Why do the elephants need a new home?
The disproportionately large elephant population is wiping out old-growth trees faster than they can regenerate.
Why Relocate the Elephants?
Ted Reilly, Royal Advisor on wildlife to the Kingdom of Swaziland and Founder of Big Game Parks Trust.
Severe Drought Update
Swaziland is currently experiencing the worst drought in the nation’s history. These conditions, combined with already degrading park land, requires that hay be trucked in daily from South Africa to feed these 18 elephants.
Swaziland is a small, landlocked country. Located in southern Africa, Swaziland is about the size of New Jersey. Nearby Kruger National Park in South Africa is bigger than the entire country.
Though technically classified as “wild,” elephants are managed and protected inside two wildlife parks. Swaziland’s elephants have spent their entire life living in managed and protected care at two of the three privately managed, non-profit wildlife parks in Swaziland.
Originally reintroduced decades ago after being eradicated by hunting, Swaziland’s elephants are protected from poachers inside the parks’ fenced perimeter. They are provided water by park managers, and this care and protection has caused their numbers to grow.
Elephants are transforming the park in a negative way.
The large elephant population is negatively affecting the land and natural resources inside the parks, changing dense forests into barren landscapes. Elephants transform their environment, destroying trees and eating their way across grassy plains. With large appetites for vegetation and the power to easily take out trees and shrubs, the elephants are consuming the parks’ tree and plant life faster than it can naturally regenerate. This has devastating impacts on the landscape and other wildlife species that depend on it.
Researchers and scientists from accredited zoos have tried to help control the population – relocating some animals in 2003 and even performing costly elephant vasectomies – but there are still too many elephants, with no room to expand.
The impact on the land and natural resources has taken a serious toll on the parks, some of the few habitats available for wildlife conservation inside the small nation.
Moving the elephants elsewhere in Africa is unrealistic.
Poaching has reached critical levels in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. At the same time, elephant populations in Botswana and Namibia are so large the only need for elephants would be for elephant-back safaris – a commercial purpose prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Relocating elephants to other African countries is unrealistic. In South Africa, for example, standards for the management of elephants have been established and elephants from outside the country are not typically allowed because of their impact. Conservation officials plan to continue to care for smaller elephant herds moving forward, with the goal of establishing the groups of eight elephants, a sustainable number that will allow elephants, rhinos and other wildlife to thrive, too. As part of the plan, 18 elephants, 15 females and 3 males, must relocate to a new home, or be culled in order for Swaziland to meet its conservation plan goals of avoiding overpopulation and making room for rhinos.