What to do about the elephants?

Various sources say that poachers are killing 35 000 – 40 000 elephants a year which equates to about 10% of the total population. Most of the ivory is destined for China and other eastern countries which are then used mainly for carvings and souvenirs. These carvers are generally selected straight from art school and spend the rest of their lives in that profession. The carvings are extremely well done but if everyone made their mark by refusing to purchase anything made from ivory we’d all be helping to save the elephants. But do we really need to be saving all the elephants? How, you ask, can I pose such an outrageous question?

CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) banned the trade of elephant products in 1989 but is rethinking this ban as a measure to combat illegal poaching. Their proposal would allow the sale of ivory from elephants that either died naturally or as a result of trophy hunting, or were considered a threat or culled for ecological reasons.
If we take the Kruger National Park as an example the carrying capacity for elephants should be around 7000, presently there are 13 000+ which is almost double. Elephants, by virtue of their natures, are extremely destructive to any enclosed ecosystem. Essentially then elephants are impacting on all wildlife from ants to predators to birds to flora simply because there are too many enclosed within a fenced area. Is the banning of culling or trading in elephants a realistic solution? Is the answer to save all the elephants that will eventually die out when they have destroyed their own habitat and can no longer survive? Historically, before the arrival of the white hunters with their ‘elephant guns’ and unquenchable blood lust, the elephants survived quite amiably without any outside interference from man. How? In a nut-shell elephants were not enclosed in areas and spent years migrating from area to area returning to their initial areas years after leaving them thereby leaving ample time for recovery. We all know that that is history and we cannot have free ranging elephants wondering around. So what is the solution? To my mind the only solution is to control their numbers. Why can’t we move them to other areas instead of culling them is a viable question? Reserves that currently have elephants are also facing the same ban so they won’t take any more irrespective of cost and areas that can have elephants generally have them already.

Culling is never a pleasant task and I have met many rangers who have been involved with the unenviable task of culling elephants and I have yet to meet one who enjoyed the task. Rangers as tough as old boots have been close to tears recounting their experiences on an elephant cull. It’s horrible basically sums it up.


I don’t have all the answers but I do know that we need to reduce elephant numbers one way or the other and the only option I see as being realistic is to lift the ban on the ivory trade, cull surplus animals, and flood the market with the new and already stored ivory. As with everything it boils down to supply and demand – the eastern countries want ivory and they will get it legally or illegally. Usually the elephants being poached die horrifically and slowly, often from poisoned arrows or miss-placed bullets that cause protracted and unbelievably painful deaths. A clean, well organized, professional culling operation is to my mind the only option. How do you feel about it?


About Andrew Anderson

Managing Director: African Insight - Travel Experiences That Make A Difference African Insight - Explorations Tourism Concessionaire - Somkhanda Game Reserve
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