Elephants on pill trample family values
Thursday 24 April 1997
After six months of intervention in South Africa's Kruger National Park, the resulting possibilities of elephantine free love have proved a social disaster. On offer was jumbo-sized birth control. The result was social and sexual mayhem.
It has been discovered that specially-designed hormone implants, the park's pioneering instrument of population control, leave females permanently on heat and create rampaging bulls, trapped in a state of perpetual - and dangerous - sexual excitement.
"The bulls want to constantly mate with the females," complained Douw Grobler, the Kruger Park vet responsible.
Female elephants usually on heat just two days in every 17 weeks, had been hot for an entire six months at a time. Dr Grobler said the cows were being constantly harassed. Wherever they went, a long line of bulls trailed behind them.
"At one stage there were eight bulls around one cow," he added. "This is unacceptable."
The oestrogen implants, injected into sedated females, work along the same lines as the pill in women. They have achieved their contraceptive aim. In six months no cow has become pregnant despite the unflagging - not to say embarrassing - attention of the bulls.
But families have broken down. In the explosive sexual atmosphere, responsibilities are forgotten. Two baby elephants have gone missing and are presumed dead. Dr Grobler and his staff believe they strayed from home because their mothers were permanently distracted.
The elephant pill's unforeseen effects will encourage critics who condemned the controversial programme from the start as an extravagant waste of money, driven by human sentimentality.
Rural development groups argued elephants should be free to have as many calves as they pleased, and to expand their families to the size God intended. Rural African communities could then kill and eat the surplus.
Mr Grobler admitted yesterday that the programme was motivated by a sentimental desire to create a painless method of population control which would keep herds small, happy and well cared for. The idea of simply letting populations explode and culling later he said was considered "barbaric" by some.
Mr Grobler now acknowledges the Kruger was misguided. Unwanted pregnancies have been prevented but the social cost has been too high a price to pay.
Yesterday he said the programme was been shelved, and the behaviour of elephants closely watched to ensure it returned to normal. Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, was unavailable for comment last night.
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