After more than a decade, South Africa is lifting a ban on killing elephants for population control, the government announced Monday.

The government is removing the 1995 ban as part of a new elephant policy that comes into effect on May 1.

"Culling will only be allowed as a last option and under very strict conditions," said Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

"Our simple reality is that elephant population density has risen so much in some southern African countries that there is concern about impacts on the landscape, the viability of other species and the livelihoods and safety of people living within elephant ranges."

The country's elephant population has ballooned to more than 20,000 from 8,000 in 1995. With overpopulation, the elephants come into conflict with people as they search for their daily diet of about 300 kilograms of grass, leaves and twigs.

Van Schalkwyk did not say how many elephants would be killed under the new rules, but said some animal-rights groups' estimates of 2,000 to 10,000 were "hugely inflated."

Elephants will be killed using "quick and humane methods and a rifle with minimum calibre of .375", the new government policy states. Other population control measures such as relocation and contraception by injection will also be used.

The ban reversal has prompted protests from environmental groups because elephant populations in other countries are low and elephants are classed as "vulnerable" worldwide.

South Africa's new elephant policy also prohibits the capture of wild elephants for commercial purposes and will lead to regulations for treating the country's 120 captive elephants. Van Schalkwyk said the department has received "numerous complaints" about cruel training practices, such as the use of electric prodders.