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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 13:30 GMT
S Africa to allow elephant cull
Elephants in South Africa's Tembe Elephant Park
The issue of culling is extremely divisive

The South African government has said it will allow elephants to be culled for the first time in 13 years.

In a statement given to journalists on Monday, the government said a cull was needed to control elephant numbers.

The elephant population is thought to have grown from 8,000 to 18,000 since the government banned culls in 1995.

The statement acknowledged that the issue would rouse "strong emotions", and the news will anger many animal rights campaigners.

They have already threatened to call tourist boycotts and take legal action against the measure, which had been expected.

The capture of wild elephants - to be used in elephant-back safaris, for example - is also a matter of controversy in South Africa. In the statement, the government said this would be banned, except for purposes of rehabilitation into the wild.

'Last resort'

In the statement, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk said culling would be an option of last resort that was acceptable only under strict conditions.

How much like us do elephants have to be before killing them becomes murder?
Animal Rights Africa

He said other measures, including better management of elephant enclosures, translocation, and elephant contraception, could also be used.

And he said culling - an option which will become available from 1 May - was only being adopted after consultation "with all shades of opinion".

But Mr van Schalkwyk said the interests of "balanced biodiversity or people living in proximity to elephants" must also be taken into account.

'Murder'

People living close to elephants have complained that elephants are dangerous, eat crops and compete with people for water.

But the campaign group Animal Rights Africa says elephants have highly developed cognitive abilities, and a high degree of self-awareness.

"How much like us do elephants have to be before killing them becomes murder?" it asked in a statement anticipating the announcement.



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