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WPR Journalist Reports On Elephant Management in South Africa

June 26, 2013
Woman interviewing a man
Wyoming Public Radio reporter Willow Belden conducts an interview at a South African national park. (WPR)

While elephants are threatened by poaching in many parts of Africa, they are flourishing in South Africa, says Wyoming Public Radio reporter Willow Belden. She recently returned from an assignment to report on efforts to control the country’s growing elephant populations.

“That’s because they live in protected game reserves and parks, where there’s little or no poaching, few predators and abundant resources,” says Belden, whose report was heard earlier this month on WPR’s weekly news and information program, “Open Spaces.”

Some game reserve managers say the elephants are multiplying too fast for their habitat to sustain, so they are using various forms of birth control to curtail their reproduction, she says. But other experts warn that controlling their numbers is the wrong approach.

“These issues parallel some of the challenges faced by wildlife managers in Wyoming, for example with wild horses,” Belden says.

While in South Africa, Belden traveled to a game reserve that uses a form of birth control on elephants. She interviewed the team that developed an elephant vasectomy procedure in Colorado, where they are based. She also spoke with leading South African ecologists who advocate a different approach -- restoring natural ecosystem processes so that elephants regulate their own numbers.

Belden’s trip was funded by the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship, an award she received when she graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2011. The fellowship, which is intended to pay for an international reporting trip, is granted to four outstanding students each year.

Before joining the WPR news team, Belden spent a year in the Middle East on a Fulbright grant, conducting research in a Palestinian refugee camp, and writing for the Jordan Times and JO Magazine. Upon returning to the United States, she became a reporter and editor at New York City’s Queens Chronicle and received the Rookie Reporter of the Year award from the New York Press Association.

Her report has been accepted by National Public Radio’s popular “Morning Edition” program. To hear Belden’s report on South African elephants, visit, click on programs and select “Open Spaces.”

Wyoming Public Radio is licensed to the University of Wyoming and is a service of the UW Outreach School.

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