Managing the elephants of Kruger National Park

Authors

  • Ian Whyte,

    1. Kruger National Park, Private Bag X402, Skukuza 1350, South Africa
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  • Rudi van Aarde,

    1. Mammal Research Institute, The University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa
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  • Stuart L. Pimm

    Corresponding author
    1. Mammal Research Institute, The University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa
      Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA; Tel: 423–974–1981; Fax: 423–974–0978, E-mail: stuartpimm@aol.com
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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA; Tel: 423–974–1981; Fax: 423–974–0978, E-mail: stuartpimm@aol.com

Abstract

The elephant population in Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa, is growing rapidly. To prevent damage to the Park's ecosystems, the management has culled about 7% of the population annually. Such culls are very controversial. At first glance, contraceptives seem an attractive alternative means of control. We examine contraception as a management option, review the relevant aspects of elephant reproduction, physiology and demography and conclude that this optimism is probably misplaced. First, contraceptives have a wide range of physiological and behavioural side-effects that may prove to be damaging to the individual female and those around her. Second, the elephants in the Park have near-maximal growth rates with inter-calving intervals of less than four years. To achieve zero population growth, about three-quarters of the adult female elephants would need to be on contraceptives. There are no simple alternatives. The smallest numerical target for controlling population numbers is to kill or sterilize females about to become pregnant for the first time. Such a solution is unlikely to appease those who consider killing elephants to be unethical. It may, however, be the one closest to the natural patterns of elephant mortality.

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