South Africa launches elephant birth control programme
Elephants in many parts of Africa have come under threat in recent decades from ivory poachers, local farmers and a destruction of their habitat.
But in some cases conservation efforts have been successful in helping numbers to recover, with South Africa a prime example.
Indeed, those visiting the country on Africa overland trips are virtually assured of spotting some of South Africa's thousands of wild elephants.
However, the conservation programme has proved so successful that elephant numbers have increased too rapidly in some parts of the country, threatening to unbalance the eco system.
Now, one South African province is launching an ambitious birth control project in an attempt to remedy this problem, Reuters reports.
KwaZulu-Natal province, in the south-east of the country, is looking to expand a project running for more than a decade where elephant populations have been controlled by injecting females with a vaccine that acts as a contraception.
"Slowing the growth rate will allow time to be gained to achieve other biodiversity objectives, such as land expansion, without having to cull the elephants," said Catherine Hanekom, an ecologist for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife - a governmental organisation responsible for maintaining wildlife conservation areas and biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Studies have found that South Africa, which had just over 100 elephants nearly a century ago, now has more than 20,000 individuals.
But the explosion in the elephant population risks decimating vegetation, with the animals requiring vast quantities of food each day to sustain themselves.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the elephants are contained within fenced-in reserves for their protection.
"Because we have taken away opportunities, they don't have the chance to remedy the overpopulation naturally as they would through migration," Audrey Delsink Kettles, an elephant ecologist who has been leading studies for years on contraception at Makalali Private Game Reserve, told the news provider.