/ 29 February 2024

Elephants culled as ‘last resort’ after non-lethal methods fail

Elephant Population Threatens The Ecosystem In South Africa
Threats: Despite benign efforts such as placing bee hives at strategic points, stray elephants in the Kruger National Park and other reserves have escaped and caused harm in neighbouring areas. Photo: Murat Ozgur Guvendik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Culling 16 elephants in the Kruger National Park last year was a last resort after non-lethal mitigation strategies such as bees and electric fences did not prevent the animals from encroaching into human territories.

This is according to Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who, in a parliamentary response this week, said the elephants still managed to leave the barricaded fence despite efforts to stop them.

Stray elephants have been reported to cause the destruction of crops, marula trees and properties and damage vehicles, fences and infrastructure, as well as pose a threat to human safety. 

Fences allegedly broken by rhino poachers and stolen by people in areas neighbouring reserves have made it easy for elephants to break out of national parks, leading to conflict between people and elephants. 

“Six bee hives were installed in areas where the elephants had broken the Skukuza Airport fence in an attempt to use bees as a deterrent mechanism against elephants, which had no impact,” Creecy said.

Non-lethal solutions such as strategically placing bee hives along sections of fences that have been tampered with have previously been used after conservationists and national park authorities recognised elephants’ aversion to bees.

Creecy added that other methods used to deter the elephants included using a porcupine electric fence and camera traps. 

“A new porcupine-type electric fence was installed in sections of the Skukuza Airport, which assisted somewhat in reducing breakages,” she said. The camera traps were used to identify specific culprits involved in multiple breaches, she added.

The 16 elephants were killed after measures, including using helicopter flights to chase them away, failed. 

Despite these steps, stray elephants still managed to leave their barricades.

“Culling was used as a last resort, as per the provisions of the Elephant Management Norms and Standards,” Creecy said.

Last week, a stray elephant was killed after it terrified people in Matsulu, Mpumalanga when it roamed around their homes.

In January, four elephants were spotted in the same area. The elephants were recovered by SANParks.

SANParks spokesperson Rey Thakhuli told the Mail & Guardian that elephants who become immune to non-lethal deterrents will suffer the same fate as the 16 elephants.

He said that in line with the regulations “animals that constantly break out and cause damage must be euthanised since it means they have lost any fear for humans and could pose great danger”.

But, he added, collaborative efforts with people living near parks and police officers helped to ensure animals are brought back without any problems or threats to life. 

Last year, the KZN Nature Conservation Services board chairperson, Lydia Johnson, called on residents in northern KwaZulu-Natal to stop cutting and stealing game reserve fences, which aided the escape of a herd of elephants from iThala Game Reserve.

In a report released on Tuesday, Creecy said the government had hired additional personnel to aid the fight against rhino poaching because poachers often damage fences, which leads to elephants escaping.

“As part of the government’s poverty relief programme there are a number of fence monitors employed from neighbouring communities that patrol the western boundary fence of the [Kruger National Park] and report fence breakages, illegal tracks and people entering the KNP as well as animals escaping from the KNP,” she said.