A massive migration of elephants is underway in Malawi from overpopulated parks to park which were deserted because of poaching. Professor Resource Ecology Herbert Prins thinks this is a good idea.
Photo: Herbert Prins
The elephants are beig sedated with darts shot from helicopters and are transported on trucks. Is this the best method?
‘The benefit of hunting from a helicopter is the short amount of interaction time with the animals. The optimum interaction time is related to the temperature. The higher the temperature, the faster they need to chase the animals. If it takes too long, the animals will overheat. There are strict rules for hunting. Overheating is very unhealthy and leads to heat stress. The alternative is to chase them on foot, but that leads to a lot more stress. Extensive research has been done into this.’
Can an elephant survive in a new environment?
‘Transporting entire families is of course not ideal. But they have to decide between letting the animals starve to death or giving them a new home. There is a lack of knowledge of the new area for the animals, which is a problem. That's why it is so important that you transfer the family as a whole and not just the young. The idea is to maintain the social organisation of the group. Make sure that there is a grandmother included, an elder, because she can read the new terrain better based on her experience.’
Is there an alternative for moving the animals?
‘The alternative for moving is killing them. I was asked for advice recently about shooting 2000 elephants because of the current drought. I told them not to do it. This drought which was caused by El Nino was to be foreseen. They should have adapted the administration accordingly. An organisation can't get away with killing 2000 elephants. There is a massive crisis for elephants in West and Central Africa. There are no elephants left in Cameroon for example.’
Will this solve the problem structurally, as the population keeps on growing In the parks with good administration?
‘The population of elephants is growing 8% per year in the Kruger Park. We don't know how this will end. You learn in school that there is a correlation between the density and available space on the amount of animals. It doesn't work like that for elephants, there is no balance in the correlation. The question is also: how many elephants is too many? 'Too many' is a perception; it's only too many when you think it is. And nature has no norms.’