Elephant Management Norms & Standards: Department briefing


14 August 2007
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

14 August 2007


Acting Chairperson: Mr D Maluleke (ANC)

Documents handed out:
National norms and standards for management of elephants

Audio recording of meeting

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism briefed the Portfolio Committee on the setting of national norms and standards for the management of elephants. A Task Team had been established following a MinMEC decision, and had published a draft, which had received about 80 public comments. The management norms and standards sought to be uniform, to address both state owned and private protected areas, to encompass biodiversity and social goals, aimed to ensure long term survival of the elephant population within the eco system, while avoiding disruption, and to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. International obligations in respect of biodiversity must also be honoured, and the management plan must also conform, in the case of public land, to the Protected Areas Act. Elephant population control could be managed by a number of options, including translocation, contraception and culling. The document further addressed issues of hunting, control of escaped or vagrant animals that were causing damage, establishment of new populations and permits for possession of elephants. The Department summarised some of the comments. Concerns were expressed that the permit process was lengthy and cumbersome, that there was insufficient capacity in the provinces, that the norms and standards would inhibit the industry, discourage private land owners and exclude the previously disadvantaged. There were challenges in the handling of safaris, and it was noted that the Department was still investigating a protocol in respect of culling. 

Questions by Members addressed the position of people living on the borders of farms, implementation of regional norms and standards, the numbers and results of research into elephants at the Kruger Park, whether there had been differentiation between sub-species, the opposition noted to culling, the possibility of translocation, and problems of over-population. Other questions addressed beneficiation of those living near parks in the event of culling, consultation of local communities, sustainability on ivory sales, Trans Frontier Conservation and Resource Areas, the possibility of sale of elephant meat for consumption, and the policies in respect of escaped animals. The Department undertook to send through figures to the Committee. It was suggested that there might be a need for a follow up meeting after the public submissions had also been made available to the Committee.

Elephant Management: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) Briefing
Ms Leseho Sello (Chief Director, Biodiversity Conservation: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism) reported that a Task Team had been established to deal with management of elephants in South Africa. This Team had looked to the Elephant Management Owner's Association (EMOA) report, reports by South African National Parks and other parks authorities, and the meeting of regional experts. The MinMEC of December 2006 had adopted a broad policy statement relating to management of elephant populations, and this had formed the basis for published draft norms and standards. Elephant management applied to both state owned and private protected areas. The issue encompassed biodiversity and social goals, aimed to ensure long term survival of the elephant population within the eco system, aimed to avoid disruption to ecological integrity of the ecosystems, and aimed to allow elephants to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. Management must be uniform across the country, and take into account international obligations in respect of biodiversity management and sustainable development. Management of land on which elephants occurred was subject to the drafting of a management plan, which would incorporate sections from the Protected Areas Act, for publicly owned land, and draft norms and standards, for private land. Elephant population control, which was a problem not only in South Africa, could be provided by different methods, including lethal (culling) and non-lethal (translocation and contraception) options. The draft plan addressed the conditions under which all options could be exercised.

The draft document also dealt with control of elephants through hunting and the control of damaging or vagrant animals. A number of prohibited hunting methods were prescribed. It also dealt with establishment of new populations, and addressed availability of water, shelter and sources of animals. It further dealt with permits for possession and keeping of elephants and listed the factors to be taken into account by the authority considering applications for permits. The role and responsibilities of the private owner protected area manager were listed.

The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had published the draft norms and standards for public comment and 80 submissions were received. A number of different issues were raised in the submissions. There were complaints that the permit process at present used was time consuming, and permits were often delayed in the provinces through lack of capacity. It was noted that often the expectations of applicants in the hunting business were unreasonable, since they hoped their applications to be processed in a matter of hours, which was not possible. Concerns were raised that the requirement relating to fencing and husbandry would inhibit the industry and limit its growth. Capacity in government to enforce the norms and standards was called into question. It was felt that the stringent requirements would discourage private land owners. There was a call for a transitional period. Questions were asked about the process, and specifically whether stakeholders would be consulted on amendments. There was a fear that those previously disadvantaged would be excluded from the processes through the stringent requirements.

Ms Sello outlined some challenges and the current situation. She stated that there were some challenges in the handling of safaris. The document still needed to be finalised, after it had been approved by the State Law Advisors. The Department was investigating a protocol on culling as a last resort.

Dr I Cachalot (ANC) asked how the policy was applied to the people living on the borders of farms, and he also asked whether the Southern African Development Community (SAD) countries were implementing the norms and standards

Ms Sello responded that in May the Ministers responsible for environmental affairs had considered the Regional Management Strategy, and a document approved by the Ministers would be discussed in a forthcoming Summit. There would be a regional document produced, but the challenge would be its effective implementation.

Mr G Morgan (DA) noted with interest how the Department was avoiding the word “culling.” There was certainly a need to create a specific policy for elephants as they could have a greater effect on biodiversity than other animals.

Mr Morgan was interested in the level of scientific research done by the Department on the elephant population in the Kruger National Park. He requested an indication of how far the research process had gone.

Ms Sello answered that DEAT had consulted a number of scientists on the options and was basing its arguments on adaptive management. A scientific assessment conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (SIR) would be available at the end of the year and this would inform a broader research programme. She could not give presently an indication of precisely how many elephants there were currently, since she did not have this information with her, but undertook to send it later to the Committee

Mr Morgan agreed that each land area containing elephants needed a mini-management plan and that would give an indication of the number of elephants on that land.

Mr Morgan asked whether the Indian elephants in South Africa were also included in the elephant management plan, noting that at present most were on private land or in zoos.

Ms Sello replied that DEAT had not thus far made any differentiation between sub-species, simply classifying all under the broad elephant category.

Mr Morgan was surprised that the Department had not defined the scientific names for the elephants, especially since these were used in other Departmental policies.

Mr Johan Durand, Parliamentary Officer, DEAT, replied that criticism had been received about culling of all elephants, rather than specific beasts. Concerns had been raised by the Kruger National Park about the damage to environment from the increasing elephant population. Other groups had argued that possible interventions included creation of fenced areas and artificial waterholes.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) suggested that perhaps studies be conducted into the approach taken by India, which had excellent management of elephants through transportation. This would help in avoiding culling. Selling elephants through, for example, a website, would address the population issue in a positive way.

Ms Sello mentioned that there might be a problem in re-locating animals from Africa to India as they would experience challenges with the Indian environment. There would be substantial work in determining where they could be relocated.

Mr Morgan referred to the Elephant-back Safaris, which were indicated as an ethical issue. He believed that everything about the plan was in fact an ethical issue.

Ms Sello replied that there had been strong opposition to the suggestion that elephant-back riding and training of elephants should be allowed, and there had been calls for the Minister to prohibit such ventures. The Department was still considering the matter.

Mr Morgan mentioned that the policy documents prepared by the Department were increasingly emphasising sustainability, and he wondered if elephant management was also a sustainability issue, when one considered the problems of over-population.

Mr S Rasmeni (ANC) asked how the elephant management policy could benefit the human population of this country in a developmental way.

Ms Sello responded that if the culling option had to be used, then those people living next to the parks would be beneficiaries, for instance in terms of meat, but she did not yet have any specifics on the beneficiation process.

Mr Rasmeni noted that angoras used some parts of the animal, and he also noted that it was possible to use the animal skins and other parts for trade, all of which would assist in sustainable development. He asked if there was anything done by the Department to assist in that regard. He asked if the workers and people staying in surrounding areas had been consulted on the issue.

Ms Sello answered that the Minister had consulted extensively before the development of the norms and standards. Most, if not all the Ministers from the Southern African region were supportive. Africa was divided on the issue of elephant management. Within the context of protected areas there were areas which were publicly owned and could create opportunities for local people and their economy. The direct beneficiaries would be the people living around those areas. Before management plans were developed the Parks would consult the stakeholders living around those parks and ask how they would suggest disposal of usable parts from a cull, excluding the ivory.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) stated that she would have liked the Members to have received the entire norms and standards document before they had the meeting, and certainly once there had been responses. She asked whether the magnitude of the problem was documented. She also noted that it would be useful to be told of the number of elephants in the different parks

Ms Sello replied that the Department did not have a final document yet but would make it available later. In terms of the numbers, she mentioned that there was an enormous number, which was why there had been consideration of culling as an option.

Ms Chalmers requested a clear picture of what the carrying capacity of the Kruger Park was.

Ms Sello responded that she did not have the records presently to answer that question. Her personal view was that other measures could be used to address the problem before resorting to culling. She reiterated that the options of contraception and translocation had been explored. 

Ms Chalmers requested an update regarding sustainability on the ivory sale. She mentioned that a substantial amount of ivory was hidden in a safe place and was worth considerable money, and the proceeds of sale of this ivory could be allocated to furthering elephant management.

Ms Sello responded that there had been a very strong proposal from Mali and Kenya, calling for a moratorium on the sale of ivory. A compromise was reached, which benefited South Africa, which received approval to sell 30 tons of Ivory. South Africa could sell more than this amount, but all sales had to be of legally obtained ivory. Botswana and Namibia had submitted a proposal for sale of their stock. A meeting had been convened by World Conservation Trust to address the issue. The four countries would be allowed to sell the already approved ivory, and further proposals in respect of legally-acquired ivory would still be considered. The Department was currently writing to provinces requesting the amount of ivory in each province. China requested to be considered in terms of buying ivory, and Japan had been approved. The decision meant that South Africa could have a once-off sale, and pursuant to this decision the provinces were being asked for ivory so that there could be further engagement on the basis of known amounts with Japan.

Ms Chalmers referred to the Health Corridor issue, and asked if it was still a viable option.

Ms Sello replied that corridors and Trans Frontier Conservation and Resource Areas (TFCAs) were an option in the vehicle of translocation. Countries had requested animals, not only limited to elephants, and they could translocate between countries, although there were some difficulties involved.

Mr Mokoena (ANC) mentioned there should be equity and fairness of treating all animals. He could not understand why chickens, goats and sheep were slaughtered continuously, yet a different treatment was applied to elephants, which were creating a problem due to their large numbers and requirements. Mr Mokoena suggested that logic and rationale should dictate why preferential treatment was given.

Mr Mokoena expressed his concern that if the elephants were protected then the overpopulation problem would not be addressed, and this would endanger the people living in the surrounding areas. Furthermore he suggested that the Department should not be intimidated by those who opposed the killing of animals, as in his view culling was a viable alternative to help in addressing the overpopulation dilemma.

Ms Sello replied that South Africa was a pro-use country and the policy did not intend merely to keep the animals for preservation.

The Acting Chairperson mentioned that they had established trans frontier parks between Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa. He then requested the total population of elephants in all those three countries.

Ms Sello replied that she did not currently have these statistics, but could verify them and send them through to the Committee.

The Acting Chairperson mentioned that within Southern Africa there were countries, such as the DRC, who had a dearth of wild animals because of their war situation, and the zoos were vastly under-stocked. He referred to a recent television report on translocation by air of animals from Botswana to Angola, and mentioned that although this was an expensive exercise it was certainly of use to those countries that did not have animals

Ms Sello replied that translocation was used, but warned that it was extremely costly and often unsustainable.

The Acting Chairperson wondered whether there had ever been a study on how large the market was for venison and game meat. He wondered if the sale of elephant meat for consumption would benefit the economy.

Ms Sello replied that the Department had not undertaken such studies, but said that there were different and specific policies on treatment of elephants. South Africa was a signatory to international agreements and therefore had to adhere to sustainable rather than commercial use and would be confined to prohibitions in those agreements. She noted the comment and said that the Department could consider the matter. She noted that elephant meat was consumed when there was a legal hunt, or elephant was so badly injured that it could not be treated but had to be euthanased. The Department could do a study and look at the impact of legalising sale of elephant meat upon poaching.  

Mr Rasmeni suggested that this debate should be extended to include sufficient consultation with communities around the parks.

Mr Morgan asked if limits for hunting were set.

Ms Sello replied that the number of permits for hunting and export of animals was set by the relevant areas, but hunting for venison was not prescribed. The hunting permits would be received from the issuing authority. 

Mr Morgan asked whether in the last three years there was a general increase in permits given for hunting of elephants.

Ms Sello answered that information relating to hunting and numbers could be obtained from the provinces.

Mr Morgan asked if there was a growing tendency to destroy elephants that had escaped, rather than move them back to the Parks, as anecdotal evidence had suggested.

Ms Sello responded that the issuing authority decided what was to be done with an animal that had broken through fences, and this was determined according to the potential threat posed by the animal.

Ms Amanda Dana, Senior Environmental Officer, DEAT, added that the determining factor in dealing with an animal that had escaped was based on its potential to cause harm to the people. If it was not damage causing then it would be tracked and returned to the park, but if it was damage-causing then it might be destroyed.

A member asked if there would be birth control measures put in place to control elephant population.

Ms Sello agreed that this option should be explored before considering culling.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) wondered how contraceptives would be used in animals.

Ms Sello answered that the process of contraception involved dealing with the reproductive organs of the animal, and due to its physical nature this process also affected the animal’s mood.

A Member requested clarity on the time frame in issuing permits

Ms Sello responded that the Department would have to get that information from the provinces.

Mr L Khoarai (ANC) suggested that it would be useful for the Committee to be given sight of the full recommendations and submissions made on the norms and standards draft.

Ms Sello replied that the submissions filled about three lever arch files but the Department would send them to the Committee. 

Mr Maluleke asked how many applications, if any, had been received from disadvantaged communities for hunting purposes. He suggested that if there were problems in processing applications, then the Department should now start to process the permits for the next season instead of attempting to do them within a short space of time.

Ms Sello responded that the people most aggrieved by the time taken for turn-around of permits complained that they were required to submit information too far in advance, so this would not help the situation. The time taken would further depend on the context within each province and methods prevailing, since there were some provinces that were more capacitated than others.

Mr Maluleke asked who was called in when an animal had escaped.

Ms Sello replied that the Conservation Authorities would generally be called first, but this would also depend on the scale of the problem. If there would be a potential threat to human life, then the police would be called. The laws also differed in each province, as sometimes the National Parks did not have jurisdiction over demarcated areas, and so the Provinces would take over. The situation would depend on the kind of animal that had escaped and the risks it posed.

Mr Mokoena suggested that after Members had received a full copy of the norms and standards, the Department should again be invited to attend. He believed that there could not be a “one size fits all” preparation of norms and standards, and believed that the Department should consider if there should not rather be a situational analysis of norms and standards per province, to put them in proper context.

Mr Durand responded that the management of elephant populations was regulated in a uniform way across the country. Regulations would cater for situations where over-population was a problem. This would not affect all the areas in the country but only those provinces that had a large elephant population.

Ms Chalmers asked whether the norms and standards applied only to over population, or to escapes and other situations. 

Ms Sello answered that the main thrust of the norms and standards concentrated on over population, but other broader issues were also covered.

The meeting was adjourned.


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