Elephants in Excess

The elephant population in South Africa is booming. That may sound like a good thing, but it’s actually a growing problem. The New York Times reported today that even Kruger National Park, the country’s biggest wildlife reserve, can’t handle the herds. Environmental minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has come up with a potential solution: Kill some of the giants.

The idea, not surprisingly, is extremely unpopular with some environmentalists and researchers because elephants have a complex social structure, which makes it difficult to thin the populations without traumatizing the herd. An article in the New York Times Magazine last year discussed the affect on elephants when humans interfere:

Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, [researchers] claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.

Elephants are also very intelligent. Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society recently realized that elephants are self-aware, a characteristic that they share with few other species, including humans.  

Unfortunately, they also have a significant impact on the lands where they roam. According to the article today in the New York Times:

That elephants are destructive is unquestioned. African elephants can eat as much as 5 percent of their weight and drink up to 50 gallons of water a day, and herds have been known to reduce forests and bushlands to treeless expanses of weeds, grass and broken stumps.

Perhaps understandably, some conservationists think that preserving the biodiversity in Kruger National Park should be prioritized over protecting the elephant population. (Government officials estimate that the number of elephants will grow to 34,000 by 2020—up from 20,000 animals now.)

The expanding elephant population might be a problem, but humans have done much more environmental harm by clearing forests and ripping resources from the ground. If self-awareness is something that we share with these creatures, maybe we should not resort to killing them and instead think of ways to reduce our impact on the earth.


I LOVED your final paragraph! This is so true. These animals have been resorted to living in protected locations when they once were able to roam all over Africa's continent. I am outraged of the plan to cull the elephants, especially when they understand the intelligence & sensitivity of this animal. It takes practically two years for an elephant to give birth. There is just so much incredible soul to this animal. It sickens me that they are unable to live freely and roam as they once were able to because of poachers & greed. Us, humans need to take a long hard look at what we are doing to this earth, and it's inhabitants.

I agree with Melissa. Let's invest money in more birth control and sex education projects in the areas outside of the park, to help "manage" the human population instead of killing off elephants. This is really a problem of our own hatching and resorting to killing, as we always seem to do, is not the answer.

As an animal lover and biologist it is always tough for me to see the impact that humans have had on wildlife. It is my job to make sure that governments do the right things and I have dedicated my life to it. Truthfully culling humans, while not a practical option, would help to solve the problem of the overpopulation of many of the animals we have here in Africa. We haven’t had a serious disease, food shortage or war to help control our population in a long time. Unfortunately the Elephants here in South Africa now are rapidly developing the first two of these problems. The closest two pods have started losing weight from lack of food and one is seriously ill. Starvation and malnutrition drives diseases. We have to control the population now. I have been asking for support to be able to finance birth control for the whole area, but as it is we now have no choice but to reduce the population. I cannot stand to watch these animals starve to death and die very sick painful deaths. We must cull some of them now before the entire worlds population of elephants is threatened by disease from further starvation. I am also searching for support to raise money for tranquilizers to reduce the stress on the animals to be removed.