A new safari park near the small town of Kleinmond in the Western Cape may hold economic gains for its owners – but at what cost to the sensitive Overstrand environment or the elephants and other animals subjected to exploitation?
A number of inconsistencies have emerged in the plans for the development of Lamloch Safari Park (LSP) which are open for public comment or objection until 15 April 2019.
Elephant Introduction approved
Cape Nature has approved the introduction of elephants by Craig Saunders, owner of Lamloch, despite denying a Public Access to Information Act (PAIA) application.
Saunders states that “there won’t be elephant petting”.
However, according to CapeNature, there will “be elephant/human contact sessions according to the official LSP Elephant Management Plan (EMP),” spokesperson Loren Pavitt confirmed.
A recent former employee of Saunders’ Plett branch, speaking on grounds of anonymity, says “When I started working at Plett, [Saunders] told me there would be no elephant back riding. However, the practice was offered openly to guests. The elephants are constantly subject to the human entertainment demand.”
The drive to end elephant back riding is gaining momentum worldwide as it relies on cruel and abusive training techniques to ‘break’ elephants into submission. Young elephants are often chained and beaten, as seen in video footage leaked to animal welfare organisation on the ‘training’ of the infamous Tuli elephants. Saunders bought 5 of these baby elephants. He refused comment when questioned over whether any of these elephants are still in used in his facilities.
The abusive methods, says Michele Pickover of the EMS Foundation, continues out of sight of the public. “The industry uses a false narrative of ‘rescuing’ animals they exploit.”
Lack of transparency
According to NSPCA Wildlife Trade & Trafficking manager Karen Trendler, they are “appalled by the lack of transparency received from Cape Nature”. The NSPCA was told to apply for information regarding Saunders’ captive elephants through PAIA.
However, CapeNature had previously refused a PAIA request from EMS Foundation asking for the same details. Despite a 2017 meeting in which CapeNature director Ernst Baard stated that “non-governmental organisations could play an important role to assisting them in developing best practice methodology and guidelines aimed at optimising the captive management of elephants”.
Pickover was present at the 2017 meeting with Baard. She labels the approval of the EMP as ‘underhand’.
“On the one hand CapeNature say they do not support wild animal interactions but on the other the Western Cape has the largest numbers of elephants in captivity in the country.”
CapeNature claims they do “not to support, condone nor encourage such non-essential human / wildlife contact or interaction [as it is]highly irresponsible, undesirable and potentially dangerous.” Permits for interaction practices like the ones offered at Saunders’ Plett facilities are continually approved by the organisation, however.
The introduction of three captive lions is also on the planned for the facility. The basic assessment report includes an extensive chapter on the park’s captive lion project, including a description of the feeding regime for newborn cubs.
Saunders backtracked again when question about these plans saying, “no lion will be introduced”. He offered no explanation for contradicting the publicly available Report.
Concerned organisations and locals fear that the impact of building on the site and introducing elephant to these sensitive environments has not been sufficiently studied.
Hermanus-based biologist Sally Paulet says the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) hasn’t assessed the critical environmental issues sufficiently nor “mitigated against any potential negative effects.”
Lamloch Farm lies within a UNESCO-recognised Biosphere Reserve and is adjacent to a recent RAMSAR-accredited wetland protected area.
“The property is situated between the Kleinmond estuary and the Bot estuary, as well as between the mountain and coast. It plays a significant role as a corridor, for the movement of wild animals as well as the iconic feral horse population that exists in the area.
“The construction of a fence suitable to keep introduced animals [such as elephant]into the property will disallow the movement of these animals between these areas. Not enough focus has been given to this impact,” Paulet says. An ongoing petition calling on the Overstrand Municipality and CapeNature to deny the proposed Safari Park developments has reached over 17 000 signatures.
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