SA planning elephant birth control

2012-08-15 16:53

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal, home to thousands of elephants, is planning a birth control campaign for the pachyderms to prevent a population explosion that could threaten plants and wildlife.

Unlike other parts of Africa where elephant stocks have dwindled to dangerously low levels due to poaching and a loss of habitat, SA has seen its populations steadily grow through conservation, with the country pressed for room to house the massive animals with hefty diets.

KwaZulu-Natal is looking to expand a project running for more than a decade where elephant populations have been controlled by injecting cows with a vaccine that triggers an immune system response to block sperm reception.

"Slowing the growth rate will allow time to be gained to achieve other biodiversity objectives, such as land expansion, without having to cull the elephants," said Catherine Hanekom, an ecologist for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

SA, which had just over 100 elephants nearly a century ago, now has more than 20 000, studies said.


The overpopulation problem is most dire in neighbouring Botswana, home to at least 133 000 elephants, where vast forests have been lost to satiate their appetites. With a human population of two million, it has the highest elephant-to-people ratio in Africa, at one for every 14 people.

Adult elephants consume about 100kg to 300kg of food a day and most elephants in SA are in fenced-in reserves where vegetation could be decimated if populations grow too large.

"Because we have taken away opportunities, they don't have the chance to remedy the overpopulation naturally as they would through migration," said Audrey Delsink Kettles, an elephant ecologist who has been leading studies for years on contraception at Makalali Private Game Reserve.

Testing of the vaccine, administered by dart and requiring an annual booster, has been conducted at 14 small reserves. Studies have shown it is reversible, nearly 100% effective and has no adverse impact on elephant health or behaviour, Kettles said.

Contraception is seen as a humane alternative for controlling populations over the other main options of culling herds or moving them vast distances to areas with more food.

The Humane Society of the US and Humane Society International have backed the vaccine.

"Failure to control the reproduction of the species... leads to a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the reserve and to habitat degradation," they said in statement.

  • faizieishlah.shabalala - 2012-08-15 17:01

    Why restrict this to elephants. Have you seen the breeding going by the township dwellers

      husaberg.twostroke - 2012-08-16 00:01

      Why dont they practise birth control for humans cause most humans are pretty pathetic in South-Africa if you ask me. Give Give Give me and handouts and lazyniss. This does not count for the productive humans in South-Africa.

  • johleneh - 2012-08-15 17:24

    Friggin selfish humanity... we can breed all we want and use as much space/food/resources as possible but dooon't let the elephants get out of control! Most days I am ashamed to be a part of the human race.

      Christi Vaughn Roestorff - 2012-08-15 18:53

      Have you seen what happens to the ecosystem when the elephant population exceeds capacity? Short answer everything dies! Unless the population stops growing the only solution is culling, would you prefer that?

      kseyffert - 2012-08-15 19:56

      Johleneh, I think Christy missed your point. Christi he was not saying we must not do this, he was saying that he is ashamed that we need to do this to ourselves and don't. That we need to do this to the animals because We are out of of control.

  • nosiphom.mazibuko - 2012-08-15 17:49

    Legalise ivory trade by accredited agencies. Whats this rubbish of birth control for wild animals???

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-08-16 08:09

      The culling may be brutal, but in terms of cost and efficiency is certainly the best option. Contraceptives are sure to mess with the social structures of herds - herds of old elephants, certainly not natural. I'd hate to have to do the culling, but in pure conservation terms it makes the most sense. Its cruel also to deprive herds of babies, you can see what intense maternal instincts these creatures have. Pity humans will only realise they should have controlled their own population when its too late ... thats a gaurantee. But ja, legalise the trade again - Kruger used to make a fortune from ivory, sad as that may be.

  • evanknowles - 2012-08-15 18:07

    Durex should be leaping on top of this obvious marketing opportunity!

      preshen.govender.90 - 2012-08-16 09:05

      The elephants can borrow my condoms we share the same size

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