ADDO NATIONAL PARK--
South African environmental affairs and tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk on February 28, 2007 announced that culling elephants may resume soon after a 12-year suspension, under a draft policy open for public comment until May 4.
"If culling is allowed after the process of public comment, and if it is included in the final draft," van Schalkwyk said, speaking cautiously to media at Addo National Park on the Eastern Cape, "it would really depend on the management plans and management objectives of each of the parks" where elephants might be killed.
Addo and Kruger National Park, South Africa's oldest and largest, are most often mentioned as sites of alleged elephant overpopulation.
"We have about 20,000 elephants in South Africa," van Schalkwyk said, of whom "more or less 14,000 are in Kruger National Park. In 1995, when we stopped culling we had around 8,000 elephants. The population growth of elephants is six to seven percent [per year]. This is the hard reality," Van Schalkwyk
"Culling or contraception, I would personally have preferred not to consider," van Schalkwyk added. "Culling may be used to reduce the size of an elephant population subject to due consideration of all other population management options.
"Contraception appears to be a promising measure to control the rate of reproduction of elephants in certain limited circumstances," van Schalkwyk allowed, but asserted that "the long-term social, physiological and emotional impacts on elephants are not yet fully understood. Current contraception methods are highly invasive," van Schalkwyk said, "and should therefore be used with caution."
Summarized Lavinia Mahlangu of BuaNews in Tshwane, "In addition to culling and contraception, the draft provides for elephant population control using water supply management, enclosure or exclusion, creating movement corridors between different areas, and expanding elephant range by acquiring additional land."
Concluded van Schalkwyk, "I want to emphasise that the draft norms and standards merely represent a new chapter in the ongoing debate about elephant management. Our department does not pretend
that this will be the final word. Their adoption will not be a 'victory' for any given position, nor will it immediately lead to the wholesale slaughter of elephants anywhere."The final word, unlikely to be acknowledged as such, may be the verdict on elephant trophy and ivory trade proposals before the 14th triennial meeting of nations which have endorsed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The meeting will be held June 3-5, 2007, in The Netherlands.
The South African draft policy announced by van Schalkwyk closely followed recommendations outlined by World Wildlife Fund/South Africa acting chief executive Rob Little to Stella Mapenzauswa of Reuters on February 23, 2007."Friends of Animals has long argued that South Africa is motivated to kill elephants to stockpile ivory, which South Africa claims needs to be sold to benefit conservation," responded Friends
of Animals president Priscilla Feral. FoA has been actively involved in African elephant conservation for more than 20 years.
"Kruger National Park is secured with electrified fencing so that elephants can't escape to migrate to other neighboring states," Feral continued. "If South African officials wanted to relieve the pressure of an increasing number of elephants, an area of fencing could be taken down, but they refused to consider that option because the struggle is over ivory, not elephants."
Feral called on wildlife organizations to "withhold significant grants to South Africa, and decline tourism, as long as their policies threaten elephants and imprison them inside parks for the purpose of shooting them. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana routinely support initiatives to commercialize and
exploit wildlife," Feral charged. "They treat their elephants like hostages: 'Give us money or we'll have to shoot elephants inside Kruger National Park.'"
Affirmed International Union for the Conservation of Nature elephant specialist Julian Blanc, to the Lesotho-based Afrol News service, "Southern African countries have been doing heavy lobbying for re-legalization of the ivory trade. Other African regions still have not achieved sustainable elephant herds," Blanc added, "and
fear that legalization of the ivory trade may cause increased illegal hunting."
In a recurring pattern preceding CITES triennial meetings at which easing the 1989 international ivory trade ban is anticipated, elephant poaching has escalated.
Nearly 23 tons of poached ivory were seized by various law enforcement agencies in August 2006 alone, Samuel Wasser of the Washington University Center for Conservation Biology told Afrol News.
"Customs agents typically detect only about 10% of contraband," Wasser said. "That means more than 23,000 elephants, or about 5% of Africa's total population, likely were killed for that amount of ivory."
Namiban minister of environment and tourism conservation scientist Louisa Mupetami recently told Absalom Shigwedha of the Windhoek Namibian that her agency is not yet ready to take a public position on the proposals that will be before CITES in 2007. But "Namibia and Botswana have jointly submitted a proposal to maintain restricted ivory sales while easing conditions for future sales," Shigwedha wrote.
"Botswana is also independently seeking authorization" to sell 40 metric tons of stockpiled ivory, Shigwedha added.
CITES Scientific Support Unit spokesperson David Morgan told Associated Press in Geneva, Switzerland, that Kenya and Mali have proposed that all trade in ivory tusks or finished products be banned for 20 years.
Tanzania has requested that its elephants be downlisted from CITES Appendix I to Appendix II, which would be a first step toward allowing resumed elephant hunting. As Kenya has a long undefended border with Tanzania, the downlisting could expand the opportunities for transborder poachers to market elephant ivory, which now moves mainly through Somalia.
Zambia and Zimbabwe are actively lobbying to expand elephant trophy exports.
Zambian tourism and environment minister Kabinga Pande in January 2007 led an official delegation to the Safari Club International convention in Reno, Nevada, where they asked U.S Fish & Wildlife Service assistant director for international affairs Ken Stansell to increase the number of permits granted to U.S. hunters to
import elephant trophies. The U.S. annually issues 20 permits for elephant trophies from Zambia, but 500 for elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
Between 2001 and 2005, Pande claimed, Zambia lost $1.1 million because it was not able to sell permits to U.S. hunters to kill 115 elephants who were shot for various management reasons.
Zimbabwe is meanwhile arguing that it should be allowed to export more elephant trophies, and ivory too.
"We have a hunting quota of 500 every hunting season, but this is not meaningfully reducing the population," Zimbabwean environment minister Francis Nhema told the government-controlled Harare Herald.
"Over 110,000 elephants now inhabit Zimbabwe, and the number is growing at 5% annually, although there is space and food for only 47,000," the Harare Herald asserted. The Harare Herald did not explain how so many elephants could survive and reproduce if they had already exceeded the carrying capacity of the habitat by
more than 100%. However, van Schalkwyk of South Africa mentioned in passing, while introducing the draft South African elephant culling policy, that "We don't work with the outdated concept of carrying capacity any longer."
What might make the concept of carrying capacity "outdated," van Schalkwyk did not explain, but the concept may be inconvenient for nations and organizations seeking to expand "sustainable use" of wildlife products.
As regards elephants, this means trophy hunting and selling ivory.
The Zimbabwean elephant population data, the Harare Herald said, was from a survey financed by the World Wildlife Fund, founded by trophy hunters in 1961 to promote "sustainable use" and oppose hunting bans.
"Elephant and lion trophies were the most expensive," at a mid-March 2007 auction of hunting permits, the Herald noted. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Manage-ment Authority "raised close to $1 million U.S. and over $1.5 billion [in Zimbabwe dollars] in the Zambezi Valley hunts auction held in the capital last week," the
Herald trumpeted. "This was a significant increase from last year's auction, which raised only $150 million," the Herald said--but with runaway inflation taken into account, the returns appeared to be about the same as in 2006.
Despite the purported value of elephant trophies, however, Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chair Johnny Rodrigues alleged to Eleanor Momberg of the Cape Times that some alleged "guardians of Zimbabwe's national parks have entered the lucrative crocodile breeding business, and have allocated 50 to 100 elephants a year to feed the crocodiles.
"They have shot three already," Rodrigues told Momberg. "We are looking into allegations that other crocodile farms in the country are being supplied with elephant meat from culls in conservation areas."
Rodrigues' case was supported by an e-mail from Kariba resident Geoff Blyth, who asserted that the elephants of the Lake Kariba region were jeopardized by the construction of a crocodile farm in the Kaburi wilderness area, "on the shore opposite two popular tourist attractions," Momberg noted.
"Blyth said an elephant caught in a snare had recently been shot so that officials could determine how many elephants a year would be required to keep their crocodiles fed," Momberg recounted.
Said Blyth, "They are destroying everything. We believe there is a silent cull going on. More and more tourists are complaining they are not seeing any game."
Working in partnership with the Friends of Hwange Conservation Society of Britain and the SAVE Conservancy of Australia and South Africa, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force has raised more than $1 million to help maintain 5,400-square-mile Hwange National Park.
At the same time, as London Sunday Telegraph correspondent Peta Thorneycroft summarized from Harare, Rodrigues "has accused hunters, mainly from South Africa and the U.S., of drastically reducing the lion population in southern Zimbabwe where they are in theory a protected species. He has also regularly criticized both the government and some private sector safari operators for wayward conservation practices.
"When Hwange National Park was critically short of funds, Rodrigues exposed the authority's purchase of a fleet of top-of-the-range 4x4s for use by officials in Harare. His last alert reported that Zimbabwe's largest safari company, Shearwater Adventures, which operates out of the Victoria Falls World Heritage site, had taken 10 young elephants from their mothers in the Hwange National Park. It is believed that the young elephants could be trained to provide rides for tourists," Thorneycroft recounted.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director general Morris Mtsambiwa responded by writing to Rodrigues in January 2007 that, "Due to continuous negative and false reports emanating from your organisation about conservation in Zimbabwe, the authority can no longer afford to associate with you. With immediate effect, the authority will no longer accept any donations that will come through your organization."