Young elephants fleeing Mozambique poachers shot on SA farm
Louzel Lombard Steyn
14 November 2017

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

According to the Mpumalanga Tourism & Park 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 traumatized. 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 Human-Elephant Conflict Management in South Africa, which MTPA attended, which highlighted the importance of adhering to the Department of Environmental Affairs 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 measures for dealing with DCAs is to ‘minimize 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. ‘They broke some of the twines in the old tomato fields and stepped on dripper pipes. Thereafter they moved into the bushes, where they were shot,’ he says. 

Herman Badenhorst, general manager at 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. ‘The damage caused was not enough to justify killing the animals,’ Badenhorst said. ‘The young elephants knocked down some of the sugarcane and bananas as they were walking through, but that was nothing to cry about’.  

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 within 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 organizations like ESAG are willing to assist in organizing interventions alternative to culling but often hear about these cases too late.’

In September this year, a similar damage-causing elephant emergency was logged near the Kruger National Park. In this instance, three elephant bulls escaped from the Associated Private Nature Reserves bordering the 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 organization specializing in elephant research and promoting harmonious co-existence 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.

According to The Lowvelder, two more elephants which were part of the herd are still outside protected perimeters, reportedly en route in a southern direction to the Mananga region. According to MTPA, ‘these elephants will be dealt with if complaints are received’. 

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