Our Burning Planet


Conservationists appeal for end to hunting of elephants in private reserves bordering Kruger

Conservationists appeal for end to hunting of elephants in private reserves bordering Kruger
Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy. (Photo: Julia Evans) | Unsplash / Zoe Reeve

Open letter to Barbara Creecy from the Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa on the hunting of a bull elephant in the Balule Nature Reserve. They argue that elephant bulls that are commercially trophy hunted in the reserve form part of South Africa’s national heritage, but they are being killed for the benefit of a small number of wealthy white landowners as the amount of money actually accruing to local communities remains unknown.

Honourable Minister Barbara Creecy,

The Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa (WAPFSA), consists of a community of diverse South African-based organisations who share similar values, knowledge and objectives. WAPFSA collectively offers a formidable body of expertise and advocacy drawn from different sectors, including but not limited to, scientific, environmental, legal, welfare, rights, social justice and indigenous knowledge.

The Balule Nature Reserve forms part of the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), an association of privately owned nature reserves bordering the Kruger National Park (KNP).

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elephant hunt at Balule was lawful, should be seen in context of regulations governing sustainable resource use

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.

South African National Parks (SANParks) has never addressed this problem.

The elephant bulls that are commercially trophy hunted in the Balule Nature Reserve form part of South Africa’s national heritage, but they are being killed for the benefit of a small number of wealthy white landowners as the amount of money actually accruing to local communities remains unknown.

On Sunday, 3 September 2023, a bull elephant was shot and wounded by a trophy hunter in the Maseke area of the Balule Nature Reserve.

Obviously, the traumatised and injured elephant attempted to get away.

He left the Maseke area and went into the neighbouring Grietjie Private Nature Reserve. The deputy head warden of Maseke initiated a search for the elephant with a helicopter. The elephant was located and driven back to Maseke using the helicopter, where he was killed.

According to Mr Ian Novak, the General Manager of Balule Nature Reserve, the elephant hunt was legal, and no Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area Reserve Protocol violations were committed.

Maseke is a region located within the Balule Nature Reserve. Maseke Game Reserve, Balule Nature Reserve and Grietjie Nature Reserve all form part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area Reserve.

The Greater Kruger Hunting Protocol was developed and endorsed by signatories which included representatives from South African National Parks, Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism and Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agencies.

The number of elephants that are allowed to be hunted annually is determined by the Associated Private Nature Reserves ecological panel and reviewed and then endorsed by SANParks and the Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism Biodiversity.

Many international visitors to South Africa, and to the Kruger National Park, are unaware that the hunting of elephants is permissible.

The Kruger National Park was named as one of the World Wonders on the new list which was published on 14 September 2023.

A listing that reveals global landmarks and natural marvels that the world is most curious about.” 

The Kruger National Park forms part of the Unesco Kruger to Canyon Biosphere Reserve.

The fences separating all the Associated Private Nature Reserves and the Kruger National Park were dropped to reduce fragmentation, facilitate migration and increase space for wildlife and access to resources – in other words, to increase the well-being of animals.

The perennial Olifants River flows for approximately 20km through the centre of the Balule reserve and, for example, elephants cross Maseke into Grietjie to access the river.

The killing of this particular elephant was described as being upsetting to some and not an ideal situation.

Of major concern is that this is not the first time there has been a controversial elephant hunt on Maseke.

On 23 November 2018, Sharon Haussmann, the then-chairperson of Balule, initiated a full investigation after an elephant was shot 13 times in front of guests. Haussman described that incident as completely unethical, inconsiderate and a huge embarrassment for Balule.

In the APNR, current and historical mismanagement, breaches of the Greater Kruger Hunting Protocols, and sometimes even negligence during trophy hunts, reflect not only badly on the hunting fraternity but also on the photographic safari or eco-tourism sector in the Greater Kruger National Park and South Africa as a whole. Some examples include:

a)  Early 2005, an elephant hunted in the Klaserie was shot 21 times before it succumbed.

b)  In June 2005, an American hunter wounded an elephant in Balule, but only killed it 24 hours later.

c) In March 2006, a lion, one of a well-known pair known as the “Sohebele brothers”, was shot and wounded in the Umbabat, but the hunter was unable to kill the animal, as its brother refused to leave the scene. The hunter later repeatedly drove a tractor at the lions in an attempt to separate them, but failed. The lion was killed by rangers only the following morning.

d)  Later that month, a large, one-tusked male elephant was shot and wounded by a Spanish hunter in the Umbabat, believed to have fled into the KNP and was not found since.

e) In March 2013, an elephant was shot in very close proximity to Ingwelala’s eastern boundary. The wounded elephant ran directly south towards Motswari Lodge and was followed by the hunting party, who continued to fire 20+ shots before it was finally killed in close proximity to the lodge with many guests. Motswari Lodge was never informed that this hunt was to take place and was caught completely off-guard. The effect on their guests and staff was devastating.

f) In August 2018, a scheduled elephant hunt conducted in Balule led to the illegal killing of a collared male elephant. Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority laid criminal charges and the warden was subsequently convicted.

g)  In December 2018, a young elephant was shot multiple times in Balule in front of photographic safari tourists staying at a neighbouring property.

After the latest unfortunate hunting incident, the general manager of Balule stated that:

“Hunting is never an exact science and no matter how many targets a client shoots at before the hunt, there is never any guarantee that he will make the perfect shot when faced with the real thing. The nature of a hunt is unpredictable and this is not a reflection on the capabilities of the Maseke Reserve Representative.”

WAPFSA is ethically opposed to the hunting and killing of any animal for sport or pleasure.

WAPFSA has openly challenged claims made by proponents of trophy hunting that it delivers significant conservation and community benefits or that it positively contributes to the sustainable use of wildlife in South Africa.

WAPFSA has previously highlighted how trophy hunting is rooted in colonial modes of extraction which continue to perpetuate notions of abuse, subjugation, control and inequality. Dr Muchazondida Mkono’s research has found that trophy hunting is an objectionable consequence of a complex historical and postcolonial association. Africans have a deep resentment towards what is viewed as the neo-colonial character of trophy hunting, in the way it privileges Western elites in accessing Africa’s wildlife.

WAPFSA also opposes trophy hunting based on scientific evidence.

In relation to elephants, research challenges the assumptions by trophy hunters that selectively killing older male elephants has no negative consequences because they are “redundant” in the population.

Elephants are sentient beings who live socially complex lives through relationships which radiate out from a mother-offspring bond through families, clans, and subpopulations.

Independent males form long-term friendships.

Elephants communicate through more than 300 gestures, complex speech and glandular secretions.

They contemplate, negotiate, collaborate, plan and are aware of death.

They care about their lives.

The killing of older males has a detrimental effect on the wider elephant society through the loss of leaders crucial to younger male navigation.

In addition, when trophy hunters eliminate these 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.

According to the general manager of the Balule Nature Reserve, Maseke is permitted to kill 12 elephants per year, a practice which he states will continue, and one which is, in their opinion, in line with the Constitution of South Africa.

However, in terms of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEM:BA), the South African government is entitled to make policy decisions in relation to contentious and damaging practices; decisions that are in the public interest, prioritising public opinion and the economic benefits of the public.

NEM:BA includes the notion of “well-being”, which is defined as the “holistic circumstances and conditions of an animal, which are conducive to its physical, physiological and mental health and quality of life, including the ability to cope with its environment.

“The consideration of the well-being of animals must be included in the management, conservation and sustainable use thereof.”

The entirely new section, 9A in NEM:BA, empowers the DFFE Minister to prohibit certain activities “that may negatively impact on the well-being of an animal […]” and create new offences “relating to non-compliance with s9A”; S101, then, refers to accountability of “person who contravenes or fails to comply […]”

It is our considered view that well-being falls within DFFE and the Minister’s legal mandate. The amendment to section 2 makes it necessary for well-being to be specifically considered, including when permits are granted, including those for hunting and all decisions that constitute “management, conservation and sustainable use” of animals.

S9A is widely drafted and applies to any activity, including hunting, as well as any other activities not so defined, provided there was reasonable evidence of a potential negative impact on wellbeing.

S9A also uses the wording, “that may have a negative impact”, which means that the Minister is not required to provide absolute proof of a negative impact before making a prohibition.

Given the above amendments to NEM:BA, it is competent for the Honourable Minister to:

a)  Prohibit specific activities involving animals under s9A on the basis that there is already evidence that the activities impact negatively on wellbeing; and/or

b)  Publish a notice under section 9A prohibiting specific activities if there is reasonable evidence to support the view that this may have a negative effect on well-being;

c)  Make regulations relating to the well-being of animals under s97; and/or

d) Challenge decisions of conservation officials which constitute administrative action (such as permitting decisions or the setting of quotas) on the basis that well-being is a relevant factor and has not been considered or on the basis that the decision would have a negative impact on the well-being of an animal or animals.

The aforementioned letter from the general manager of Balule concluded that the hunt was conducted in accordance with the requirements and approved protocols.

Have the representatives from South African National Parks, Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism and Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agencies taken the amendments to NEM:BA into consideration?

Are their approved protocols compliant with the national legislation and particularly with the duty of taking into account the well-being of animals in any hunt?

WAPFSA is aware that there is an ongoing court case, which seeks to challenge hunting and export quotas permitted by the government, in the Western Cape High Court. In light of this legal challenge, the undesigning members of WAPFSA are requesting Minister Creecy to:

  1. Investigate if permits to hunt 12 elephants were issued, as specified in the letter from the Balule administration, despite the interim interdict;
  2. Revoke permits and halt any further hunt of elephants as well as rhinos, leopards and lions as per interdict;
  3. As this is not the first incident, withhold hunting permits from the Maseke-based hunting entity involved; and
  4. Finally address the complex issue of trophy hunting as it is allowed in certain unfenced reserves of the APNR and elsewhere, and is incompatible with individual animal and species’ well-being considerations.

Signing members of the Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa:

AllRise, CEO, Director, Attorney Kirsten Youens
Animal Talk Africa, Founder, Wynter Worsthorne
Ban Animal Trading, Director, Smaragda Louw
Beauty Without Cruelty – South Africa, Chairperson, Toni Brockhoven
Betty’s Bay Baboon Action Group, Co-founders, Renee Bish and Peter Oxford
Community Led Animal Welfare, Founder, Cora Bailey
Co-operative and Policy Alternative Center, Co-founder and Board Chair Prof Vish Satgar
Dzomo La Mupo, Founder-Director, Mphatheleni Makaulule
EMS Foundation, Executive Director, Michele Pickover
Four Paws – South Africa, Director, Fiona Miles
Future 4 Wildlife, Co-founder, Stefania Falcon
Gifted for Good, Env. Education, Jabu Myeni
Global White Lion Protection Trust, CEO Founder, Linda Tucker
Institute for Critical Animal Studies (Africa), Director, Les Mitchell
Kogelberg Villages Environmental Trustees, Chairperson, Liezl Smith
Monkey Helpline, Co-founder,  Steve Smit
Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary, Co-founders, Liz Cornwall, Cath Nyquist
Parliament for the People, Founder, Vivien Law
Rhinos in Africa, Founder, Megan Carr
South Peninsula Khoi Council, Senior Chief, Stephen Fritz
Southern African Fight for Rhinos, Director, Lex Abnett
Vervet Monkey Foundation, Founder, Dave Du Toit
Wild Africa Fund, Director, Guy Jenning
Wild Law Institute, Director, Cormac Cullinan. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • baris777 says:

    Unfortunately Kruger Parks unwillingness to cull elephants in the park is leading to large scale destruction both inside and outside the park. Conservationists head in the sand approach is going to be to the detriment of the long term sustainability of the parks wildlife.

  • Upfront – This was an absolutely awful way for any living being to die! No question about it, and I totally agree with and understand the outcry against this hunt.

    However, a few things to note..
    The Maseke reserve is black owned, as part of a restituted property.

    This situation is so much more complex than what meets the eye… Literally and figuratively the elephant in the room… But let’s step away from the elephant for a moment and look at it from the resource use perspective. Each and every one of us are dependent on (natural) resources everyday of our lives.. Irrespective of whether we are vegans, carnivores, black, white, wealthy, poor, live in Europe or Africa, a city or in a rural environment. We are dependent on resources to a lesser or greater degree. We have the right to access and use resources for our survival.. But of course many have been denied this right. What is important about resource use (and management) is that it is done sustainably and responsibly. So what does this mean? Well to be truly responsible it means that we need to achieve social, economic and ecological sustainability. Furthermore when we are striving for responsible resource use, we are:
    > holistic in our approach (looking at the bigger picture) – which is why ecosystem conservation is better than targeting individual species.
    > ethical in all resource use (not just hunting)
    > it should aim to be regenerative (i.e.have a positive impact socially, ecologically and economically)

  • Part 2… Continuing on from the Balule elephant hunt..

    In part 1 post I mentioned 3 of the characteristics of responsible resource use. The 4th:
    > being inclusive (ie. Encouraging healthy debate and involvement of different sectors and stakeholders).

    We all need to take responsibility for how we use resources and what we condone or don’t.

    Is mining of critical catchment areas (nature’s water towers and also often areas of very important biodiversity, providing an abundance of ecosystem services) a responsible use of resources? A practice resulting in polluting and reducing water resources on which millions of people are dependent downstream (not to mention ecosystems reliant on the water supply for ecosystem functioning). It is easy to say mining is a destructive and irresponsible industry, but in this modern era, most of us use products that have been developed from mined resources.

    Similarly, how responsible is thousands of hectares under monocrop agriculture? Tons of pesticides and herbicides sprayed annually, killing the ‘good’ insects and plants as well as the perceived ‘bad’. Not many people are crying out about the loss of bees or the health conditions from spray drift etc.

    A tourist visiting a fancy high-end lodge using hundreds of litres of water a day is no more responsible than a hunt gone wrong. Don’t confuse ‘eco’ tourism with nature based tourism.

    The (long) point is that there is so much more to resource use than an elephant hunt. Learn more!

  • Stefan Steyn says:

    Hunting has no place in a civilized society. All hunting needs to be banned

  • Unfortunately I cannot post pictures which would adequately describe the situation in Kenya Wildlife parks which do not practice wildlife management through hunting or otherwise. Dessert like East Tsavo Park, lots of dead elephant carcasses and the large herds of buffalo all gone. So now all the tourists are going to Southern Africa which all practice sustainable hunting, including Botswana who have re-instituted hunting after its fiasco with Eco tourism only…So if you dont like hunting, thats your right, but please find alternate wildlife management strategies that have worked… Kenya’s sadly hasnt

  • Marek Bozalek says:

    We kill a gazillion cows etc etc everyday.
    Why don’t we talk about them?

  • ian hurst says:

    Please read the excellent article by Vince Ryan about the Balule elephant hunt.

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