To finish out elephant week I would like to take some time to discuss the different methods of managing elephant numbers. On the study trip I just came back from we discussed elephant management heavily and there were five main methods the professors went over: translocation, vasectomies, contraceptives, culling, and hunting.

Translocation:

For all parties involved in the discussion on elephants this is probably the most appealing option. The elephants are moved to repopulate areas they once roamed or to boost populations already established. This allows overpopulated areas to sell off or give away their excess elephants to preserve the habitat without killing the animals. The biggest problem with this is that there is no more room for elephants. When speaking with Ralf Kalwa, retired ranger from Kruger National Park, he stated that Kruger has run out of places to send their excess elephants. All areas suitable to host elephants with proper habitat and protection already have to many elephants themselves. In fact, he went as far as to say Kruger will give away their elephants at no charge so long as the recipient covers the cost of transportation. Unfortunately there is very little opportunity to use this option.

Contraceptives:

Once a year, or once every two years depending on which contraceptive is used, cows are darted with a contraceptive drug to prevent pregnancy. This has proven highly effective for small populations of elephants. However, areas like Kruger cannot afford this option as they have too many elephants to inject. Aside from cost there are concerns over psychological effects which are not completely understood at this point in time.

Vasectomies:

Yes it is possible to give an elephant a vasectomy. The procedure has proven to be very effective at controlling elephant numbers. More importantly there have not been any visible psychological effects on the bulls that have undergone this procedure. They still behave naturally and compete for females, just without resulting in pregnancies. The downside to this solution just like contraceptives is cost. For smaller reserves it is very effective and efficient but for places like Kruger which have so many elephants it is not possible due to financial constraints.

Culling:

This is the least appealing option for both the preservationists and the conservationists alike as typically entire herds are wiped out to reduce elephant numbers quickly. Traditionally this meant using a team of gunmen to sneak within range of a herd or pushing a herd towards the gunmen who would then shoot down all members as quickly as possible. The modern method used in Kruger before preservationists groups stopped the culling involved tranquilizing all members of the herd and quickly finishing them with rifles once the drugs put them under. As unappealing as it is this is also the most effective, and possibly the only, way to manage elephants when they become as overpopulated as they are now. There were some benefits that came from culling operations though. Before the ivory trade was banned parks could sell the ivory to raise money for conservation. The meat was also used to provide a cheap source of protein for local villages. During the days of culling elephant numbers were low enough in surrounding areas that the young were normally spared and relocated to other reserves.

Hunting:

Trophy hunting can be a very useful tool for the control of elephant numbers. Unfortunately it will not be able to drastically reduce elephant numbers in areas like Kruger, but if the numbers are reduced by culling efforts hunting could be used to help maintain the elephants at a sustainable level. Trophy hunting would provide great benefits as hunters would pay high prices for the chance to hunt an elephant, which could replace the funds lost when the ivory trade was banned, and the meat would once again be a source of cheap protein for local villages. Also, hunting provides the least amount of stress on the resident elephant herds as only a few select individuals will be taken out as quickly and cleanly as possible. However restrictions are needed on how many elephant can be hunted, the ivory must be watched to make sure it is truly used by the hunter as a trophy (as opposed to winding up on the black market which has happened with some rhino horns), and restrictions must also be placed on how large of an elephant may be harvested in terms of tusk weight. It is rare to see large ivory these days and this is a result of over hunting for the ivory markets during the colonial days of Africa. Any tusker that still carries the genetics to produce exceptional ivory must be protected in order to conserve those traits for future generations to see and enjoy.

With this I close my discussion week on African elephants. I hope those of you who took the time to read these posting found them both interesting and educational.

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