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SOS Rhino : In the News : Fear of poaching as SA moves to introduce culling

Fear of poaching as SA moves to introduce culling

  Kenya banned game hunting in the early 1970s for fear that poachers would kill off the country's elephant and rhino populations for their horns and tusks.

The East African
January 30 2006

The likelihood of South Af-rica reintroducing the culling of its elephant population has raised fears that the move could set a trend and lead to a rise in poaching in countries like Kenya, which have large but not unmanageable herds.

South African National Parks (Sanpark) has declared an "18-month public consultative period" to debate whether or not to allow elephant culling, including hunting, which were banned in 1994. Sanpark said it was considering reintroducing sport hunting as one way of culling its nearly 200,000-strong elephant population to slow down environmental destruction by the animals.

Kenya banned all manner of game hunting in the early 1970s for fear that poachers would kill off the country's elephant and rhino populations for their horns and tusks.

The head of the Elephant Project at Kenya Wildlife Services, Patrick Omondi, told The EastAfrican last Wednesday that the government would not consider culling its herd of about 30,000 as the country can comfortably accommodate 50,000. But he said that the introduction of sport hunting in any country in Southern Africa would escalate the threat of poaching across the continent.

Kenya has been at the forefront in opposing culling and the reintroduction of hunting or sale of ivory stockpiles, citing unstable neighbours and porous national borders.

According to Mr Omondi, the country is holding 37 tonnes of ivory but won't sell a even a single kilo.

"Selling is not an option; but we have been considering establishing an ivory museum or selling it to a consortium of donors and using the money for conservation. No decision has been made yet," said Mr Omondi.

He said it was difficult to attach monetary value to the stockpiles in the absence of a legal ivory market.

The stand by Sanpark has already raised the stakes in favour of lobby groups that support culling in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, where conflicts between animals and humans have placed governments under pressure to control elephant populations.

Although the KWS says it has no reason as yet to reduce its elephant herds, the cost of keeping the animals within the designated areas is placing the organisation's budget under severe strain.

"Animal control costs the KWS Ksh8 million-Ksh10 million ($111,000-$139,000) every year, a substantial chunk of it going to elephant control," said Mr Omondi.

That amounts to about Ksh100 million ($13.9 million) every year spent on operations involving crews in choppers to drive animals off farm lands. "So far, KWS has also constructed 388km of electric elephant fences at various ranges across the country.This is in addition to another 1,000km to control all types of animals. It costs Ksh1.5 million ($20,833) to erect a kilometre of electric fence," added Mr Omondi.

In calling for the debate on culling, Sanpark argues that high elephant numbers | with their long lifespans, need for vast roaming ranges and huge appetites | had not only become an environmental menace | clearing entire bushlands and converting them into bare grasslands with no tree left standing | but were also becoming a threat to other species.

The debate in South Africa has already taken an acrimonious turn, with animal-rights activists arguing that if culling is not allowed, the country is headed for an "environmental holocaust."

In Kenya, where anti-elephant sentiments run deep in rural areas that are witnessing intensified human-wildlife conflict, a culling policy would pass in record time were it to be presented to parliament.

The negative anti-wildlife sentiment, a significant part of it directed at the elephant, was captured by recent decisions in parliament on wildlife protection and compensation for people injured or suffering losses in conflicts with elephants.

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