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A screen grab from the video shared by PETA, Aaron Raby takes his first shot at an elephant in Balule Nature Reserve which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park in Limpopo Province in South Africa, published on the 4th August 2020

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 – https://avjcf.org.                                       

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. 

Image Credit: https://www.iol.co.za/news/world/peta-targets-us-hunter-who-shot-elephant-in-sa-as-part-of-his-big-five-quest-7e31f029-90d6-4bab-86ef-9d262de26fac

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