Out­cry over shoot­ing of two ele­phants by agency

The New Age (Western Cape) - - Comment - LOUZEL LOM­BARD STEYN Louzel Lom­bard Steyn is a writer and com­men­ta­tor. Ar­ti­cle sup­plied by Con­ser­va­tion Ac­tion Trust.

TWO young ele­phants were shot in the Ko­matipoort re­gion close to the Kruger Na­tional Park after their herd was re­port­edly ter­rorised by poach­ers across the Mozam­bi­can bor­der.

Ac­cord­ing to the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), the ele­phants were from a herd that dam­aged farm­ing crops in the Coop­ers­dal area. Louw Steyn, man­ager of MTPA’s hunt­ing & de­vel­op­ment depart­ment, said the ele­phants were young and most likely flee­ing from the Mozam­bi­can side of the bor­der.

Video footage pub­lished by The Lowvelder show the two young ele­phants be­fore they were shot. Ac­cord­ing to farm­ers in the area, the older of the two were in a poor con­di­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Michele Pickover of the EMS Foun­da­tion, the cal­lous­ness of MTPA to­wards the two young ele­phants is un­ac­cept­able. “If the ele­phants were try­ing to es­cape (poach­ers) and there­fore be­came sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, (they must have been) se­verely trau­ma­tised. It is then even more un­ac­cept­able that the MTPA did what they did.”

MTPA has re­fused to comment on whether there were any mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures or al­ter­na­tives con­sid­ered be­fore the de­ci­sion was made. An MTPA spokesper­son con­firmed to The Lowvelder, how­ever, that the ele­phants could not be re­lo­cated us­ing a he­li­copter to chase the an­i­mals along, “be­cause there was a calf in the herd”.

The killing closely fol­lows a na­tional con­fer­ence on hu­man­ele­phant con­flict man­age­ment in South Africa, which MTPA at­tended, which high­lighted the im­por­tance of ad­her­ing to the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs’ (DEA’s) norms and stan­dards for ele­phant man­age­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to these, a dam­age caus­ing an­i­mal (DCA) is only to be shot as last re­sort after al­ter­na­tive options, in­clud­ing re­lo­ca­tion, has failed. The DEA’s mea­sures for deal­ing with DCAs is to “min­imise dam­age” for both hu­mans and an­i­mals. It also states that “the man­age­ment of a dam­age caus­ing an­i­mal must be pro­por­tion­ate to the dam­age caused”.

MTPA re­leased a state­ment fol­low­ing the shoot­ing say­ing the ele­phants caused ex­ces­sive dam­age to farm­ing crops in the area. But ac­cord­ing to farmer Fred­die Teck­len­burg, dam­age to prop­erty where MTPA shot the ele­phants was min­i­mal.

Her­man Baden­horst, gen­eral man­ager of Mlambo UVS on the neigh­bour­ing prop­erty, agrees that the dam­age was min­i­mal. The ele­phants crossed through the Mlambo prop­erty be­fore be­ing shot on Teck­len­burg’s farm.

Dr Yolanda Pre­to­rius, deputy chair­per­son of Ele­phant Spe­cial­ist Ad­vi­sory Group (ESAG), says the re­quired pro­ce­dures for killing DCAs is not al­ways fol­lowed as both re­sources and ca­pac­ity in many of the na­ture con­ser­va­tion de­part­ments are lim­ited.

This leads to not all options avail­able to deal with ele­phants break­ing out be­ing ex­plored thor­oughly. She said DCAs may only be killed on site and with­out in­ves­ti­ga­tion if they pose a di­rect threat to hu­man life.

Steyn, how­ever, says the norms and stan­dards are only “guide­lines on how to deal with prob­lem ele­phants”. He said no one can de­ter­mine how each and ev­ery case should be dealt with be­fore­hand and this is done at the au­thor­i­ties’ dis­cre­tion.

Pre­to­rius pointed out, how­ever, that “many or­gan­i­sa­tions like ESAG are will­ing to as­sist in or­gan­is­ing in­ter­ven­tions al­ter­na­tive to culling but of­ten hear about these cases too late”.

In Septem­ber this year, a sim­i­lar dam­age­caus­ing ele­phant emer­gency was logged near Kruger. In this in­stance, three ele­phant bulls es­caped from the as­so­ci­ated pri­vate na­ture re­serves bor­der­ing Kruger. They dam­aged mango or­chards and also af­fected hu­man in­fra­struc­ture. In­stead of be­ing shot, how­ever, the ele­phants were re­lo­cated in a dif­fi­cult ele­phant res­cue launched by Ele­phants Alive, an or­gan­i­sa­tion spe­cial­is­ing in ele­phant re­search and pro­mot­ing har­mo­nious co­ex­is­tence be­tween peo­ple and ele­phants.

Dr Michele Hen­ley of Ele­phants Alive said at the time that dam­age-caus­ing an­i­mals were of­ten lit­tle more than trail­blaz­ers caught be­tween ex­pand­ing hu­man de­vel­op­ment en­croach­ing on an­cient mi­gra­tion paths.

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