Culling is described as the killing of surplus animals from an animal population. Officials announced that come May 1, 2008 professional hunters will be allowed to kill, or cull, elephants in South Africa in order to reduce the animals growing population there.

Due to big game hunting in the early 1900’s elephants, like the buffalo in the Mid-West of the United States at the same time, were very close to becoming extinct. As a result, methods were taken to preserve the species and today an estimation of around 270,000 elephants now live in the continent of Africa! It took nearly one hundred years of care to get the elephant population back to a cushioned, yet still endangered, number. Regardless, preservation methods have been working and the species is in the process of being taken off of the endangered species list. Culling, however, does not help to expedite this process. When South African officials first allowed culling in 1967, sharpshooters in helicopters would kill hundreds of elephants in order to control the size of the herds. When culling was finally banned in 1995, more than 14,000 elephants were killed over the 28 year time span. Often, entire families were culled together because wildlife officials knew that survivors would suffer terribly from grief over lost loved ones. Only some of those killed were used for human consumption. Since the culling ban in 1995, the number of elephants in South Africa has grown from 9,000 to over 20,000, but the problem has refocused from too few of the animal to too many.

Many locals are in favor of culling due to how elephants sometimes have an aggressive nature, and the increased numbers have affected their crop growth due to trampling. Also, irrigation routes have been interfered with because the elephants drink the water. A number of the local population would be forced to move if the elephants keep reproducing at their current rate. Most families in Africa do not have the adequate funds to pack up and migrate solely due to a herd of elephants in their area. A region that is largely affected by the increased population of the animal is Kruger National Park. Kruger is located along South Africa’s Eastern Border and currently has an elephant population of 12,500. If left unculled that number is predicted to reach around 34,000 by 2020. Since a single elephant can eat over 300 pounds of vegetation daily, many woodland areas are turned into grasslands. The problem this presents to the locals is obvious.

Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk stated that culling would only be used as a last resort with strict restrictions attached. These restrictions were not mentioned in any media that I could find, and that leads me to question what these said restrictions are. Are they written down as law? Will there be people to enforce them upon the professional hunters who take part in the culling? Are there any repercussions for ignoring the restrictions? These are questions that I would like to see answers to. Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that culling “will be used as a last resort”. Yet, this ‘last resort’ will take effect on May 1 due to o
ther measures such as better management of elephant enclosures, relocation of the animals, and elephant contraception not producing the desired results.

Many animal rights groups, such as Animal Rights Africa, are quick to point out that elephants are one of the few animals (along with humans, great apes, and dolphins) who have a sense of self-awareness. For instance it is a fact that elephants, cry, play, have excellent memories, and even laugh! Elephants are also documented as grievers when a family member or other elephant close to the herd is killed. The fact that elephants emote such human characteristics probably won’t do much in terms of persuading the culling law to be retracted, but it does raises awareness of the elephant consciousness to the public. Animal rights groups are also threatening tourist boycotts to South Africa, and if this threat actually turns into action it could affect the economy there; Elephants are one of the main tourist attractions of the region.

The elephants of South Africa are not being culled due to rampages and high death tolls on the human population, but because their presence is disruptive to the people they co-exist with. It is saddening to think that civilized humans have resorted to killing off entire (endangered) elephant families because they pose as an inconvenience to the local people. Being from Buffalo, NY, I can somewhat relate to a need in controlling a disruptive and harmful animal population. In Western New York, deer are a serious problem to motorists and have resulted in far too many fatal crashes. Because of this, bucks (not does or fawns) are allowed to be hunted at specific times throughout the year in order to keep the population under control. High fines are enforced upon those who shoot a doe or fawn during the specified culling periods. But the elephant situation in South Africa is very different from the deer situation in Western New York; The deer are killing people, the elephants are not. If the balance hangs between an animal life and a human life, the human life is the life to save without a doubt. I can understand the problem in South Africa; The local people need food and water to survive, and cannot afford to move solely for the reason of saving the lives of a few thousand elephants. But there must be a better way than culling. There must be. Perhaps civilizations should begin expanding upward as opposed to outward in order to save space and preserve the environment as much as possible. The deer population in WNY results in the deaths of people. The elephant surplus is not resulting in human lives, but in human inconvenience.

Killing cannot become a means to solve an inconvenience. People must begin to to live with the creatures and environment around them. If man keeps playing ‘God’ with nature, things are only going to get worse.

Please help spread the word of this story and raise awareness to the elephant culling in South Africa.

The following web sites were used as references to this article: