The guardians of the singular, largest group of wild rhino in the world announced the long awaited number of rhino in their care, the figures confirmed a devastating loss of life. 

Using a sample block counting method, 50% of the total Kruger National Park was surveyed. The resulting estimated number of rhino was published in the SANParks 2019-2020 Annual Report

The number of rhinos illegally killed annually in the national parks of South Africa  realistically reflects the minimum number of deceased rhino.  There is a certain amount of difficulty in detecting or finding the remains of every deceased rhino in the dense African bush.  The accuracy of the published information is also reliant upon the data handed in and collated by authorities.  

The very low number of remaining rhino in the Kruger National Park is indicative of  the illegal killing of rhino for their horns by often unknown attackers since 2008.  Hundreds of rhino were also sold to locally based trophy hunters, canned lion hunters, to international trophy hunters, to international zoos and to rhino breeders. 

In addition, the EMS Foundation’s retrospective report Where Have All the Rhino Gone includes familiar names of people involved in the game breeding industry, ex policemen and veterinarians who have been arrested and charged with wildlife crimes over the past two decades.  This information demonstrates that the illegal killing of rhino in South Africa for their horn has not only been carried out by anonymous individuals. 

The research revealed the disappointing reality that Howard Buffett, the American philanthropist and businessman, was not able to complete his R255 million grant to the Kruger National Park to assist with the prevention of the illegal killing of rhino due to a poor internal work ethic. 

In a statement made by SANParks board on the 20th of February 2012 they confirmed that they had received an inquiry from the office of the Public Protector in Nelspruit. A number of companies contracted to the Kruger National Park were alleged to be owned by family, friends or associates of senior officials in the Kruger National Park. 

Whilst the EMS Foundation was unable to substantiate the aforementioned allegation, we were, however able confirm that a company contracted to the Kruger National Park and to SANParks from 2002-2016 was directly linked to Jacob Zuma. 

Over the past two decades the survival of the rhino living in the Kruger National Park has had everything stacked against them including questionable, critical management  decisions, the possible involvement of corrupt politicians, the direct involvement of wildlife veterinarians, members of the South African police servicesSANParks employees which has directly or indirectly led to their deaths. 

IMAGE CREDIT: Gurcharan Roopra





Elephants Killed for Trophies in the Kruger National Park System, South Africa

The EMS Foundation has confirmed, via an access to information request to the Limpopo government (LEDET), that in 2020 four male elephants were killed for trophies in an open system with the Kruger National Park – the Balule Reserve. In addition, in 2020, one male elephant was also trophy hunted in the Maremani Nature Reserve, which belongs to the Danish Aage V. Jensen Foundation –                                       

Trophy Hunting VS Ubuntu

Trophy hunting is the killing of wild animals for recreation with the purpose of collecting trophies such as horns, antlers, skulls, skins, tusks or teeth for display. Trophy hunting, like poaching, artificially selects the biggest and strongest animals (largest tusks and thickest manes), weakening populations’ genetic health and variation. Therefore, while revenue may be forthcoming in the short term from such extraction, the longer-term effects are that population growth dynamics are negatively affected.

The incentives that drive trophy hunting (selecting the strongest) are fundamentally at odds with the conservation imperative (preserving the strongest). Beyond the negative ecological effects, the practice remains rooted in colonial modes of extraction. Some also argue that trophy hunting is reinforcing deep apartheid era social and racial inequalities in Africa because organised hunting of endangered wildlife mostly benefits wealthy white landowners while exploiting black workers by paying them pitiful wages. 

Trophy hunting is in stark contradiction with African value systems such as Ubuntu (where harmony, connectedness and respect extend beyond human relationships to the whole living world) and notions of communal commitment to the protection of animals. As Dr Mucha Mkono noted in her article: Neo-colonialism and greed: Africans views on trophy hunting in social media, while a hunter might have a permit to hunt and shoot an animal, if the community and environment suffer it is considered that the principles of Ubuntu have been violated. Furthermore, she says that: “Ubuntu, being grounded in an attitude of caring and compassion, does not excuse gratuitous violence towards individual animals.”  

Balule Private Nature Reserve and the Killing of Elephants

Elephants are irreplaceable ecosystem engineers and their removal negatively impacts ecosystem integrity and biodiversity preservation.  Trophy hunters justify targeting older bull elephants on the grounds they are “redundant”. But, a recent study shows that old male elephants play a key role leading all-male groups. Also, when trophy hunters eliminate older bulls, they destroy elephant family integrity (through trauma and removal of the discipline and knowledge transfer functions executed by patriarchs) and force matriarchs to mate with younger bulls they would otherwise not have selected, thereby skewing reproduction patterns.   

Pre-Covid-19, approximately 950 000 people visited the world-renowned Kruger National Park (KNP) every year. With an annual budget of close to 1 billion ZAR 80% of this conservation income is self-generated through its thriving tourism activities within these wild, natural and protected spaces. 

A classic example of entrenched white privilege is the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) in South Africa, bordering the KNP. The six private reserves each comprise a number of different private owners and farms. By 1996, these reserves had almost no elephants left as they had been hunted to near extinction. The fences were dropped in 1993 – before the end of apartheid – on the premise of creating ‘ecological unity’ between the APNR and the KNP itself. Commercial hunting, in the 1996 agreement, was not mentioned at all. Animals under public custodianship (KNP) now move freely between the APNR and the KNP. Far from creating ecological unity, however, they are treated as res nullius (nobody’s property) in the APNR and are hunted. The APNR allows the commercial trophy hunting of a number of animals, including elephants, lions and buffalos. These animals are part of the country’s national heritage but are permitted to be shot by foreign trophy hunters for the benefit of a small number of wealthy white landowners. How much money actually accrues to local communities remains unknown due to a lack of transparency in the industry. 

Balule Private Game Reserve is located along the banks of the Olifants River between Phalaborwa and Hoedspruit in the Limpopo Province. Balule shares an un-fenced border with the KNP and is one of the APNRs. According to various websites there are twenty-six unique options from budget to luxury accommodation available. 

The ecological benefits of sharing an open system with the KNP has made Balule a popular ecotourism destination and protection efforts have ensured that the wildlife population includes an abundance of lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and black rhino. 

Trophy hunting is permitted in Balule Private Nature Reserve despite what this article states. 

The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs raised concerns regarding the law governing hunting in the Kruger National Park and about contractual arrangements between the Kruger National Park and the Association of Private Nature Reserves in September 2018.

Unfortunately, over the past three years a number of trophy hunts in Balule have provided very negative media attention. On the 28th of November 2018 Balule issued a statement:

“We wish to express deep regret that visitors to the reserve had to endure a harrowing and traumatising incident in which an elephant was shot by hunters near the lodge that visitors were staying at.  We apologize profusely and unreservedly to those affected.

Based on witness accounts gathered to date, this incident seems not to comply with the sustainable utilisation model of ethical hunting in accordance with the hunting protocol that governs all reserves within the Associated Private Nature Reserves to which Balule and hence Maseke are bound.”

The incident took place on the 23rd November, a young elephant bull was shot 13 times in front of our eye-witnesses standing on a viewing deck overlooking Balule’s Maseke Game Reserve where the hunt took place. The eye witnesses disputed the findings of the investigation

In August of the same year, again in Balule, a collared male elephant aged between 20 and 30 years with tusks of 30 pounds each was shot and killed illegally.  Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority laid criminal charges against the culprit. Frikkie Kotze pleaded guilty to the charges and was fined five years in prison or R50 000.00 both suspended for five years.  He had to pay Elephants Alive R35000.00 to replace the collar.   The hunting party consisted of Kotze, the professional hunter and outfitter JJ Horn, the client and his wife. 

The reason that this hunt was illegal was because the permit for this hunt was issued by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism known as LEDET, whose mission it is to create and facilitate the development of a competitive economy, sustainable environment and tourism growth, the elephant was killed in the Mpumalanga Province.

The elephant was collared and part of an ongoing research project by Elephants Alive!  The chairperson of Balule Nature Reserve, Sharon Haussmann, stated that she was determined to stamp out illegal activities and actions that breach accepted protocol. 

Balule Private Nature Reserve was in the global headline news once more when in 2019 the People for the Ethical Treatment  of Animals PETA published the facts about Aaron Raby who killed an elephant on the 5th December 2019 there.  The elephant suffered a cruel, needlessly prolonged and inarguably painful death. 

Hunting of iconic wild animals in the APNR’s has a negative effect on South Africa’s conservation reputation, on eco-tourism and on Brand South Africa.  The problem with simplistic analyses supporting hunting is that they fail to recognise that trophy hunting and non-consumptive ecotourism are increasingly mutually exclusive. Moreover, the training and so-called qualifications of professional hunters is of an extremely low standard with provincial legislation accepts a training certificate from a 10-day course as the minimum standard.

The EMS Foundation believes that an immediate moratorium on trophy hunting in the APNR reserves should be imposed while: 

  1. policy is being developed
  2. a review and feasibility of the agreement between SANParks and the APNR and all relevant protocols is undertaken and the public given an opportunity to participate meaningfully in all these processes. 

©The EMS Foundation 2021. All Rights Reserved.




Focusing Exclusively on Lion Trophy Hunting

The exploitation of wild animals has been identified as one of the dominant drivers of biodiversity loss, emergence of zoonotic infectious disease, animal suffering, and financial instability. 

Lion populations have dropped by more than 40% in the past two decades. There are approximately 20000 wild lions in Africa, with only 3000 in South Africa. Lions are most significantly impacted by illegal hunting, body part trade, revenge killings, habitat loss and fragmentation, and, according to Panthera, by unsustainable trophy hunting. 

Trophy hunting is the killing of wild animals for recreation with the purpose of collecting trophies such as horns, antlers, skulls, skins, tusks or teeth for display. Trophy hunting, like poaching, artificially selects the biggest and strongest animals (largest tusks and thickest manes), weakening populations’ genetic health and variation. Therefore, while revenue may be forthcoming in the short term from such extraction, the longer-term effects are that population growth dynamics are negatively affected.

According to some conservationists, those that question the trophy hunting of lion pride leaders such as Cecil, Xanda, Seduli, Mopane and Skye, are uninformed. They do not seem believe that the trophy hunting of male lions are a major threat to the conservation of lion. However, other academics argue that the continuing complicity by these conservationists without fully exhausting other options is not appropriate. 

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service unless reforms are made to the current management of lion trophy hunting, worrying declines in lion populations from excessive hunting in certain regions will continue. The idea that trophy hunters only eliminate ‘surplus’ animals is patently untrue. Repeatedly in southern Africa, the biggest and strongest male lions (in their reproductive prime) are shot. Younger lions entering the pride often execute infanticide on their predecessor’s cubs, thus reducing numbers and further weakening the gene pool. 

The incentives that drive trophy hunting (selecting the strongest) are fundamentally at odds with the conservation imperative (preserving the strongest). Beyond the negative ecological effects, the practice remains rooted in colonial modes of extraction.

On the 5th of August 2021 a twelve-year old pride male lion, named Mopane by locals, was baited out of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and shot dead with a bow by a trophy hunter.  Mopane leaves behind a pride with two litters of sub adult offspring.  Without the protection of Mopane, there is very little chance of survival for these nineteen cubs.

Lions of all ages are being shot and the trophy hunting industry lies and reinvents the justifications each time to suit their need to keep their business model rolling.  There can be no better example of this statement than The hunting of Skye in the Greater Kruger National Park. 

Tourism concession owners in Hwange National Park have been particularly outspoken about the hunt of Mopane and have described it as unethical, egotistical and greedy. 

On the same day as the Mopane hunt Amy Dickman published an article stating that: “Trophy hunting today simply isn’t a major threat to wildlife, even for species like lions and for some species, it has directly improved their conservation.” 

Image Credit: Villiers Steyn / Getty Images

©The EMS Foundation 2021. All Rights Reserved.




Tuesday 10th August 2021


The EMS Foundation remains concerned about the devastating the negative effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic; and the growing risk of new pandemics which can be scientifically linked to the trade and consumption of wild animals.

The EMS Foundation sent a letter to Minister Thokozile Didiza and Minister Barbara Creecy with regard to new research which reaffirms ozonic spillover from the wildlife trade and consumption thereof.

Image Credit: Getty Images

©The EMS Foundation 2021. All Rights Reserved.




“Trophy Hunting is a form of selective elimination of the strongest members of a pride, based on whatever distinction has been accepted in the hunting fraternity.”  DAVID MABUNDA

The Umbabat Nature Reserve is a privately owned nature reserve situated adjacent to the Kruger National Park on the bank of the Nhlaralumi River in the Bushbuckridge Municipality in Mpumalanga Province, it is one of the Associated Private Nature Reserves. 

In a statement made in 2018, the management of the Umbabat Nature Reserve confirmed their participation in the practise of trophy hunting. This practise, they said, was guided by the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol.  

The permits for trophy hunting, the Umbabat Management confirmed, are issued by, after vigorous consultation with the management of Kruger National Park and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency. 

Despite these assurances, in 2018, members of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs were concerned that ten years after the promulgation of the amended TOPS regulations in 2008, that the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency were still not compliant.  The Portfolio Committee were especially concerned about non-compliance relating to the hunting of listed species in the regulations such as lions. 

On the 7th of June 2018 a large male lion was killed in the Umbabat Associated Private Nature Reserve of the Kruger National Park by an American hunter, Jared Whitworth, he allegedly paid the sum of 1 million rand.

Skye the dominant pride lion lived in the Umbabat section of the Kruger National Park, he was well-known and well-loved by international and local eco and photographic tourists alike. He disappeared on the 7th of June 2018, he was never seen again. 

The management of Umbabat and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority refused to provide any documentation about the hunt. The international and national outcry following the media reports about this hunt resulted in an enquiry held by the Portfolio Committee for Environmental Affairs in August 2018. 

Those involved in the trophy killing of the lion said that the lion, described the lion as:  “well past his prime, he was not a pride lion, the hunted lion had worn down and broken teeth, a protruding spine”. Yet, the Mpumalanaga Tourism and Parks Agency refused access to the dead lion.  A transparent process and identification would have dispelled the global outcry and subsequent investigation.

An experienced, independent ecologist, Jason Turner, examined an image of the hunted lion issued by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, and confirmed that the dead lion in the image had a number of definitive and unique identification facial scars characteristics. These included nose and eye scars. Charlie Lynam, a wildlife photographer and share block owner in the Umbabat Associated Private Nature Reserve also examined and identified the lion as Skye because of nose and eye scars. 

The EMS Foundation continued to seek answers from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), who confirmed that: 

  • there are no fences between the APNR and the Kruger National Park;
  • the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency provided the permit to kill the lion; 
  • the lion was bated

DFFE did not inspect the “trophy” at the port of exit.

According to DFFE: “We had planned to conduct an inspection of the hunting client’s consignment once it was presented at the Compliance Office at Oliver Tambo International Airport for the endorsement of the CITES permit.  Unfortunately, we were not informed, despite sending a number of requests, by the Compliance Office and the consignment left South Africa without the enforcement officials inspecting the consignment.”

In a recent Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request to DFFE from the EMS Foundation, DFFE confirmed that the body parts of the lion we believe to be Skye left South Africa via Oliver Tambo International Airport on Turkish Airways on the 24th August, destination San Francisco.   

It is likely that there was a cover-up right until the end because the permit – number 171120 – was only for the “skull and full skin” and not a “full mount”. Does it mean that bragging rights were foregone in order to avoid verification?  



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