There are always huge debates as to whether the culling of elephant is ethical or not. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and in my opinion and many others, it MUST be done. If we don’t cull we will still lose many 1000’s of elephants as well as many other different species of game along with them in the future.
The Kruger National Park is a massive 20 000 square kilometres surrounded by a fence and because of this fence it is not a 100% natural environment which as a result requires grooming such as culling, stocking up of rare animal species from other reserves and controlled fires to keep it as natural as possible.
150 years ago there were no fences dividing countries which prevent the natural movement of game forced by the change in seasons. Many animals migrating in search of food and or water died, especially old, weak and injured individuals, possibly as a result of not reaching their destinations on time. This would help control the numbers of many game species, leaving only the strong and healthy to survive.
With the development of conservation areas such as the Kruger National Park, with all its man-made dams and abundance of thick vegetation, there is very rarely a shortage of food or water for game resulting in the massive increase in the elephant population.
It’s hard to believe that the Kruger national Parks’ elephant population was almost totally wiped out just 100 years ago due to excessive hunting and poaching and today it sits on about 12 000, which is 4 500 above the natural carrying capacity with the population increasing close to 3% every year!
If populations get too high, the impact on vegetation will be devastating as elephants require huge amounts of food to sustain their large bodies along with their weak digestive systems. Large bulls will eat as much as 250 kg of vegetation and drink up to 180 litres of water every day!
Of all the African herbivores the elephant has the most varied diet in terms of different plant species, eating almost every plant if finds and who knows, with too many elephant how many plant species may be lost forever. The elephants’ favourite food is grass. If an area is over-populated, in time the ground will be totally stripped of all grass which may result in serous erosion as the root systems of the grasses would normally hold the soil together. Areas that have been severely over-grazed and eroded may take many years to recover back to a suitable state and in some cases never recover. Grazing animals such as wildebeest, zebra, white rhino and hippopotamus will eventually die off if there is no grass to eat or nowhere else to find more.
When all the grass has been eaten, the elephant then concentrate more on feeding off trees and shrubs. It’s not just the leaves they eat but also the roots and bark of certain trees. They uproot trees, strip off bark and before we know it there are 1000’s of dead trees as far as the eye can see.
So what use to be lush thick vegetation with allsorts of beautiful trees and shrubs now looks like a desert with lots of sand, heavily eroded areas, tree stumps and the bones of all the animals that have now died of starvation, all of this as a result of nothing been done to properly solve the over-population of elephant.
Relocation of elephants to other game reserves:
Sounds good but it only helps temporarily as eventually space in these reserves runs out and the cost of moving them becomes more expensive as they have to be moved even further away to new areas. With over 300 elephant born into the Kruger National Park every year you can imagine the cost of moving 300 every year just to keep the population constant at 12 000.
Helicopters, pilots, vets, sedative drugs, transportation trucks, fuel, legal papers, all of this costs a lot when moving elephants to other game reserves or countries.
The female elephants are given a contraceptive injection that is highly effective but needs to be administered roughly every 6 months to keep working. Not all females are given the contraceptive that still allows the births of a few calves into the herds. This exercise is extremely expensive especially with large populations where 1000’s of females are given the injection every 6 months. The population growth slows down but still doesn’t solve the over-population problem.
Cropping is the process where small amounts of game are shot over a long period of time. An example of this would be taking out say 5 or 10 animals per week over a period of a couple months. Cropping works but has the down side that the visibility may be poor in the summer and early winter months, making it very difficult when shooting on the ground or from helicopters.
Culling is the process whereby a fairly large amount of animals are shot within a short period of time, for example; shooting say 200 elephants in the space of 3 weeks. This may come across a very cruel, but to date has been the only real long term effective method used. Culling operations are done in the shortest possible time to lessen the stress on the animals been shot.
Before culling was put to an end in 1997 the Kruger had a very healthy population of elephant. The tusks of culled animals were stored in safe warehouses or often burnt and much of the meat was processed for tin food which was given to poor communities and used by staff members of the park. Hyenas, jackals, vultures and many other scavenging animals made sure to clean up the rest of any carcasses left behind.
For now the game reserves that can afford it are using female contraception and relocating elephants. There are ongoing talks about bringing back culling but still no change. One day in the future ‘they’ will realise that culling is the answer but by that time it will be too late. If only ‘they’ would fully understand.