Our Burning Planet


Jozini Dam: Twenty-five slaughtered elephants later, tourists in a viewing boat come under poachers’ gunfire

Jozini Dam: Twenty-five slaughtered elephants later, tourists in a viewing boat come under poachers’ gunfire
Tourists cower on the deck of the ‘Jozenic’ tour boat on Jozini Dam after being fired on from the shoreline following a series of elephant poaching attacks around the dam (Video still Supplied)

Tourists viewing elephants from a boat on the Jozini/Pongolapoort Dam in northern KwaZulu-Natal ducked for cover on Wednesday as suspected elephant poachers opened fire.

Eight foreign tourists and four South Africans came under gunfire attack on a double-decker floating tour boat in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday — unwitting bystanders in a broader drama involving the recent slaughter of at least 20 elephants from a wandering herd now “trapped” on the borderline between Eswatini and South Africa.

The tourists — who came under fire shortly after 10.30am on the eastern shores of the Jozini/Pongolapoort dam, which is on the southern border between SA and Eswatini — dived for shelter as several shots were fired on their elephant-viewing tour boat.

Cowering on the decks of the “Jozenic” tour boat, the group took cover after being fired upon, allegedly by a group of nearly 20 armed men linked to the recent slaughter of about 25 elephants and other illegal wildlife poaching activity around Jozini Dam.

pongola poachers

An elephant carcass floats in Jozini Dam. (Photo: Supplied)

Local elephant and rhino monitor Suzette Boshoff, who was on the boat when the vessel was fired on, described the attack as “the scariest day of my life”.

It is understood that there were eight foreign tourists on the boat — five Germans, two Americans and one Australian — along with four South Africans.

Over recent months, several elephant carcasses have been discovered along the shoreline of Jozini Dam after a herd of more than 70 elephants went walkabout during a severe drought more than seven years ago.

The decomposing carcass of another elephant calf at Jozini. (Photo: Supplied)

The herd, originally from the private Pongola Game Reserve, wandered into Swaziland via the shallow lake shores, before returning to South Africa around 2016.

The herd later ran into conflict with rural communities — culminating in the death of a local resident in September 2022, who was trampled by an elephant cow.

The exact circumstances of that incident remain unclear, but it is understood that the cow went on the attack in retaliation for the killing of its calf by elephant poachers.

The carcass of an elephant decapitated elephant at Jozini. (Photo: Supplied)

Some sources have suggested that the death of resident Bheki Nyawo triggered a family vendetta against the herd, leading to the killing of up to 25 elephants in the area over recent months.

The conflict has been exacerbated by attempts to control illegal gill-netting of fish in Jozini Dam by criminal syndicates, along with disputes over cattle grazing in a local nature reserve close to the Eswatini border.

According to Boshoff, about 25 of the original herd of 74 elephants appear to have been poached in recent months. In one of the most recent incidents, an elephant carcass was discovered floating in the dam on New Year’s Day with one of its tusks removed.

Appeal for national intervention

Heinz de Boer, a Democratic Alliance member of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature and provincial party spokesman on environmental affairs, has condemned the latest attack on tourists and elephants and appealed for national intervention.

pongola poachers

A police investigator uses a metal detector to scan an elephant carcass for bullets. (Photo: Supplied)

“Armed groups of poachers have now completely laid siege to the eastern shores of the lake, with several elephant carcasses recently found, while dozens of gunshots have also been reported in the region,” he said.

“Guards near the Eswatini border have allegedly also come under attack and infrastructure damaged and torched by the armed gang.

“Furthermore, the DA has now also received video and photographic evidence of a tour boat coming under fire by armed gangs who continue to lay illegal gill nets in the lake.

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“The rampant lawlessness and decimation of flora and fauna within this community has long been highlighted, with the conflict brewing for years. Yet, to date, government has failed to secure this tourist and wildlife haven.”

De Boer alleged that the lake was being “systematically stripped of its fish stock” by poachers, while concerned locals tried to halt the poaching.

“The DA will escalate the ongoing war against poaching to the highest levels of government and demands the swift arrests of those who believe they can destroy our natural heritage and tourism sector. The situation can no longer continue.”

pongola poachers

The tusk of an elephant recovered by police after recent ivory poaching cases at Jozini Dam. (Photo: Supplied)

Boshoff told Our Burning Planet that 12 charges of attempted murder had been laid at the Pongola Police Station on Wednesday, but a SAPS spokesperson did not respond to requests for official confirmation of the complaint.

Boshoff, however, remains concerned about the future of the displaced elephant herd, fearing that it will continue to be slaughtered unless there is urgent intervention.

“I have been begging authorities to get this herd out of harm’s way. These animals are trapped and it breaks my heart. We need to find a safe place for them.” DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    South Africa is a lawless country, “policed” by the least competent peoples on our planet. The joke-in-the-hat must be fired.

  • Confucious Says says:

    This is what it’s coming to. Terribly sad jus how bad crime has gotten in SA. It as if it’s every man for himself because there’s no authority to sort the matter out now… very sad.

    • Gordon Bentley says:

      Agreed, the fat cat in the hat must be fired!
      What investigations have been done so far re: Andre De Ruiter poisoning? Or is Cele more interested in counting his money for rentals which he received from government for letting out his building which he received from government for a nominal amount?
      There must be a trail of people – right from the person who gave him the cup of coffee, if one looks at this with intent to find the guilty party.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    Don’t worry – Cyril is about to unveil a dynamic group of Ministers who will rip off their shirts and display their Superman tunics.
    Help is on the way and our dire state of affairs will be reversed and a rainbow will glow over the country.

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    Do any of us think that these unscrupulous Poachers will be apprehended and brought to book?
    Kruger Park reports that poaching is completely out of control in most of our National Parks.
    How very tragic that most of our wildlife is disappearing at such an alarming rate due lack of uneffective policing by the SAPS

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      If you speak to people in the respective industries, you will rapidly discover that the giant Gorgon sisters whose snakes control the poaching and smuggling industry in this country [from abalone to lobster to pelagics to Rhino to Elephant to Lion bones to IDB to cigarettes etc. etc.] thrive in the esteemed corridors of parliament and serve at the pleasure of no less a personage than El Squirrel.

      • Gordon Bentley says:

        I have applied for membership of the Sanparks Honorary Rangers who do work such as removing Poachers snares, etc. in all Sanparks. We must do whatever it takes to conserve our precious wildlife!

        • Janine Stephen says:

          Good for you. Taking action is so NB. But I reckon we need police to really take a stand in Jozini and the reserves bordering Moz. And for that: pressure, pressure, pressure. Awkward questions. Just keep demanding inquiries and political / policing action.

  • Matsobane Monama says:

    Not publishing the consequences of our past for the current many problems we are facing as a country is tantamount to censorship. DM should know better.

  • Clive Poultney says:

    In 2016 / 2017 Elephant Action League now Earth League International tried to assist with getting money and resources from international agencies to look at moving the elephants with a probability to Maputo Elephant Reserve in Mozambique. There was a lack of interest from local authorities as reported in the article, as well as official anti crime agencies and the national prosecutions authority (NPA). This attempt was part of an internationally supported pilot on combatting wildlife and convergent crime through setting up community based intelligence and counter wildlife crime networks. The project itself, although yielding some very significant results and insights, was terminated since international agencies were not prepared to continue with lack of support from local authorities. No difference now.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Why am I not surprised at this atrocious action? The Mafia have taken over every aspect of life in our country, including politics.!

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