conscience, say no to eugenics and voice my support for elephant culling? Isn't there hypocrisy involved in this stance? Yes, there is. I'm something of a hypocrite. But what can we do? Barring a sudden revelation among human beings, one in which we realize we should do our best to make the world livable for all creatures, I see no end to our own trangressions and rampant ignorance. WE are the problem...not the elephants, the mammoths, the large predators, the deer. WE are the reason these creatures explode in numbers or crash to extinction. WE need to take responsibility for the mess. To allow elephant numbers to spike within the confines of one park is to allow massive deforestation and the collapse of other species inhabiting the area.

Would I be able to shoot an elephant? No. I couldn't eat the animal and I have little use for an elephant skin or ivory. For similar reasons, I wouldn't want to shoot a bear, a lion, a wolf or a human (though I've read that long-pig is quite delicious and nutrious). But because I personally have a problem with shooting an elephant doesn't mean selective hunting should be prohibited. Certainly I prefer a world in which we stop killing all animals, humans included. What considerate individual wouldn't? I do not like whaling, seal cubbing, bear or elephant hunting; hell, I don't even particularly like deer hunting. Taking an animal's life is not heroic or fun, it is murder. Yet I do it. I suppose this makes me a confused, disturbed person in the eyes of many, but I do not feel this way. My choices are based on what little we have learned thus far and are rooted in my desire to see intact, healthy ecosystems flourish. The same desire that drives my quest for sustainability finds me in a deer stand. It is an unfortunate, ugly reality.

I can day dream of a time when we will establish better natural corridors for the animals, and other species, when we no longer need to condone culling. Until then I see no other choice.

the Mantis said...

I am definitely no expert, but, aside from the thoughtful response you have given, HH (if that is your real name...), I also find O'George's stance disturbing in its stark pessimism. Based on his logic, we should all drive SUVs NOW and do our best to hasten the inevitable demise of every species on this planet! I know that sh*t can get depressing when you follow some of these rabbits all the way down the rabbit-hole, and I am hoping that this was more big-picture frustration speaking, and not a coherent strategy, because it's that sort of thinking that allows people to justify their continued abuse of the planet and the animals that inhabit it ("Sh*t, they're all gonna die anyway, why should I change anything to slow that process down?"). Chin up, O'George, big brains or no, throwing in the towel as soon as a problem looks "inevitable" seems to do more harm than anything else...