Once severely endangered, elephants in South Africa now thrive, causing some to worry that their population could threaten smaller species.
While some are calling to reinstate culling of elephants for the first time since 1994, other conservationists worry that the effects of killing elephants run deeper than we understand.[social_buttons]
In 1900, the elephant population sunk to only 200 due to hunting; now, the population is estimated to be 17,000. This soaring number combined with their individual demand for feed can result in over-grazing, which hurts the rhinoceros and gazelle populations first.
The animals, which can live up to 70 years, seem to have strong familial bonds that extend to death. After one of their own dies, elephants often sit near the body for days and sometimes try to cover the body with sticks.
Due to the emotional impact on other elephants, the government would require that entire families of elephants be killed rather than only the old or sick. Contraception and translocation have been deemed too expensive to use. Other parts of Southern Africa are experiencing similar over-population, but forest elephants in central Africa still face numerous threats.
Conservation group the World Wildlife Fund agrees with South Africa’s plans.
“In some areas there may be too many elephants for the available area, and culling may be needed,” said Sue Lieberman, director of the WWF International species program. “It’s not a preferred option and it’s not a pretty sight. Nobody wants to do this, but the option of doing nothing doesn’t exist.”