International Fund for Animal Welfare & Trustees of Animal Rights for Africa briefings


11 September 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

11 September 2007


Acting Chairperson: Mr D Maluleke (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Animal Rights for Africa Presentation
International Fund for Animals presentation [will be available on Monday 16th Sept 2007]

Audio recording of meeting


The International Fund for Animal Welfare and Animal Rights Africa representatives briefed the Portfolio Committee and Department of Environmental Affairs on their views about control of elephant populations, particularly their disagreement that culling should be an option. They disagreed that culling should be an option in the norms and standards policy being developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. The representatives opposed the argument that there was an over population of elephants in South Africa since there was insufficient scientific proof. They suggested that culling was being motivated by commercial reasons to enhance ivory trade. Animal Rights Africa suggested that if the Department were to continue to put culling as an option, then this would have the danger of badly affecting tourism, which would lead to economic decline. Questions by Members addressed the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the closing of waterholes, the safeguards being developed for communities in neighbouring areas, contraception and whether this was a viable option, the problems that were not addressed by contraception, biodiversity issues, natural causes of death, and the particular emotive issues around elephants. Further questions addressed the threat of boycotts by tourists, the reproductive cycles of elephants, and the link between tourism and reduction of poverty. The Department did not dispute much of what was said and noted that culling was only included as an option, not as the first or only step. It was necessary to separate ivory trade, hunting, and culling into completely separate concepts and areas. IT was noted that R5 million had been allocated to continuous research. Members suggested that surveys be done amongst incoming visitors, the situation on translocation, whether it was possible to re-locate entire herds and the way forward on the norms and standards. Members suggested that the Portfolio Committee should have its own public participation process.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Professor Rudi van Aarde, Chairperson, Northern Areas Royal Society of SA, and representative of IFAW, updated the Committee on the study undertaken that reflected the current status of the elephant population. Professor van Aarde mentioned that in his view elephants were not a threat because they never stayed in one place for a long time. The problems that had been reported in the Kruger Park arose through the way it was fenced and the location of water holes. The study showed that after the insertion of fences and water there would be an increase in the numbers of the elephant population. The problem could be resolved by having a natural environment where the elephants would be able to move freely and would not be confined in one space.

Professor van Aarde indicated that it was difficult to count the number of elephants in any given space as they varied across space and time, hence the inaccuracy in the figures that were provided for the Kruger National Park. Professor van Aarde said that scientists agreed that when elephants were confined in a certain space they would have an impact on the ecosystem. Furthermore more research was needed before making empirical findings.

Professor van Aarde mentioned that across different areas of South Africa there was either a decreasing, increasing or stable population, contrary to the belief that elephants were just increasing. Elephants responded to the climate change and hence their numbers would tend to stabilise. Given a natural or semi-natural environment the elephants would be able to move which would cause changes in the number of elephants in a place from time to time. He suggested that Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), in doing its research, should move from a symptomatic approach to a systemic approach.

Trustees of Animal Rights Africa Briefing
Ms Michelle Pickover and Mr Steve Smith, Animal Rights Africa (ARA), stated that at the outset the argument for culling of elephants was based on the premise - which to their minds was false - that there were currently too many elephants. They contended that there was no scientific argument to prove this, and there was no proof at all of overpopulation of elephants. They also stated that there should be a more constructive and more humane way of elephant management other than culling, and the arguments for culling were largely motivated by commercial interests for ivory trade.

The document tabled set out the arguments supporting animal rights, the result of culling upon the herd, the need to change the norms and standards to reflect the sentient nature and social groupings of elephants, and the need to consider other tools for management of the elephant population.

The further chapters in the document addressed the question of who elephants are, their biodiversity, the need for ecotourism, the fact that communities should not benefit from culling, the effects on tourism and the discussions and processes. In essence, ARA was calling for a complete exclusion of culling from the considerations, and for elephants to be addressed separately.

Dr I Cachalia (ANC) referred to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and the view that Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political problems had been the block to its development. He requested the long-term implications for sustaining this Park

Prof van Aarde replied that the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park was an exciting development due to its large size. He further mentioned that political and socio economic stumbling blocks were realities that came and went, but conversation and maintenance of biodiversity should be a reality that must be sustained. Professor van Aarde stated that the elephant population in Kruger National Park’s elephant population had decreased this year as opposed to last year, as the Kruger was in the process of closing its water holes and removing fencing, which showed a complete change in the dynamics.

Dr Cachalia asked how it was intended to safeguard people living in surrounding areas.

Professor van Aarde responded that part of the project involved examining the issues around neighbouring settlements. He acknowledged the problem of elephants damaging people’s homes and stated that electric fences had been installed to guard people so that elephants would not come near and this electrification had already started in Mozambique.

Dr Cachalia asked if contraception was a viable option for elephants. .

Prof van Aarde answered that he had originally come up with the idea of developing contraception, which later had other ideas included. The issues were slightly more complex than mere breeding. The main problems were around destruction of the environment and plants; such as the breaking of trees. It was possible to use contraceptives at times although this could also have social problems in the herd, and this would not stop the elephants from breaking trees.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) agreed with the presenters that culling was a brutal option. She further stated that there were different creatures in the park, who were largely herbivorous, and that it had been mentioned that there had been a decrease in biodiversity, and that the elephants had been mentioned as one of the major damaging species in the park.

Professor Van Aarde responded on the question of the biodiversity decline in Kruger National Park, and stated that there was a need to read these papers carefully to understand. He further mentioned that a certain piece of land could hold a specific number of species at a time. and that relationship was about 80% linear. The problem with the Kruger National Park was that it did not any longer have the ecological mechanisms that kept species going.

Ms Chalmers was interested in the water holes illustration, and requested clarity on the impact they would have to the elephant population.

Prof van Aarde replied that when waterholes were put in, the animals would concentrate and converge in these areas. When a water hole was closed, this would reverse the process and the immediate response of the animals would be to undo the concentration in that area, if they were roaming freely.

Ms Chalmers stated that the elephants did not have a natural enemy or natural way of limiting their numbers and asked how the numbers have increased so substantially.

Professor van Aarde answered that an elephant could experience two to six droughts in their lifetime and could die as a result. There was a general understanding how the numbers of animals were limited by the environment and not by predators.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) wondered what the particular emotions were around elephants, since other animals like sheep and chickens were slaughtered daily.

Mr Mokoena stated that there should be some form of governance that would monitor the animals, particularly those in question.

Professor van Aarde replied that the elephant was an ambassador or showpiece, and the world identified easier with an elephant as opposed to a frog or a butterfly. The arguments he applied on behalf of the elephant would not necessarily have applied to chickens since they had been domesticated and were raised for their produce and flesh, and so their interest could not be likened to those of wild animals.

Mr Steve Smith added that the ARA movement did not differentiate between animals, but the focus was directed to elephants as a result of the elephant management policy.

Mr Mokoena believed that there should be a balanced approach to ensure sustainability. As a last resort, and only when the need arose, should there be a use of culling, which was in fact a euphemism for slaughtering.

Mr Smith stated that the human population has grown beyond expectations and sometimes beyond sustainability, but no one had suggested the culling of humans. Furthermore humans had damaged trees and other people’s houses, but it was never proposed that they should be culled for doing that. Mr Smith proposed that the Committee must compare the two groups because they were similar in social structures.

The Acting Chairperson stated that problems emanated because everyone was fighting for space.

Mr Morgan asked about the threat of tourists to boycott South Africa and asked what it was based on, and if there was an indication of the number of people that would not come to this country as a result.

Mr Morgan also asked what kind of campaigns were under way, and asked if Animal Rights Africa were involved in these campaigns. He asked whether there would indeed be a boycott if culling were to be used, and the kind of influence that Animal Rights Africa would have in other countries.

Mr Smith replied that there was a poll conducted in Europe, by a reputable organisation, that showed quite a large number of tourists that would not come to South Africa should culling be reintroduced. In 1995 there were marketing and travelling companies that supported the call for a cease on culling since they had realised that their clients would not come to South Africa.

Mr Morgan asked if Animal Rights Africa would boycott or influence tourists to boycott visiting South Africa if the Department were to proceed with culling.

Mr Smith responded that ARA could not take a stand on promoting a tourism boycott, because it was still the negotiation stages, and that ARA and similar groups had the good will and hope of government to provide consultation and transparency. Should the decision fall the opposite way then they would judge everything on its own merit.

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) requested the seasons for elephant mating and giving birth.

Prof van Aarde responded that elephants started to reproduce when they were twelve and had about 12 offspring in their lifetime, at four-year intervals. The males would leave the family herd at 12 years to start their own herd. They would start mating at a time when the grass was very green and new..

Ms Ntuli requested an elaboration on the electronic fences at the Transfrontier Park and their function.

Ms Ntuli asked if research was conducted towards the hobbies of black people, as referred to the presenter's statement earlier on black people’s attitudes towards animals, and requested clarity.

Mr Smith clarified the misunderstanding around the statement referring to black people and hunting. He said that white people seemed to have the misperception that black people would take an interest in animals only if they saw an economic value in the animal. ARA disagreed with this view. They maintained that black people had traditionally more respect for animals than white people.

Ms Ntuli asked how animals could be utilised for economic growth in South Africa.

The Acting Chairperson requested the presenters to answer the last two questions in writing, due to time constraints, as they were still awaiting the Department’s response.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) stated that tourists did not just come to South Africa to see elephants. She asked if culling was a way of lobbying the country to go back to colonialism.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) requested the presenters to expand on tourism’s contribution to alleviation of poverty.

Prof van Aarde replied that there were more tourists to see vultures than to see elephants. It was wonderful to have parks and ranges, and good to include elephants as people came for a diverse range of things. Tourism was viewed as most important.

Mr Smith replied that tourism was a real earner of foreign income for South Africa. He agreed that people would visit South Africa for a package of things, but they would sacrifice the package if one of those things were to be omitted. He compared this to the previous state of South Africa in apartheid times, where blacks sacrificed a lot of things during the struggle. People nonetheless would continue to come to South Africa to see the arts and culture; some would indeed boycott as a protect against the discriminatory systems, but others would come for hunting purposes. The money from tourists was used locally so that people did benefit and tourism provided job opportunities which assisted in alleviating poverty.

Ms Ndzanga stated that the liberation movement had nothing to do with the present topic being discussed.

Ms Zikalala referred to the ivory that the elephant provided; and asked what other parts of elephants could be used to contribute towards the economy of the country.

Ms Zikalala asked at what stage were elephants dangerous towards people when at the Park.

Ms Zikalala asked how contraceptives were applied.

Prof van Aarde responded that the most humane way of contraception was to shoot the contraceptive drug in a dart, using helicopter fly-overs. The animal could not conceive for six months. It would need to be re-darted after this time. It was an expensive process.

Ms Ndzanga asked how those administering the dart would ensure whether it was shot into the male or female.

Prof van Aarde replied that the scientists were able to identify the males and females, and that shooting from the helicopter was a practical way of doing so. There were publications that illustrated the best methods of applying contraceptives.

Ms Zikalala stated that she knew of some of the dangerous habits of elephants, like breaking trees and damaging people’s houses. She requested if there were others.

Prof van Aarde said that he wished to address the misperception that culling was a form of hunting. Culling was a form of killing with the express purpose of reducing numbers, whereas hunting was a different concept. He stated that it was important to find out the specific responses to culling, and the impact this would have. Not a single culling process in the world had a desired outcome.

Mr Mokoena stated that the Committee had to ensure sustainable development, as that was embedded in the Constitution. The Committee should not be blackmailed by the idea that if the Department was allowed to do culling, then people would not visit the country.

Department of Environmental Affairs: Response.
Ms Leseho Sello, Chief Director, Biodiversity Conservation: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, stated that the Department was not disputing most of the things that Professor van Aarde had said, and agreed that it was necessary to develop the norms and standards that would apply to the entire republic. She further mentioned that culling would be an option in the management plan that would have to be approved by the relevant authority. Ms Sello mentioned that the intention of culling was not for economic purposes, but rather to stabilise the elephant population and requested that ivory trade be separated from culling as it was achieved through other forms.

Ms Sonia Meintjies, Acting Director: Regulation and Monitoring Services, DEAT, added that the Department combined the information in the norms and standards with the best information they had at that time. The Department gave R5 million for continuous research and would prohibit the capture and culling of young elephants from the population. Culling would become an option for private people on their own land as well. Contraception worked better in smaller populations, as it was easier and cheaper. There was still provision made for culling.

Mr D Maluleke (ANC) asked what were the last figures that the Department had taken for the number of elephants.

Ms Sello replied that Botswana had 134 000, Mozambique 14 000, Namibia 13 000, Zambia 13 000, Zimbabwe 85 000 and South Africa 18 000, and that these were valid statistics they could quote with confidence.

Mr Maluleke asked about the statistics for Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo since they were also part of the SADC region.

Mr Maluleke referred to eco-tourism and revenue generation, and asked whether the Department had put together a questionnaire involving tourist agencies. He suggested that, in collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs, they should produce a questionnaire on incoming international flights and ask tourists’ views on culling.

Ms Sello replied that DEAT had not conducted such a survey but they would take back this suggestion and find channels to address it. There was research conducted by a reputable company, via a Masters student from Japan, which had focused on international tourists, and this concluded that a number of tourists from Europe would not be opposed to culling.

Ms Chalmers asked what was presently happening regarding translocation and if it was an option in the context of the elephant situation. She asked if it was happening in the borders of South Africa only or in other places.

Prof van Aarde replied that South Africa's conservation sciences were looking at what was done to address all issues.

Ms Meintjies outlined the difficulties of translocation for elephants because they were a large species and could only live in a limited variety of habitats. It was not easy and it was very expensive to translocate an entire family group.

Ms Sello stated that the elephant population in some areas was unknown.

Mr Mokoena requested the way forward for the norms and standards.

Ms Sello responded that the DEAT had public hearings and consultation, which was still ongoing. They had a meeting with representatives of the veterinary Council. After the consultations were completed, the Department would send recommendations to the Minister. These would come to the Committee, once approved by the Minister, for approval, and any legislation would be certified by the State Law Advisors and follow the usual processes. The DEAT would like to have workshops on the policy and note where there were points of agreement or dissention, before sending recommendations to the Minister.

Mr Mokoena suggested that there should be thorough consultation, which would be achieved through public hearings and that everyone must be informed about the norms and standards.

Mr Maluleke stated that this was a highly sensitive area, especially on the culling issue. The Portfolio Committee should have its own process to make sure that all sides were heard, to achieve fairness.

Mr Smith commented that culling provided the opportunity to hunters to gain access to animals where they could be culled. It was no coincidence that research was conducted by a Japanese student because the ivory demand for Japan was high, and this could not be met through natural mortality.

The meeting was adjourned.



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