Our Elephant Population: A New Solution to an Old Situation

The Kruger National Park is home to the largest population of elephants in the world. These majestic animals have long been confined to fenced parks and reserves, a scenario unique to our country. With this, and under favourable conditions, elephant populations can double within 15 years. Denser herds, who feed by uprooting trees or tearing off branches, have the power to transform the entire landscape, especially around waterholes.

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Photo Credit: Noel Feans

Ever since this, the elephant populations in fenced reserves needed containment, and the act of culling was thought to be the only option available to deal with the growing number of elephants. However, since the 1970s saw sharpshooter being employed to help keep the elephant numbers down, other nonlethal ways have since been introduced.

Elephant contraceptive measures are one such a method. The process started to help control the rising elephant populace in all of South Africa’s fenced nature reserves, but also to preserve the plants and habitats that elephants, as well as other species of animal, survive on.

The contraceptive measures utilize a drug called PZP, also used on deer, wild horses and other mammal species for population control. The drug causes female elephants to create antibodies that bind to the surface of their eggs, which prevent sperm from fertilizing them.

The results speak for themselves, though: in the Greater Makalali area, it’s recorded that since the project’s initiation in the year 2000, the elephant population has risen slightly from around 50 (in that same year) to approximately 83 in 2015. Without contraception, this number would have stood at 159 in 2015 and a staggering 238 by 2025.

However, even though there is some measure of success to the method of control, not everyone has fully embraced the idea. The Kruger Park area has sadly not adopted the vaccine yet. However, the silver lining is that regions like the Greater Makalali reserve and its success with the regulation of the elephant population have inspired other fenced reserves to adopt the procedure too. With the vaccine now being used in a total of 20 parks and reserves, which include the nine parks that are home to the largest elephant populations in South Africa.

There is some fear, though.

Should PZP NOT be adopted by the Kruger Park, the reality that culling might become a common practice once more looms on the horizon. Or, worse yet: poaching, although rare, is something to be considered, too.

With PZP, the need to inhumanely kill one of Africa’s most majestic creatures will be no more.