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Zim elephant population: To cull or not to cull, that’s the question

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ZIMBABWE should explore other options like trading, hunting or translocation of its elephants instead of culling them, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) says.

DUMISANI NYONI

Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Mangaliso Ndlovu in May revealed that Zimbabwe was considering culling elephant herds in an effort to manage the animal population.

Culling is defined as the selective process of removing animals, either for breeding or for controlling overcrowded populations.

Zimbabwe has about 100 000 elephants, which is the second largest elephant herd in the world after Botswana.

However, in its latest report Zela said culling was not a good idea as it would have long lasting effects on those elephants that survive or are left behind.

“While the population is now more than the carrying capacity, is culling the first option to consider? Culling is an immediate solution that will help with the overpopulation,” the report compiled by Nobuhle Mabhikwa-Chikuni, Zela’s project officer, reads in part.

“However, culling will result in long lasting effects on elephants and may have a negative impact on the majestic species in the long run.  Research has shown that culling of elephants has long lasting effects on those that survive and/or are left behind.

“It leaves an impact on their social structure that can go on for decades. Conserving elephant population is more than just a numbers game, it is also essential that complex social function is maintained as this is a crucial aspect of elephant biology and population integrity,” Zela said.

There are 100 000 elephants in Zimbabwe, more than double the number the country can sustainably accommodate.

This overpopulation has resulted in increased habitat destruction and habitat loss, changes in vegetation structure and an increase in human-wildlife conflict.

Cases of human-wildlife conflict are on the increase, especially in communities near wildlife zones. In the past five years in Zimbabwe, nearly 500 lives have been lost while 582 cattle were lost to wild animal attacks.

Thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed. In the same period, 153 people were injured by wild animals.

Zela said hunting is a conservation tool that can be used to manage the elephant population and, at the same time, generate revenue that can be used to compensate the victims of human-wildlife conflict and help improve infrastructure and service delivery for the communities that live near protected areas.

“Zela strongly believes communities should benefit from the natural resources in their areas.  Therefore, other options that are humane and can generate income need to be adopted to help with the management of elephants’ population. Other options should include the legal and transparent sale of the elephants to other countries,” it said.

Zela queried why the government would opt for culling yet it can trade and use other methods such as translocation.

“We did not inherit the earth from our fathers but borrowed it from our children. I detest the thought that if we do not adopt progressive ways the next generations down the line might only get to see elephants on TVs and books,” the report said.

“I implore the authorities to explore other options before they cull the massive elephant herd that Zimbabwe has.”
As part of the recommendations, Mabhikwa-Chikuni said there was a need for the authorities to undertake a census to determine the actual numbers and the concentration of the elephant herds.

“More research needs to be undertaken on other methods to deal with the elephant populations. There is a need for stakeholder convening to develop another elephant management plan and assess the success and challenges of the previous one that ran from 2015 to 2020,” she said.

She said it was also time to advocate for another one-off sale of the ivory stockpiles to fund the research and conservation of elephants in Zimbabwe.

Adoption of other non-lethal methods of elephant population management should also be considered, she said.

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