By Willow Belden
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In many parts of Africa, elephants are threatened by poaching. But in South Africa, they're doing so well that some game reserves say they're overpopulated. Now, many of those reserves are trying to limit elephant reproduction even while some ecologists believe it's the wrong approach. Willow Belden reports.
WILLOW BELDEN, BYLINE: It's a sunny afternoon at Makalali Game Reserve. Giraffes graze at the edge of savannahs, wildebeests gather beneath flat-topped trees and elephants amble through leafy thickets. The reserve is home to all of South Africa's big game species, and visitors pay top dollar to go on safaris here. Amos(ph), a guide at the reserve, stops his jeep near an elephant herd.
AMOS: So the elephants, they eat 24 hours. Wherever you find them, they will be eating.
BELDEN: And sure enough, the elephants wander from tree to tree, wrap their trunks around branches and pull off huge mouthfuls of leaves. Sometimes they even knock over a tree to reach high-up branches. The animals at Makalali seem to be living in the wild, but this is a fenced-in reserve, and the wildlife is closely managed. Most notably, many of the elephants are on birth control. Audrey Delsink is in charge of them. She explains that when elephants were reintroduced to Makalali in the 1990s, their population ballooned.
AUDREY DELSINK: And it's simply because the resources are so phenomenal. You know, elephants hadn't been here for many, many years, and so their vegetation is ideal. In most instances, there's artificial water, and so this just makes for wonderful breeding grounds.
BELDEN: Those conditions are common in South Africa. The elephants all live in parks and game reserves where there's almost no poaching, few predators and abundant water. So the animals live long and multiply quickly. Henk Bertschinger, an expert in veterinary science and animal reproduction from the University of Pretoria, says the problem with that is that game reserves have a finite amount of space. More....