Providing ecological and social context for elephant immunocontraception: a case study in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

The BIWFC hosted the webinar “Providing ecological and social context for elephant immunocontraception: a case study in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa” with Paul Cryer, Ecologist and Coordinator of the African Conservation Trust’s Applied Ecology Unit on April 15. This presentation reviewed the setting in which elephant immunocontraception has been applied within Ithala Game Reserve, a community-owned provincial protected area in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

The webinar illustrated the relationship between local priorities of elephant management and broader perspectives on national, continental and global scales. Social learning research and systems thinking show that real change in the human-elephant conflict situation cannot be induced from top-down expert-driven processes. Nor can innovations add value without being integrated into a collaboratively constructed matrix of problem identification and solution-finding. For the implementation of immunocontraception to add value within protected areas, it must dovetail with other strategies that contribute to environmental sustainability at both local and global levels.

The conflation of other fields of science into ecological thinking is influencing management options; elephants’ capacity to sense, interpret and react to their environment reveals advanced levels of self-reflexive consciousness and social organization, and this has ethical implications for all types of experimentation and management associated with elephant populations. During the presentation Paul discussed the variety of perceptions pertaining to the disturbance of elephants through the application of immunocontraception.

Ithala Game Reserve provides a test-case where human-elephant conflict is being addressed through a suite of approaches. Within those approaches, a reduced elephant population growth rate provides an essential platform for shifting human consciousness toward a more holistic perception of sustainability, one that may be valid at local and global levels. Approaching human-elephant conflict from multiple approaches, including immunocontraception and range expansion, may point to expanded protected areas, benefitting all species, and increased socio-economic security for the human community members.

About the Presenter: Paul Cryer 

Paul Cryer is coordinator of the African Conservation Trust’s Applied Ecology Unit. His focus is the expansion of conservation areas for priority species, especially elephant and rhino. This area of ecology has included working with local communities to co-create innovative solutions to the socio-economic and environmental issues facing people and the environment. To mitigate human-elephant conflict, he has developed and led training in elephant behavior, specifically for conservation staff and community members encountering elephant on foot.

Paul holds a BSc in Zoology, an MSc in Environmental Management with additional short course qualifications in protected area management, environmental law and GIS. Working as a wilderness guide in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, through the Wilderness Leadership School, the Wilderness Foundation, the South African National Parks and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, he set up and managed environmental education projects for disadvantaged youth (and participants from other countries) in national parks and provincial nature reserves. He managed the iMfolozi Wilderness Research Project which revised conservation strategy and attained the first legal protection for the iMfolozi Wilderness Area.

On behalf of the provincial conservation authority, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Paul chairs the iMfolozi Wilderness Area Steering Committee. He is a Board Member of the Wilderness Leadership School and an Advisory Board member of the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Citizen. Paul also serves as a director of the “Rex the Rhino Conservation Trust,” a body that accesses and allocates resources for South African rhino conservation and security. He has also had direct involvement with rhino security training and surveillance.