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SAfrican Government Consults Scientists On Elephant Culling

by Sivuyile Mangxamba
Cape Town (AFP) Jan 19, 2006
The South African government on Wednesday held consultations with scientists on a plan to lift a 10-year ban on elephant culling, seeking to inject some cold hard science into an impassioned debate.

Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk met with 10 top scientists who were to present evidence on the elephant conundrum facing the government.

"This is an enormously complex issue with a wide range of opinions that are passionately advocated by various stakeholder groups," spokesman J.P. Louw of the environment and tourism ministry said after the meeting.

"The minister has undertaken to consider all opinions carefully before reaching a decision."

South Africa is considering lifting a 10-year ban on elephant culling to prevent the pachyderm population from spiralling out of control and to safeguard other species.

The problem is particularly acute in South Africa's largest and best-known reserve, the Kruger National Park, where the elephant population is increasing at a rate of seven percent a year, which means there will be some 20,000 elephants in 2012.

Elephant culling in Kruger started in 1967 and was halted in 1995 after an outcry from animal rights groups. There are currently some 12,500 in the park and between 14,000 and 15,000 countrywide.

But scientists participating in Wednesday's discussions said "there is no compelling evidence to suggest the need for immediate, large-scale reduction of elephant numbers in the Kruger National Park", according to a statement issued by the ministry.

However, there is a need for the management of elephants in other parts of the country, according to one of the scientists attending the meeting.

"We have also agreed that in other places there may be a need to manipulate ways they (elephants) use their space and interact with biodiversity," said Rudi van Aarde of the University of Pretoria.

South Africa's national parks service contends that the elephant population must be brought under control to protect vegetation and other wildlife, and also to safeguard communities bordering Kruger Park who have been harassed by the amimals.

The environment and tourism ministry announced in September that it was considering lifting the ban but would first consult the public and other players before taking any action.

The move drew criticism from some animal rights and conservationists who argued that options other than the slaughter of elephants, one of the "Big Five" animals, should be considered.

Two groups said Wednesday that they were disappointed with the makeup of the scientific panel that they charged were pro-culling.

"Our concern about this meeting is: will it be a discussion on how to cull or will they look at whether culling is necessary," spokeswoman Michele Pickover of Xwe African Wildlife told AFP.

"The meeting is composed with the pro-culling lobby. There were a lot of international scientists who were meant to come to this meeting," said spokesman David Bilchitz of the group Elephants Alive.

"We think the department is under a lot of pressure to make a decision. We call on the department to have another round where a full range of scientists can be represented," said Bilchitz.

The 10 scientists from South Africa and Zimbabwe were to debate evidence on whether there are too many elephants, whether they are causing damage to biodiversity, and look at which management options are the most appropriate.

Other consultations with scientists were expected to take place before a final policy was to be drafted, the ministry said.

Besides culling, other population control measures would include capture, translocation and contraception.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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