Cablegate: South Africa May Reintroduce Culling to Manage Its

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: South Africa may reintroduce culling to manage its
expanding elephant population

Sensitive but unclassified; protect accordingly. Not for
internet distribution.


1. (SBU) South Africa is working to identify an acceptable
solution to the problem of elephant overpopulation in its
national parks. An October conference with stakeholders
held at Kruger National Park reviewed different elephant
management methods, including relocation, contraception and
culling. Culling appeared to be the most favored option
despite concerns from animal rights activists. The
country's park service will make policy recommendations to
the government in 2005 and culling is likely to be part of
the final plan for elephant management. In the meantime,
Kruger will be demarcated into several zones in an effort to
protect the park's biodiversity from the growing numbers of
elephants. End Summary.

Elephant culling is emotional issue

2. (SBU) Wanda Mkhutshulwa, Head of Communications at the
South African National Parks (SANParks), told ES&T Assistant
that the country's elephant population is approximately
20,000. The Kruger National Park (KNP) is home to over
12,000 of these elephants, a rapid increase from under 7,000
in 1995. KNP can accommodate only 7,500 elephants
comfortably, so the current population is well above
"capacity." The remaining elephants are scattered in other
parks around the country. Ms. Mkhutshulwa stressed that
culling is a highly emotional and sensitive subject, and
that SANParks is treating it as such.

Elephant numbers grow, have negative impact

3. (U) According to conservationists, elephants do not have
any natural enemies in the wild and are well protected from
poaching in the parks in South Africa. Elephants are also
not susceptible to diseases and have a long lifespan. As a
result, their numbers can only increase. According to
Mkhutshulwa, ten years ago the South African government
discontinued population control by culling. Since then
elephant numbers have swelled, creating serious problems for
humans, fauna and flora. She said that conservationists and
scientists agree that elephants are overgrazing the park
land, to the detriment of other species. They also destroy
trees, some of which take long to reach maturity, or are a
very rare species.

4. (U) SANParks is also concerned with the impact of
elephants on the environment. Mkhutshulwa cited the example
of Maphungubwe National Park, a world heritage site in
Limpopo province. She said the park has only about 50
elephants, but their impact on the vegetation is very
visible. The park had three forests of Ilala palm, a rare
palm family species, in its natural habitat. Elephants
destroyed two of the forests, and the remaining forest
survived only because it is enclosed in a private property.
Local communities living in the vicinity of the parks have
also complained about the elephants breaking through fences
and raiding crop fields and the drinking holes of livestock.
Escaped elephants also pose a threat to nearby inhabitants,
and the fences broken by the elephants can also result in
other dangerous predators escaping, a threat to humans and

Stakeholders discuss options to manage growing elephant
--------------------------------------------- --------------

5. (SBU) SANParks hosted a conference in the KNP in October
2004, to discuss various elephant population control and
management methods. National laws require all-inclusive
consultations on national park policies that affect
stakeholder groups. Over 200 interested and affected
parties, including academics, scientists, local community
members, NGOs and the government, represented by Department
of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, attended the
conference. Although the participants reached no final
decision on how to downsize the elephant numbers, according
to Mkhutshulwa, most supported culling. She said that five
breakaway groups discussed different approaches to the
problem, and three supported culling, one objected, while
the last group was indecisive. Culling, which involves
selective elimination of elephants for conservation
purposes, was perceived to be the most viable and reasonably
humane option to adopt.

Alternative options considered weak, less effective
--------------------------------------------- -------

6. (SBU) Animal rights groups and other stakeholders
attending the conference suggested alternative management
methods such as contraception, translocation to parks in
Africa or other foreign countries showing an interest.
SANParks did not dismiss such suggestions, but it has a
responsibility to provide an effective solution to the
problem as soon as possible. Mkhutshulwa said that
contraception is a slower-acting and more expensive method.
She said elephants that have been relocated to another
country, such as Mozambique, have walked back to their old
habitat in South Africa. Some countries eligible for
relocation do not want the elephants, as they too have
elephant overpopulation. Zimbabwe has 80,000 while Botswana
has 120,000 elephants, according to Mkhutshulwa. South
Africa does not want to repeat the mistake of allowing the
elephant population to reach such great proportions.

7. (SBU) SANParks' view is that because elephants are such
free ranging animals, South Africa would appear
irresponsible if it were to relocate them to countries where
they will be confined to captivity. It would also be
traumatic for elephants to be deprived of the freedom they
have had all their lives, especially the older ones.
Translocation is costly and is not expected to make a big
impact on the existing numbers. A scientist at the
conference said that exporting the elephants to places as
far away and foreign as West Africa would be like sending
the elephants to another planet, where they would struggle
to adapt. Also, the elephant species found in West Africa
are different from their Southern African relatives of the
savannah grassland. Security is another problem, as it is
not clear that the elephants can be sufficiently protected.
According to Mkhutshulwa, most options have serious

SANParks responsible for efficient park management
--------------------------------------------- ------

8. (SBU) South Africa's Protected Areas Act stipulates that
SANParks' management policy must be approved by the Minister
of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. SANParks is
responsible for efficient management of the country's
national parks, and if it fails to deliver, the government
can transfer responsibility to another entity. Mkhutshulwa
said that SANParks is also planning to divide the KNP into
different zones so that the impact of the elephants on the
park's biodiversity can be better controlled. According to
Mkhutshulwa there will be a high impact absorbing area in
the center of KNP, low impact areas and specific protected
vegetation areas, where elephants would be kept out to
protect the plants. As a signatory to the Convention on
Biodiversity, SANParks believes South Africa cannot afford
to be seen losing species through poor park management.

9. (SBU) Mkhutshulwa said that culling is not likely to
encourage poaching because KNP management had almost
eliminated poaching in the last ten years. Most of the
policing work is done through intelligence methods involving
community participation. If communities stand to benefit
from saving the parks and protecting wildlife, they will not
tolerate poaching or allow it to occur. The law also imposes
very stringent penalties against transgressors, which is
another deterrent.

Next steps by South African government

10. (SBU) Following the elephant management conference,
SANParks plans to hold bilateral meetings with interested
parties for further deliberations. SANParks will formulate
policy recommendations to be presented to the Minister of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism by April 2005. The
Minister will then publish the policy document for public
comment before making a final decision on whether or not to
cull. If the Minister approves a recommendation to cull,
the government will consult relevant stakeholders and
appoint an ethics committee for advice on specific culling
methods. The stakeholders and the committee members will be
invited to witness the culling to ensure that the animals do
not suffer. SANparks officials will apply agreed-upon best
practices in culling elephants, which have a higher level of
intellect and consciousness relative to other animals.
Tusks recovered from any culling will be added to the
national stockpile stored at the KNP, while the skins and
meat will be sold to the local communities.

11. (SBU) Elephant culling stirs emotions in South Africa
and around the world. SANParks is carefully balancing the
concerns and emotions of stakeholders on the culling issue
with its responsibility to manage biodiversity in national
parks. We expect the final, well-debated decision to
include an option of culling.


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