6th August 2020

OPEN LETTER: Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries- Barbara Creecy, about the unethical trophy hunting of elephant in the greater Kruger area.


The EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading (BAT), are registered Non-profit Organisations concerned, among other things, with the protection of wild animals. The EMS Foundation is a South African based social justice NGO with the purpose of achieving lasting solutions, alleviating and ending suffering, raising public awareness and providing dignity through supporting and sustaining humane solutions, interventions and research for the protection of children, the Aged and wild animals. BAT aim is to end animal exploitation through facilitating positive and meaningful change, recognising that change is incremental, and created through awareness and education and legislative enactment.

On Monday 3rd August 2020, the Daily Mail newspaper with a readership of over 2.3 million people in the United Kingdom published an article with images and a video which were supplied by the organisation called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The article is about a Californian trophy hunter called Aaron Raby who, on 5th December 2019, killed an elephant in the Balule Nature Reserve in the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) which adjoins the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Wild animals that are protected in the KNP, but then move across imaginary borders and are part of the National Estate and South Africa’s national heritage, are being hunted for profit by private entities. Currently there is a strong public perception―locally and internationally―that hunting is not being properly regulated within the Greater Kruger National Park area, particularly in the APNR.

Trophy hunting reinforces deep apartheid era social and racial inequalities in Africa. The foundational values of the Constitution include dignity, equality and freedom. There is a growing body of research and resources that incorporate these values and the achievement thereof, together with an ethos of respect for nonhuman animals. 3. We note that recent research shows, for instance, the highly racialised and discriminatory practices in the hunting industry as well as the exploitation of poor black workers who often have to deal with wild animals with very little safety and minimal pay. Currently, around the world, thousands of people are calling for an end to racial injustice, inequity and oppression. The current government approach has really been a continuation of the colonial attitude to the environment as well as the ethos inculcated by the apartheid government. The wildlife sector in South Africa is an example of anti-constitutional values, with blatant inequality in the ownership and management of wild animals, wildlife operations and land on which these animals live and are utilised. It is clear that there is an interlinkage between the oppression of nonhuman animals and human animals and this is a subject which is increasingly being developed and has come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer is not to widen the oppression of non-human animals but to end it and change the relationship between humans and non-humans.

In January 2020 the UK government announced its extension of the consultation on banning the importing and exporting of hunting trophies. The purpose of the consultation was to argue against the notion that all trophy hunting is highly and well-regulated and that the money derived from trophy hunting is given to local communities and that trophy hunting benefits conservation. Ministers are under pressure to crack down on the practice of bringing “trophies” such as skins, bones, tusks and heads into the United Kingdom as public anger has risen over endangered species being killed.

The ongoing COVID_19 pandemic was started by a zoonotic disease, germs spread between wild animals and humans. There has been a global call for the banning of the wildlife trade which includes exporting and importing wild animal hunting trophies. Similarly urgent explanations must be sought with regard to the slaughter of the elephant in this particular hunt. The images and description of the hunt by the hunter himself also seem to indicate that procedures set out by health and safety have not been adhered to. The carcass was not transported to a slaughtering facility (as set down in the GKNP hunting protocol) thereby also contravening the Meat Safety Act.

In 2018 the largest number of visitors to South Africa from a non-African country came from the United Kingdom. During the festive season 13th December 2018 – 8th January 2019 the Kruger National Park welcomed 194 782 visitors. Balule Nature Reserve shares unfenced border with the renowned Kruger National Park.

This map shows the close proximity between the Balule Nature Reserve and the Kruger National Park

The hunt was sold by Mohlabetsi River Nature Reserve – see map above. The elephant was hunted on York, according to the co-ordinates provided on the permit. The hunting permit was made out to J. Strydom (correct spelling Strijdom) who, our we are informed is a former Petmin Director and part owner of Mohlabetsi together with James Campbell, Managing Director of Botswana Diamonds. The hunt was therefore sold on land which belongs to wealthy individuals who do not need the money for ‘conservation’. Why is the South African governments allowing advantaged people in areas adjacent to national parks like Kruger (such as the Association of Private Nature Reserves – APNR – on the western boundary of the Kruger) to pay for their levies and the privilege of owning property next to Kruger, through the trophy hunting of what clearly includes National Park animals?

Balule is part of the APNR. Unbeknown to the non-consumptive eco-tourist, hunting rights have been secured on a significant portion of Balule which means that they are unaware that the live elephant they are paying top dollar to see today may be shot tomorrow. Balule is infamous for the incident when a young elephant bull was hunted and shot thirteen times in front of tourists who testified publicly about the unethical and traumatising event. A hunter also recently trophy hunted a collared elephant on Balule. PETA has written to the Chairperson on the Balule Nature Reserve Ms Sharon Haussmann and Mr Solly Kgopong, Head of Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism requesting an investigation into apparent permit and hunting protocol violations with regard to this Aaron Raby hunt in December 2019.

The killing of the elephant in Balule on the 5th December 2019 was clearly in violation of the Animal Protection Act, the Elephant Norms and Standards and the National Scientific Assessment of Elephant Management.

In addition there are a number of violations in terms of the GKNP hunting protocol which clearly show that this was not a humane or ethical killing. The elephant appears to have been shot at least five times (the video ends prior the final shot being fired). According to the GKNP Hunting Protocol elephants must be shot with a brain shot and ‘finished’ immediately after, if necessary by the professional hunter accompanying the client, to avoid pain. This has not happened here. It is also known that ‘professional’ hunters in the area leave the clients the opportunity to ‘finish’ the animal no matter what it takes. According to the protocol:

Hunts must be conducted in a professional and ethical manner

  • Appreciation of the fact animals feel pain
  • Highest moral and ethical standards and reverence for life
  • Ensure quick and humane killing
  • If the animal does not immediately fall to the initial brain shot the Professional Hunter and Reserve representative shall both immediately put in a heart/ lung shot
  • All hunted animals should be covered with a canvas when transported to slaughtering facilities.According to The GKNP Hunting Protocol: “Permit condition will state: Animal to be hunted in accordance with GKNP protocol and in accordance with the approved off-takes for each Reserve. “ The permit (which is attached to this letter) does not contain this condition.Of deep concern is that there was no compliance oversight or monitoring by any government officials during this hunt and this appears to be the case in general. Given the high degree of unethical trophy hunting practices that take place this situation is totally unacceptable.Globally there is mounting abhorrence for trophy hunting. The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country with an online weekly audience of 4.6 million readers. On Monday the 3rd August 2020 they published an article about the Aaron Raby elephant hunt that took place on Balule Nature Reserve. On Tuesday 4th August 2020 the state Assembly in California voted on a new Bill 1175, the bill will effectively prohibit the import, sale and possession of hunting trophies in the State of California. The bill makes various changes in state law related to the trafficking of certain wild and non- native animals in order to address `zoonotic disease transmission, and prohibits the possession of the dead body, or part thereof of certain African species. Senator Henry Stern has championed this bill and he succeeded by 8 votes to 3.As stated, the public interest in the hunting of the elephant on 5th December 2019 in the Greater Kruger is enormous. This is because, as, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment pointed out in 2018, it highlights “wider issues of concern, both in terms of law governing hunting in the Kruger National Park and the contractual arrangements between the Kruger National Park and the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR)…after the removal of fences between the Kruger and the APNR”.This is reinforced by Goal 8 of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas (Act 57 of 2003), Biodiversity Policy and Strategy for South Africa: Strategy on Buffer Zones for National Parks (Government Gazette 35020. 8 February 2012), which states that, “…all animals occurring in a national park are, for as long as they occur in the national park, deemed to be public assets held in trust by the State for the benefit of present and future generations as part of the public estate. They remain public assets even when they leave the national park. This is true of both damage causing animals as well as valuable animals.”The trophy hunting of elephants in the Greater Kruger/APNR is an enigma. In terms of South Africa’s policies no wild elephants are allowed to be hunted in national parks. Apparently elephants are permitted to be hunted in the APNR because they are listed as part of a ‘managed’ private (APNR) population.

However, these elephants are not ‘managed’ because they are very much part of the open system with the Kruger National Park.

The final Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on the Colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa, November 2018 made it clear in their Resolutions that SANParks was instructed to develop a concept paper for discussion with Parliament during November, not implementation. Following the development of the concept paper, Parliament was to hold public hearings to determine the best way forward. These have not yet been held. Alarmingly, SANParks concluded the proposed agreement on 5 December 2018, contravening a direction from Parliament and not inviting all interested and affected parties to comment on the draft agreement.

In July 2018, the EMS Foundation became aware of a draft agreement between SANParks and the APNR. On July 10th, we sent a lawyers’ letter asking for a review of the agreement, setting out our particular interest in the matter and our wish to be party to the review. We requested engaging in the drafting process as stakeholders because Kruger animals are public “assets” and national heritage. We also sent a Promotion of Access (PAIA) application on September 20th 2018 requesting, amongst other things, a copy of the draft agreement. To date we have not received a copy. On November 26th, the EMS and BAT Directors met with SANParks to discuss their role in the shooting of Skye, a Pride male lion who traversed across the invisible boundary between the Kruger National Park and the APNR. During the meeting it was revealed that the Agreement is to be signed on December 5th 2018.

On the 29th November 2018 the EMS and BAT sent a lawyers’ letter to SANParks requesting them urgently not to sign such an agreement until the process that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs directed SANParks to follow, has been completed, and that a Moratorium on Trophy Hunting in the area should be imposed in the interim. Sanparks went ahead anyway without following an open and transparent process with the participation of all interested and affected parties and in defiance of the directions of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affair.

The new agreement not only permits trophy hunting in the APNR areas to continue but does so without any effective improvements in the way trophy hunting is governed. In addition, trophy hunting will continue to be governed by protocols adopted by the Joint Management Committee (JMC) established by the agreement. Compliance with protocols is not mandatory, there are no penalties for not complying with the protocols, the JMC has no legal personality (Is it a public body?) and stakeholders who are not members of the JMC have no right to attend meetings.

Of major concern is that government conservation authorities do not provide any information without a formal PAIA request. In almost all cases, information about the parties involved in trophy hunting or wildlife trading is refused and proper reasons for a refusal are often not given. An internal appeal under PAIA is not available in many cases and making a High Court application for review is not financially feasible for NGOs and individuals.

Wild animals in the KNP and the areas open to it are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the people of South Africa. The State has a duty to make information about the management of the Open System accessible to the public as “swiftly, inexpensively and effortlessly as reasonably possible”. However, the current Cooperative Agreement makes it very unlikely that this will happen. Amendments to PAIA are needed to make it easier to challenge the decisions of public bodies (that are not departments of state) to refuse information.

Section 2 of NEMA sets out the principles that must be applied to any decision by an organ of state that may significantly affect the environment. The decision to allow hunting to continue in private reserves open to a national park is such a decision. The principles in section 2 include that:
 the participation of all interested and affected parties in environmental governance must be promoted, and all people must have the opportunity to develop the understanding, skills and capacity necessary for achieving equitable and effective participation;

  •  decisions must take into account the interests, needs and values of all interested and affected parties;
  •  decisions must be taken in an open and transparent manner, and access to information mustbe provided in accordance with the law; and
  • there must be inter-governmental co-ordination and harmonisation of policies, legislation and actions relating to the environment.The decision by SANParks to conclude a new agreement with the APNR constitutes administrative action as defined in the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, 3 of 2000 (“PAJA”). We say so because SANParks is an organ of state and in concluding an agreement concerning the management of the Kruger National Park and the wildlife both with the national park and in areas contiguous with it, SANParks is “exercising a public power or performing a public function in terms of any legislation” (section 1 of PAJA).Administrative action that materially or adversely affects the rights of the public is required to be procedurally fair. In this context, procedurally fair administrative action must include adequate notice of the nature and purpose of the proposed action and a reasonable opportunity to make representations. Furthermore in this case Parliament has given specific directions as to the process that should be followed in order to allow for proper public consultation on an important issue of great public concern. If the agreement is signed next week without notice to our client or adequate consultation then the conclusion of the agreement will be procedurally unfair in terms of the PAJA, and consequently reviewable by the courts.Reputation has an unquestionable economic value to countries, just as it does to organisations and individual people. It is based on emotion and reason, the product of our impressions of a nation’s actions and its communications, as well as our deep-seated perceptions, stereotypes, influences and direct experiences.Trophy hunting is not conservation. It has no place in the modern world, and will never be morally defensible. It is a cruel, abusive, exploitative and learned activity, where the animal hunted is an involuntary conscript and the animal’s subjective experience is ignored. Trophy hunting is a deliberate, violent form of so-called “recreation” that turns complex and sentient beings into mere commodities.We must stop thinking of wild animals in colonial terms as “resources” and “game,” and see them as sentient beings that deserve our wonder and respect. Wild animals in and from protected areas in South Africa are not simply government property or a “natural resource” to do with as bureaucrats please. They are sentient creatures deserving of care and respect. That wild animals have intrinsic value is already recognised in a number of national wildlife policy documents and international conservation agreements. Moreover the elephant Norms and Standards clearly states that elephants are sentient beings andrecognises that they have complex social structures.Wildlife in protected areas should be held in trusteeship on behalf of the people of South Africa and private individuals should not be able to hunt such wildlife for profit in adjacent land. Hunting in areas adjacent to the Kruger and other national parks – where fences have been removed―is at odds with our responsibility to protect our national heritage and to safeguard the interests of the individual animals.

Instead these wild animals who are supposed to be protected, are quite literally “paying their way” with their lives.

COVID_19 has clearly exposed that the fate of humans and other animals is inextricably linked. If we are to meet the growing threats to our shared world and the massive extinction of species, only a sweeping restructuring of the way we see ourselves and our role in the natural world can help turn this backlash around. Urgently needed are new, ethics-based approaches to wildlife conservation. The way conservation is currently practiced in South Africa by our conservation agencies has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

We are therefore urgently requesting that the Minister, SANParks and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee:

1. Hold all Parties involved accountable.
2. Ensure that the SANParks/KNP-APNR agreement is revised, with broad stakeholder involvement.
3. Ensure that there is an immediate moratorium on trophy hunting in the APNR while the SANParks/KNP-APNR agreement is revised.
4. In light of evidence of widespread non-compliance with relevant law and policy on hunting in the APNR area a moratorium needs to be imposed on hunting in the APNR.
5. Ensure access to information by government conservation authorities.
6. Ensure that an independent body, which includes animal protection organisations and elephant behavioural specialists, oversees and makes decisions on hunting quotas requested on land adjacent to a national park.

Below we have embedded the various documentation required for the elephant hunt as provided by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and PETA for your perusal and in case they are removed from the internet.

We look forward to your urgent response. Yours Sincerely,

Smaragda Louw
Director and Chairperson
Ban Animal Trading

Michele Pickover
EMS Foundation