Sterilisation of elephants affects their behaviour

Data has been collected from elephant herds in Pongola game reserve

Results from a long-term study on the behaviour of vasectomised elephants in South Africa imply that this contraceptive method can have a considerable impact on the behaviour of the herd.

Artificially limiting populations

Culling, formerly the only option available to control elephant populations (which, following the ivory trade embargo and success of conservation interventions in southern Africa, have risen to levels which can pose a threat to the elephant’s habitat and associated biodiversity), lost favour in the 1990s.

Other methods of contraception (such as the administration of contraceptive hormones) have become more refined and numerous, but wildlife managers and scientists still seek to artificially limit populations without altering ecology or behaviour, or causing unacceptable levels of stress.

The causes of stress may be related to increased competition for resources due to the demands of the males

Sterilisation as an option

Surgical sterilisation has been proposed as an alternative to culling or hormonal contraception, and indications are that vasectomised males will still come into musth, show interest in cycling females and copulate as normal. However, subsequent effects of this are poorly understood.

Long-term study results

Surgical sterilisation is an alternative to culling or hormonal contraception

Data from long-term studies of two elephant herds in Pongola game reserve indicate that breeding age males that would normally be primarily independent of the herd are persistently following the herd, attracted by the cycling females. Concurrently, signs of stress in the females and their young are frequently observed.

The causes of stress may be related to increased competition for resources due to the demands of the males, or the presence of sexually heightened males and the subsequent inter-male competition and attention paid to females.

Increased stress levels and changes in ranging patterns may alter normal activity budgets and habitat use, and as such could have far reaching consequences for National Park and Reserve management.

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2 Responses to “Sterilisation of elephants affects their behaviour”

  1. Knowing the sterilation of the did not create a low- stress situation what will the next step be to try to humanely cull the herds?

  2. Hi Kaci

    We will be following up this project by conducting research during the summer this year to investigate which method is the least disruptive when it comes to reducing elephant populations.

    Kind regards

    Alex