BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 17 March 2008, 22:13 GMT
Leakey backing for elephant cull
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Elephants in South Africa's Tembe Elephant Park
Culling is back on South Africa's agenda after more than a decade
The eminent conservationist Richard Leakey has given qualified backing for South Africa's plan to cull elephants.

In an article for the BBC News website, the former head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service says culling is "a necessary part of population management".

But Dr Leakey says there is also a responsibility to curb human activities that impinge on elephant habitat.

South Africa plans to allow culling after a gap of 14 years because of growing numbers of elephants.

The population is estimated to have expanded from 8,000 to 18,000 in little more than a decade.

Though I find elephant culling repugnant, I can see the sense in it
Richard Leakey
The plan has aroused the ire of some environment and animal welfare groups.

Some are so opposed to the plan that they have called for tourist boycotts.

Necessary evil

Having made his name as a palaeontologist studying the origins of humanity in Africa, the 1980s saw Dr Leakey at the forefront of the movement campaigning for the suspension of elephant culling.

But now he sees it as necessary.

"While I will never 'like' the idea of elephant culling, I do accept that given the impacts of human-induced climate change and habitat destruction, elephants inside and outside of protected areas will become an increasingly serious problem unless key populations are reduced and maintained at appropriate levels," he writes in an article for the BBC's Green Room series.

BBC Green Room logo

"Though I find elephant culling repugnant, I can see the sense in it [in some scenarios]."

The resumption of culling was announced last month by environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk as part of a package of measures for controlling elephant numbers.

In some parts of the country, people have complained that the animals are dangerous, and that they eat crops and drink water intended for the human population.

The South African plan lists culling as a last resort, with measures such as better management of elephant enclosures, translocation, and contraception examined first.

Social impacts

Richard Leakey says the priority given to animal welfare in the South African plan is a major reason for his change of stance.

"I was pleasantly surprised to find that the guiding principles... begin with the acknowledgement that 'elephants are intelligent, have strong family bonds and operate within highly socialised groups'," he writes.

Richard Leakey (BBC)
Dr Leakey's career has spanned science, conservation and politics
In contrast, he says the previous culling programme which his campaigning helped to end in 1994 appeared to be largely commercially motivated, was not managed in a scientific manner and was unacceptably inhumane".

Dr Leakey, whose most recent work includes founding the conservation group WildlifeDirect, believes it is essential to recognise that conflicts between elephants and human communities can and should be addressed by looking at the human end of the problem as well.

With human activities encroaching ever further into traditional wildlife habitat, competition for land, food and water is increasing.

"I believe that we have a responsibility to check habitat impacts in order to reduce conflicts between elephants and humans by controlling human activities as well," he writes.

The South African management plan sees culling becoming an option from 1 May.

WWF on S Africa's plans to cull elephants

Cull concerns 'miss bigger picture'
17 Mar 08 |  Science/Nature
Bees to make elephants 'buzz off'
08 Oct 07 |  Science/Nature
African deal cut on ivory trade
14 Jun 07 |  Science/Nature
Climate fear for African elephant
07 May 05 |  Science/Nature
Looking for clues in the ivory jungle
10 Jun 07 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific