The following article first appeared in International News for CAMPFIRE, #2, April 1996, published by the Africa Resources Trust, and is reproduced with permission of the author.
South Africa Prepares to Pocket Animal Rights Money
South Africa's National Parks Board (NPB) has lain the groundwork for accepting donations from two animal rights groups that could have profound repercussions for wildlife management both in that country and throughout the region.
The NPB recently launched the Elephant Relocation Project with the aim of raising money to buy land for elephants translocated from Kruger National Park. The "obvious advantage" of this scheme, says an NPB press release, is that "no culling of family groups of elephants will be necessary in the Kruger National Park next year."
The basic terms are as follows. IFAW will pay US$2.5 million over five years which the NPB will use to buy land for translocated elephants. HSUS, meanwhile, will donate the same amount for research into elephant contraception.
The problem lies in the onerous conditions which IFAW wants attached to its donation. Although details have not been published, informed sources say IFAW wants a guarantee from the NPB that no elephants or any other species will be culled or hunted on land purchased with its money, in perpetuity. It also wants an assurance from the government that it will not support any proposal to downlist elephants to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at its next meeting in 1997. Downlisting would reopen international trade in elephant products.
The HSUS offer, meanwhile, is believed to be conditional on IFAW's offer being accepted, plus a further condition that HSUS will have all publicity rights for the contraception programme.
The offers come at a time when a new NPB is reviewing management policy for the elephants of Kruger. For the past 28 years, the elephants have been culled to keep their numbers at about 7,500, but in 1994, some animals were also translocated for the first time.
In May 1995, the NPB was drawn into a public debate on the need for culling with the animal rights group Front for Animal Liberation and the Conservation of Nature (FALCON), which is financed in part by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). "The NPB won the debate," says Julian Sturgeon of ART's South Africa office, "but FALCON won the media battle. With the help of animal rights groups such as the EIA and the HSUS, FALCON worked the media and very few people in South Africa ever realised that it had actually lost the debate."
With all the negative publicity about elephant culling, the NPB reduced the size of the cull in 1995 and promised a full review of its management policy - a move publicly supported by President Nelson Mandela. To this end, the NPB has promised further public debate and the invitation of suggestions in August, with the revised policy to take effect from October 1 this year.
As part of the review process, the NPB held a key meeting on March 29, which included on its agenda the offers of money from IFAW and HSUS.
Following the meeting, the NPB stated in a press release that there would be no elephant cull in Kruger this year. It would, however, continue to translocate family groups "as and when suitable destinations arise." There was no suggestion that the decision to stop culling was linked to the offers of money.
The press release also stated that "the time was not right" for South Africa to support the downlisting of elephants to CITES Appendix II. Among several reasons cited as justification were "severe criticism" by TRAFFIC of South Africa's "inability" to control its wildlife trade, and the "inability of consumer countries to impose proper import controls."
The NPB also expressed the defeatist view that downlisting was not worth pursuing because it had little chance of success. "The Board is of the opinion that, in the light of all these shortcomings and negative perceptions, it was most unlikely that broad support for a South African down listing proposal would be forthcoming from African countries," said the press release. "The Board foresees little chance of the success of any South African effort to lift the ivory ban under present circumstances, and has, for the present distanced itself from such efforts."
Again, there was no hint the decision might be related to the offers of money.
Only in the final paragraph of the release is the money mentioned, in such a way as to suggest it would be accepted only because it could facilitate policies already set by the NPB.
"Although the Board welcomed these generous offers of support of its projects to translocate and increase the range of elephant habitat, there are still a few issues that have not been resolved," said the release. "The Board has instructed [chief executive] Dr Robbie Robinson to negotiate with these organisations before these donations can be accepted."
Given the profound implications for South Africa's elephant management policy that accepting these donations could have, it is to be hoped that the NPB will resist the urge to sign contracts before the public debate in August. However, the decisions to come out of the latest NPB meeting suggest policy may be modified specifically to make acceptance of the donations possible.