Elephant Management

The latest regional Great Elephant Census undertaken by philanthropist Paul G Allen has shown that the decline in regional elephant populations is severe at around 30% within 15 of 18 African countries. The elephant populations however in South Africa is stable and increasing, something we can attest to at the Selati Game Reserve. 

68 Elephants were re-introduced into Selati from the Kruger National Park between 1996 and 2002. Since that time, elephant numbers have steadily increased despite live sales and vasectomizing 14 adult bulls in 2012. This vasectomizing programme was sponsored in part by the Disney corporation and veterinarians from the USA together with their South African counterparts. The programme was initially successful until such time as adults breached the reserve from the Kruger National Park and other surrounding reserves.

Selati has a current population of approximately 130 elephants. Our consulting ecologists have expressed concern that this number is excessive in relation to the size of the reserve. Elephants act as ‘landscape engineers’ and an over-population of this important flagship species impacts negatively on the bio-diversity of the reserve as a whole. Proper stewardship in the conservation of all species, both fauna and flora, on Selati requires that we find ways of managing our elephant population particularly considering that, if left unchecked, population growth amongst elephants is 5-7% per annum. 

Predicted future population growth requires us to put plans in place to ensure that the density remains at a sustainable level. In order to do so the reserve initiated an pZP (porcine zona pellucida) immunocontraception vaccine to 63 cows in 2020. This procedure has been researched and applied on private reserves in South Africa since 2000. There are currently some 800-1000 elephant cows on the program on 26 reserves. The procedure requires the darting of females with a vaccine.

This vaccine prevents the cow from conceiving for a period of up to one year and thereafter annual booster doses are administered. The vaccine has been shown to have no hormonal side-effects on the animal and will not harm the foetus should the cow already be pregnant. Should the animal perish from natural causes, the vaccine is also safe in the food chain. A further advantage is that the procedure is completely reversible. Only a percentage of the cows are treated which allows for calves to be born periodically in order to maintain a normal social structure. This incremental population growth is designed to counter balance the natural mortality rate in order for populations to remain stable

Learn more about Elephants in episode 3 of our conservation series!