S. Africa Plans to Curb Elephant Numbers

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; 3:16 PM

ADDO ELEPHANT PARK, South Africa -- The majestic male elephant ambled through the dense bush to the water hole, extending his trunk in greeting to two young females, April and Aqua, their mother Aran and grandmother Agatha.

The captivating scene is repeated in parks throughout South Africa, where the elephant population has catapulted from near extinction to explosion _ prompting the government to reconsider its ban on killing the mighty beasts.

Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said Wednesday that South Africa might have to resume slaughtering elephants as part of a package of measures that also includes contraception and relocation to try to prevent the world's mightiest mammal from wreaking havoc on more delicate animal and plant species.

The idea of reversing a 1995 ban on killing elephants in South Africa is especially striking given that populations in other countries are low, and that, globally, the elephant is classed as "vulnerable" and trade in ivory has been banned since 1989 to combat poaching.

"The government will never give a blank check to culling," van Schalkwyk said Wednesday, but added that South Africa had to preserve the balance of nature in the flagship Kruger National Park and other wildlife reserves.

"We have about 20,000 elephants in South Africa, more or less 14,000 in the Kruger National Park. In 1995, when we stopped culling, we had around 8,000 elephants. The population growth of elephants is 6 to 7 percent," Van Schalkwyk said.

"This is the hard reality," he told a news conference overlooking a watering hole in Addo Elephant Park, where the elephant population is set to double by 2020 _ as is the population in Kruger.

Although this is good news for tourists hoping to spot the Big Five _ elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalos _ it is inflicting a heavy toll on vegetation and other animal species.

A single elephant devours up to 660 pounds of grass, leaves and twigs a day.

Van Schalkwyk said the elephant management proposals included moving them to other areas, creating special enclosures to protect other species, expanding parks, contraception and shooting selected animals.

"I would have preferred not to consider the options of both culling and contraception," he said.

Interested parties have until May 4 to comment and then after that it may take many more months to bring the measures into force.

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