Though the poaching of elephants for ivory is relatively low in South Africa, the lumbering creature still faces a number of issues that threaten its survival. In the country’s many reserves and parks, the challenge facing conservationists is how to manage an elephant population with limited space and resources.
If the elephants in these reserves were left to reproduce on their own, they would soon overpopulate the space, use up resources and end up harming their own futures.
Previously, culling or relocating were the only available methods for park managers to deal with this potential threat but after over a decade of development, a number of South Africa’s parks are looking to a new way.
Humane Society International (HSI), along with scientists, have been trialling a non-hormonal, non-steroidal birth control for female elephants. This method, called “immunocontraception”, is currently being successfully used on 746 female elephants in 23 reserves, including South Africa’s oldest – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
The contraception works by shooting a dart at the elephant annually with a vaccine derived from the glycoprotein PZP. This stimulates an antibody response that stops the egg being fertilised and the darting method is much relatively non-invasive. It is also reversible, with females becoming fertile again after if their booster vaccines are stopped.
Executive director of HSI in South Africa, Audrey K. Delsink, said though the fight against poaching can seem like a “losing battle” with about 100 elephant killed every day, “here in South Africa, scientific ingenuity and field work is providing a real solution to save elephants in a very different set of circumstances.”
“As wildlife managers grapple with the need to slow the growth of elephant populations who exist in small parks and reserves, our elephant immunocontraception provides them with a way to do that that is non-lethal, minimally invasive, humane and effective.”