The perceived necessity for invasive elephant management practices such as the culling of populations and the shooting of 'problem' individuals is a consequence of increasing human demand for natural resources and shrinking elephant habitats. Commercial gain and human gratification motivate trophy hunting and the capture of elephants for human use. These practices are inhumane and have negative impacts on elephant society and behavior, and may exacerbate elephant aggression towards humans.
Elephants exhibit an interest in their own lives and empathy for those to whom they are attached; they have an intrinsic right to experience a life of well-being. Through human imagination and our scientific and creative abilities, we can and must curb our demand for the planet’s natural resources and, wherever possible, reduce our reliance on cruel and invasive elephant management practices.
- Invasive management, such as killing elephants to reduce their numbers (‘culling’), shooting “problem” individuals, and capturing elephants, is responsible for the breakdown of complex relationships and may cause lasting trauma and aggressive behavior. These practices are brutal, may exacerbate human-elephant conflict and should be avoided wherever possible.
- The culling of elephants as a method of population control is inhumane, unimaginative and, for many, unacceptable. Misguided elephant management and poor land use policy, such as the provision of water, the blocking of migration routes and the fencing of elephants in small areas, is often the cause of local overabundance of elephants. Through the correction of such practices and the use of alternative methods to limit population growth or reduce density, culling may be avoided.
- Where local overabundance of elephants exists humane alternatives to culling such as range expansion, the manipulation of water sources, the translocation of entire families and contraceptive techniques are preferable.
- Some contraceptive techniques may hold promise for small populations. Others ignore reproductive behavior, interfere with sexual selection, cause high levels of stress or are highly invasive and inhumane.
- In the escalating cycle of violence between humans and elephants, some individual elephants may be responsible for multiple human deaths. While killing elephants further exacerbates conflict, the removal of specific individuals who make the killing of people a habit may be necessary to avoid human retaliation and retain the goodwill of local communities.
- The killing of elephants for pleasure and for commercial gain through trophy or sport hunting has historically led to enormous declines in populations; the continued removal of adult elephants through such practices negatively impacts both reproductive patterns, social cohesion and behavior and is inhumane. Where economics outweigh ethics, so called ‘green hunting’ (immobilization) is an alternative to killing.
- Historically the capture of wild elephants for wars and ceremonies caused precipitous declines in populations; today the capture of wild elephants for sale to elephant-back safaris, zoos and circuses for human entertainment is an unacceptable source of abuse and suffering.
- Unless human developments and activities are curbed the managers of elephant conservation areas and habitats will be faced with increasingly difficult ethical dilemmas.