Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

An Elephant out of the Box

By Don Driscoll

Is the suggestion of introducing elephants to control gamba grass in Australia such a ridiculous idea?

Dr Don Driscoll is a Key Researcher with the National Environmental Research Program Environmental Decisions Hub, which forms part of the Environmental Decisions Group.

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Professor David Bowman of the University of Tasmania really set the cat amongst the pigeons when he published an opinion piece in Nature suggesting that we should introduce elephants to Australia to control an invasive grass. There was a loud and ferocious response ridiculing the idea, yet much in what he suggests warrants reflection.

Bowman makes two critical points with which most conservationists would agree: Australian ecosystems are in a severe state of degradation due to invasive plants and animals, and we need to put all of the management options on the table to try to find ways of reducing the rate at which our biodiversity succumbs to the impacts of invasive alien species and other land management dilemmas.

He’s right. We should consider introducing elephants and rhinoceros to Australia. However, this should be weighed up alongside alternative approaches for dealing with the problem.

Let’s first consider the elephants and the objective of gamba grass control. The problem here is that gamba grass, introduced by the cattle industry, forms dense monocultures in tropical woodlands. Gamba grass can carry fires up to 25 times hotter than native grasslands.This cooks woody shrubs, trees, and everything that lived in them, thus completely changing the ecosystem. So exterminating gamba grass is a good idea – although many in the cattle industry...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.