2008-03-03 00:00

A moratorium on elephant culling will be lifted from May 1 this year under certain conditions, according to Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

The South African elephant population has more than trebled in the years since 1995 when the moratorium was instituted as a means of halting the depletion of these mammals. In other words, the government’s elephant conservation policy and management has worked very well — except that now one might say it’s working too well, so that the ecological balance is affected, with population densities threatening to exceed the capacity of the land to sustain them.

Many will react to the decision with distress: elephants are majestic, highly intelligent animals, the structure of whose families and herds is complex and whose behaviour often seems remarkably human. Further, as elephant populations to the north die out in the ravages of war or famine, or through mindless slaughter, South Africans may well feel that we should continue to encourage the growth of our own. It’s a difficult decision. Fortunately, therefore, Van Schalkwyk says culling is to be a last resort, when other population management options are not suitable.

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