A wandering elephant on an Eastern Cape reserve owned by a wealthy Arab sheik was shot dead at the weekend in a heart-breaking conclusion to a wretched saga of wildlife mismanagement.
News of the shooting has sparked an outcry from conservationists, who said if the authorities had clamped down harder and sooner on the owner after previous evidence of mismanagement – including not maintaining electrified fences and failing to address elephant herd dynamics – the shooting could have been avoided.
Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve near Kleinpoort is owned by Khalaf Ahmed Khalaf Al Otaiba, a prominent member of a powerful United Arab Emirates (UAE) dynasty who also owns Port Elizabeth’s Edward Hotel and Thaba Manzi Game Farm near Humansdorp.
The 4 000ha reserve was a booming five-star operation which had 65 staff when it was bought by the sheik in 2008. Today it is manned by a single foreman.
Cockscomb Agricultural Association chairman Victor Watson said power outages on the reserve’s electrified fence had long been a problem.
“It has been frustrating, because it is very difficult to get in contact with any Blaauwbosch representatives – let alone the owner himself.”
The Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Dedeat) confirmed last week it had already issued warning notices to Al Otaiba about his two reserves.
The notices of compliance and pre-compliance highlighted specific shortcomings, which included the elephant problem at Blaauwbosch, Dedeat regional director Leon Els said.
But the warnings came too late for the elephant, which was shot dead on neighbour Bulletjie Erasmus’s farm, Ivona, on Friday by a professional hunter hired by the department.
The young bull had damaged property on Erasmus’s farm and had brought his operations to a standstill.
Watson had warned of the danger it posed.
Al Otaiba spokesman Ahmed Elgarib said from Dubai that changes were under way on his employer’s two Eastern Cape reserves and slammed crooks and thieves who, he said, were responsible for problems.
Asked about the Blaauwbosch cheetah that killed more than 129 sheep on Erasmus’s farm two years ago, the concern that the reserve’s perimeter fence was often not electrified and the availability of sufficient water and supplementary feeding to tide over game through the drought, Elgarib said: “We prefer not to have a stor y.”
Situated between Uitenhage and Jansenville, with a panoramic view of Cockscomb peak, Blaauwbosch first made headlines in December 2010 when The Herald reported that it was visited by the SPCA following concerns raised by conservation insiders about the decline of the reserve and the poor condition of the game.
Warrick Barnard, an experienced game manager and former manager of Blaauwbosch under its previous ownership, said he was saddened that the elephant had been shot.
“If this animal was a young bull, it had almost certainly been pushed out of its herd,” Barnard said.
“But it was up to the reserve’s management team to have foreseen that and plan how to manage it via translocation or extending boundaries.
“It’s a big responsibility and it takes a serious budget and work on the ground. If this is not done and fence lines are not properly managed, an elephant will find he can get through once and then it becomes learned behaviour.”
Barnard said the department should have issued the owner with an ultimatum. “My hope is the authorities will act very firmly to fix things.”
Landmark Foundation director Bool Smuts said the decision to shoot the elephant was a disgrace on the owner and the authorities.
Dedeat spokesman Div de Villiers said yesterday it had been an extremely difficult decision to shoot the elephant.
“But it posed a risk to human life and had caused extensive damage to neighbouring farm property,” he said.
“The urgency of the matter made it impossible to have the elephant darted and translocated successfully.”