To cull literally means to remove somebody or something considered worthless. It can also mean to select or gather people or things, especially those that are good examples of their kind. In Wildlife management, to cull is to remove an animal, especially a sick or weak one, from a herd or flock. It is a reduction of the numbers of an animal population achieved by selectively killing some of its members.
One of the reasons that are advanced for culling wild animals is the spread of diseases such as Anthrax. Anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by gram-positive (bacteria that retain the colour of a gentian violet stain when subjected to Gram’s Method of classifying bacteria), rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax can be found naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world. Anthrax is not contagious, which means you cannot catch it like the cold or flu. So how do animals get infected with anthrax?
Domestic and wild animals such as cattle, goats, and hippopotamus can become infected when they breathe in bacteria in contaminated soil, plants, or water. People can get sick with anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products and eat food or drink water that is contaminated with the bacteria as well as through a cut in the skin. Contact with anthrax can cause severe illness in both humans and animals. When anthrax bacteria get inside the body, they can be “activated.” Once they become active, the bacteria can multiply, spread out in the body, produce poisons (toxins), and cause severe illness. There are few reported cases of Anthrax in Zambia, but sporadic outbreaks do occur especially in wild and domestic grazing animals. In humans, sufferers often die without going to a health centre and in some cases the disease is mistaken with other common diseases and therefore goes undetected. Anthrax is more common in developing countries and countries that do not have veterinary public health programs that routinely vaccinate animals.
Another reason for culling animals is the need to reduce their populations in order to prevent damage of habitat by a rapidly increasing population. Provision of meat in this case becomes a secondary objective. Cropping on the other hand would have the objective of either wild animal population control or harvesting to provide bush meat and other wild animal products for local consumption and/or for income generation.
Culling of animals in conservation areas continues to be a controversial issue. While conservation scientists and protected area managers argue for its use as a management tool to control animal populations, some conservationists consider it morally wrong. Culling, as a game management tool has been used in some protected areas within Zambia and has been undertaken for mainly three reasons: To prevent or reduce habitat degradation caused by high densities of animals; To reduce human-wildlife conflict; and as a species protection strategy (e.g in cases where there is competition between a locally abundant and a rare species, a proportion of the population of the abundant species may be culled to reduce the competition). Game cropping and culling operations are not restricted to initiatives in protected areas but may also be a regular harvesting technique on game ranches and private lands.
This is particularly common in countries where game animals have been kept on private lands for both conservation and sport hunting purposes for many years. Let’s now think back on anthrax.
How can anthrax be prevented? In areas where domestic animals have had anthrax in the past, routine vaccination can help prevent outbreaks. Anthrax cannot be spread directly from person to person, but a person’s clothing and body may be contaminated with anthrax bacteria. Effective decontamination of people can be accomplished by a thorough wash-down with antimicrobial soap and water. Waste water should be treated with bleach or other antimicrobial agent. Effective decontamination of articles can be accomplished by boiling them in water for 30 minutes or longer.
Yes culling is a good management tool if, and only if, it is based on current research data and when there is a disease outbreak or a situation which could not be dealt with using other alternatives. In an event that culling becomes necessary, it is important to ensure that measures are put in place for the economic benefits to accrue to specially the local people who live in and around the area in which the culling is situated.