Elephant culling is an immediate solution to elephant overpopulation, but some experts call the action extreme. Elephants are one of the most intelligent creatures on Earth, and to slaughter tens, hundreds, or thousands at a time is cruel.
South Africa placed a moratorium on elephant culling in 1995 due to local and international pressure, but the country lifted the ban in 2008. Prior to the reversal, NBC News reported on a statement from Jason Bell-Leask, the southern African director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare:
Bell-Leask called culling a "cruel, unethical and a scientifically unsound practice" and said the government should first consider other options such as the use of cross-border "megaparks" to allow greater movement of elephants between countries, and more widespread use of contraception.
Some conservationists argue that elephant culling is sometimes the best way to support a diverse ecosystem. According to ecologist and former Zimbabwe Chief Nature Conservation Officer, Ron Thomson, elephant culling is a necessary tool:
Because the primary objective of a national park is to maintain species diversity the culling of excessive numbers of any and all wild animals species including elephants; especially elephants is imperative. Elephants - the largest land mammals on earth have a greater propensity to modify habitats than any other wild animal species when their populations exceed the sustainable carrying capacities of their habitats.
A decision NOT to cull an excessive elephant population will result in the local extinction of many plant and animal species.
Alternate forms of population control, such as contraception, can be extremely expensive and take years to impact elephant populations. Culling, on the other hand, is a fairly immediate solution.
Elephant culling can have long-term effects on elephant herds. According to a study from the University of Sussex, elephant herds that lost adults in culls during the 1970s and '80s were less able to "respond appropriately to other elephant calls." The BBC's Victoria Gill reports:
Lead researcher Prof Karen McComb said the animals' "social understanding" had been impaired by the loss of adults.
According to researchers, the study provides the first systematic evidence that fundamental social skills among elephants can suffer as a result of "man-made disruption." In other words, human interference with natural elephant populations can have consequences for the animals that remain. Although culling may suit human needs for space or enable diverse lands, the action of elephant culling does not exist in a vacuum.
There is already evidence that the loss of these adult elephants had dramatic social consequences on South Africa's elephants; the researchers describe these effects as akin to post traumatic stress disorder.
Botswana is considering instating elephant hunting and culling in order to fight overpopulation. The BBC's Alastair Leithead reports that there are an estimated 130,000 elephants in Botswana, which many say is too many for the country's ecosystem to support.
Those living close to elephants support the re-introduction of hunting, arguing the amount of conflict has increased since the ban was introduced.
Elephants can be very destructive when they encroach onto farmland and move though villages - destroying crops and sometimes killing people.
Some experts say that hunting can be used as a conservation tool when done correctly and humanely.