South Africa has announced it will reverse its 1995 decision to ban the killing of elephants.
Animal rights campaigners said that up to 10,000 elephants would be killed after the country said it was taking the action in order to control the animals' booming population. The Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that figure was "hugely inflated", adding: "Culling will only be allowed as a last option and under very strict conditions. Our simple reality is that elephant population density has risen so much in some southern African countries that there is concern about impacts on the landscape, the viability of other species and the livelihoods and safety of people living within elephant ranges."
But the Johannesburg-based group Animal Rights Africa threatened to call for international tourist boycotts and to take legal action.
South Africa's elephant population has ballooned to 20,000 from 8,000 at the time of the ban, introduced after international pressure.
In conjunction with the announcement, Mr Van Schalkwyk said the government is prohibiting the capture of wild elephants for commercial purposes – something that will be unpopular with the country's elephant-back safari industry.
A spokesman for The World Wildlife Fund, Rob Little, said: "We are not pleased with the thought of culling elephant but we do recognise it as a management tool. Historically, they would have vast areas to migrate and move in, whereas today we confine them by artificial boundaries. We call elephants "habitat engineers" because they consume such vast amounts of vegetation they have the potential to change the landscape."
He added: "We all love our elephants, they are the most charismatic icon of Africa."Reuse content