Where elephants roam
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:
BANGKOK, Thailand; BRITS, South Africa––
The five survivors among a group of six young Asian elephants
whom Thailand exported to Indonesia in October 1997 returned
home on December 31 to floral necklaces, cheering crowds, a
welcoming banner at dockside in Ao Makham, and all the
bananas, sugar cane, and pineapples they could eat.
Presiding over the feast were prime ministerial secretary
Wattana Muangsuk, Phuket member of parliament
Anchalee Theppabutr, and Phuket governor Padet Insang.
Explained Attaya Chuenniran of the Bangkok Post,
“The five beasts, and another, who died in Indonesia, were
sent with their mahouts in October 1997 under a 10-year contract
to help their Indonesian counterparts catch wild elephants,”
who were allegedly terrorizing the countryside in the
wake of fires set to clear brush and facilitate rainforest logging.
Friends of the Asian Elephant founder Soraida
Salwala from the outset charged that the deal was just an
Indonesian ploy to obtain elephants and training knowhow for
exhibition purposes. In any event, though the fires raged on
through much of 1998, and Indonesian elephant stampedes
became more frequent and deadly, the transaction failed when
the Indonesian currency collapsed. Complaining that they
hadn’t been paid by the Indonesian forestry department, the
mahouts were sent home in early June 1998.
Taking up the mahouts’ case for back wages, the
Thai foreign ministry mentioned in a press release that since the
mahouts couldn’t afford to bring the elephants home, they
“would be taken care of by Indonesia.”
Millions of Thais, bankrupted by fallout from the
Indonesian crisis, found that unreassuring.
The Bangkok Post and other media reminded
Thailand that Indonesia didn’t return Kingkaew, a bull elephant
exported in a similar deal 12 years ago, who has been
chained to a tree most of the time since because no one can
handle him; that elephants have been the national animal of
Thailand since 1963; and that the Thai cabinet had just
declared a new holiday, Elephant Day, to be celebrated each
“Even native Indonesian elephants have been suffering
from the slump, the Indonesian news agency Antara reported
in February,” the Bangkok Post added. “Forty-nine elephants
at a training center on Sumatra were exposed to infection
because their handlers couldn’t afford to buy them medicine,
the price of which has tripled.”
The stranded elephants seemed to symbolize the
plight of Thailand itself. For the next six months they were
rarely out of the news.
The Botswana 30
Thirty African elephants exported from Botswana to
South Africa in June 1998 drew even more attention worldwide,
yet remained in legal limbo. Their ordeal began in midAugust,
when one Chris Mostert captured the elephants, ages
four to seven, at the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana.
The owners of the private reserve said they had seven
times more elephants than the land could sustain.
Claiming to have saved the young elephants from
lethal culling, South African animal dealer Riccardo Ghiazza
intended to sell 10 to China, three to Switzerland, and four to
Germany––and planned to buy 20 more for resale, he reportedly
told Abbey Makoe of the Cape Town Sunday Independent.
Ghiazza paid $2,000 apiece for them, but expected to
get $25,000 apiece.
Responded South African wildlife defender Gareth
Patterson, “If need be, we will go to the High Court to insure
that no further captures occur. Baby elephants are being separated
from their families, leaving untold misery and trauma.”
South African National SPCA wildlife unit manager
Rick Allen charged that the elephants were being held and handled
inhumanely by Indonesian mahouts hired by Ghiazza.
Patterson and Allen both received death threats,
according to London Times reporter Sam Kiley.
But elephant experts Joyce Poole, Cynthia Moss,
and Daphne Sheldrick backed them up, as did Kenya Wildlife
Service director Richard Leakey. Twenty-nine international
animal protection groups sent letters of protest to Botswana and
South Africa. Several demonstrated outside their embassies.
Woof-woof defends the deal
But the World Wildlife Fund, Endangered Wildlife
Trust, and Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa
all defended the Ghiazza deal as––in their view––a good example
of “sustainable use” of a “wildlife resource.”
The Rhino and Elephant Foundation also weighed in
on Ghiazza’s side, soon after wildlife veterinarian Andrew
McKenzie became REF vice chair and director.
McKenzie, pointed out Fiona Macleod of the
Johannesburg Mail & Guardian, was founding chair of the
Wildlife Translocation Association of South Africa, and is
“son-in-law of Ted Steyn, chair of Notugre, the umbrella association
of landowners in the Tuli bushlands which sold the 30
elephants to Ghiazza. McKenzie has a lengthy history with the
Tuli,” Macleod continued, “having worked there as a vet and
as general manager of the Mashatu game reserve. He is an
angry critic of the SA/NCSPA. His greatest concern appears to
be to prevent international animal rights groups from gaining a
foothold in the South African wildlife industry.”
On October 14 the SA/NSPCA won a court order giving
them custody of the elephants. Ghiazza appealed.
A few days later, the secretariat of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species revoked Ghiazza’s
permit to sell the animals for financial gain. Botswana then
suspended the sale of the additional 20 elephants.
Moving to outflank the critics, McKenzie on October
27 claimed three young elephants left at the Tuli reserve had
died due to drought.
Countered Elephant Back Safaris owner Randall
Moore, “The adult female elephants whose calves were stolen
from them, and their siblings, are now running around
Botswana in a very agitated state. People had better give them
a wide berth for a very long time.”
South African minister of agriculture and land affairs
Derek Hanekom defended the Ghiazza deal in early November,
while Ghiazza got good press for allegedly rescuing one of his
opponents from a trampling by the elephants.
The hero image was short-lived, however. Probing
Ghiazza’s background, Macleod revealed on November 13 that
among the 670 animals he had exported to the U.S. during the
past five years were two elephants acquired by singer Michael
Jackson for his controversial Neverland private zoo, and 418
reptiles sold to Strictly Reptiles Inc., of Hollywood. Strictly
Reptiles president Michael Van Nostrand, 31, in 1997 pleaded
guilty to smuggling more than 1,500 reptiles from Argentina
and Indonesia, was jailed for eight months, lost his federal
import/export permit for five years, and was ordered to pay
$250,000 to the World Wildlife Fund, which was to spend the
money for Indonesian wildlife conservation.
In mid-November, McKenzie announced that the
REF had hired a new deputy director––Chris Styles, until then
the South African director for the International Fund for
Animal Welfare. The hiring gave the REF a somewhat friendlier
face, and neutralized a potential opponent.
But the NSPCA meanwhile charged one of Ghiazza’s
mahouts with cruelty for allegedly stabbing a balky elephant
with a pitchfork.
Judge Herman Glas of the Brits Magistrates Court on
December 2 upheld the October 14 court order awarding temporary
custody of the 30 elephants to the SA/NSPCA.
REF responded that it would charge the SA/NSPCA
with causing the elephants unnecessary suffering if it tried to
take them from Ghiazza’s African Game Services holding pens.
REF also invoked the support of the South African
Veterinary Association. As Macleod explained, “SAVA plays
an important role in a committee set up to advise Ghiazza on
how to treat the baby elephants. SAVA fundraiser Kobus du
Toit is Ghiazza’s vet, and was a director of the company set up
with Ghiazza to undertake the Tuli elephant deal. Du Toit is
also a former trustee of REF. Du Toit is the vet at Sable Ranch,
one of two reserves that told the NSPCA it would take some of
the baby elephants but then withdrew the offer at the last
moment. A second reserve, which was to take 17 of the elephants,
also pulled out after intervention by REF.”
Glas on December 7 partially revoked his ruling of
the week before, to permit the export of seven elephants––four
to the Erfurt and Desden zoos in Germany, and three to the
Basel zoo in Switzerland. The zoos reportedly wanted the elephants
Then, December 9, the Pretoria High Court ruled
that the remaining 23 elephants were to remain with Ghiazza.
But German environment minister Juergen Tritten
promptly vetoed the import of the elephants who were to go to
Erfurt and Dresden, telling media he was acting to block illegal
traffic in an endangered species.
The NSPCA on December 18 reaffirmed its
intent to proceed with criminal cruelty charges against Ghiazza
and the alleged pitchfork-wielding mahout.
In the land of Ganesh
The Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species has since 1988 banned most traffic in elephant
parts, to curb poaching––and forbits exports of live elephants,
except for conservation purposes. The prohibition on
live exports is intended to discourage captures and sales which
might deplete wild stocks. It also reduces the risk that
unscrupulous exhibitors might buy elephants only to kill them
for their tusks.
Elephants remain scarce over most of their former
range in both Africa and Asia. In the few nations which
still have large populations, however, they overrun the boundaries
of wildlife reserves often enough that resultant human
deaths and property damage are a growing source of social
The Assamese, of northeastern India, are mostly
Hindus who worship the elephant god Ganesh. They are
more tolerant of elephant stampedes than almost anyone else
would be: the estimated 5,000 wild elephants in Assam have
killed more than 400 humans since 1990. But even Assamese
patience has limits.
As the Thai and Botswana elephant cases drew
worldwide attention, a two-month-old baby elephant became
an unhappy permanent resident of the Nandakanan Biological
Park near Bhubaneshwar, and was being bottle-fed, in direct
consequence of villagers’ exasperation with elephants meandering
out of the Chandaka wildlife sanctuary.
“The baby elephant accidentally slipped into a ditch,”
wrote Rajaram Satapathy in the December 18 edition of the
Times of India. Her herd “desperately tried to extricate the
baby, but could not,” Satapathy continued. “Early in the
morning, some youths of Binjhapur village pulled her out with
a rope, but instead of handing her over to her mother, held her
hostage to realise compensation from the government for the
damage the elephants had allegedly done to their crops. The
baby became a pawn in protracted negotiations. While the talks
went on, the elephant herd waited, barely half a kilometre
from the village, to see the baby released. Some time in the
evening,” Satapathy added, “good sense prevailed, and the
villagers agreed to release the baby. But her plight was far
from over. She was carried in a jeep to the Nandankanan zoo,
reportedly at the insistence of state excise minister Suresh
Routray. Only when the zoo authorities declined to accept her,
on the grounds that so small an elephant could only survive
with her mother, was she was left in the jungle. Forest officials
said that around midnight, the mother, hearing the constant
cries of the baby, came to her but refused to accept her.”
The baby was returned to the zoo at dawn. The zoo is
already caring for two other baby elephants, Janaki and Merri,
who arrived under similar circumstances.
Villagers’ frustration escalated when two days before
Christmas (widely recognized in India, but not an official state
holiday), a herd of nearly 50 elephants left the Ikhipathar forest
reserve, stampeded through Tingri village, killed another five
people including an infant, and critically injured two more.
On December 26 three government hunters shot
down a rogue bull called Gobindra Singh, who had reputedly
killed 19 people in just 18 months. His final victim was a veterinarian
who attempted to tranqulize him in November for an
examination to see why he had such a violent disposition.
ANIMAL PEOPLE at deadline was still uncertain
whether the veterinarian was Kushalo Konwar Sharma, DVM,
a professor at the College of Veterinary Sciences in Guwahati,
Assam, who as of November 26 was reportedly in that area
experimenting with oral sedatives and drugs meant to lower the
sex drive of bull elephants in musth. Sharma had already handled
more than 30 violent and unpredictable elephants, according
to Ian MacKinnon of the South China Morning Post, and
w a s en route to try his methods with others after helping the
Assam Forest Department to calm a 16-year-old bull named
Indrajit, who usually carries wardens on anti-poaching patrols.
Elsewhere in India, outrage at elephant depredation
has encouraged ivory poaching––as in Tamil Nadu, Karnatka,
and Kerala states. At urging of the 121-year-old Nilgiris
Wildlife and Environment Association, the forest cell of the
Karanatka police seized a record volume of ivory during 1998.
The elephant gender ratio in the Bandipur forest district
of southern Karanatka is now estimated at one tusk-bearing
bull to 20 cows. Such a ratio would bring very rapid population
growth in a promiscuous species, such as deer. Among elephants,
however, who are slow to mate, and have a long gestation
time, a ratio of more than eight females per male can
cause a population crash.
Elephant stampedes in Kerala are mostly associated
with work elephants who have been roughly handled by local
mahouts, who by reputation are the rodeo cowboys of India.
The Kerala State Elephant Protection Council and a humane
organization called Daya recently told T.P. Alexander of India
A b r o a d that 250 mahouts and 234 work elephants have been
killed in Kerala since 1978.
The most violent elephants in India are reputedly
those of north Bengal.
“Although there are only 186 elephants in north
Bengal,” Asian Elephant Specialists Group member D.K.
Lahiri-Choudhury told S.N.M. Abdi of the South China
Morning Post in Calcutta, “they have been killing around 47
people every year since 1992.” The 1998 toll hit 60, including
five people who were killed in a pre-Christmas stampede near
Wild elephants in neighboring Bangladesh have
killed at least 30 people and injured more than 100 since 1995.
Johor state, Malaysia, recorded 191 elephant stampedes
resulting in property damage during 1997. Sixty-one elephants
were relocated to the Endau-Rompin and Tasik Kenyir
forest reserves during 1997, but the Asian financial crisis cut
the 1998 relocation budget to barely enough to relocate 10 elephants,
according to Johor relocation-of-elephants committee
chair Chua Soi Lek.
Drought and forest fires associated with logging and
agricultural brush-clearing have reportedly caused elephant
stampedes in Indonesia––most destructively on the night of
August 16, 1998, when separate herds of 20 and 25 elephants
trashed homes and crops on Sumatra. One of the stampedes
may have begun after a female elephant died of starvation. Her
remains were found soon afterward.
King’s birthday gift
Thailand too has problems with elephants running
Thai police in late March 1998 seized a rifle belonging
to pineapple plantation owner Anek Kiatsarn, after finding
the burnt remains of an elephant in Kui Buri National Park,
near his property. Anek denied knowledge of the killing.
“Park officials were earlier tipped off that many
pineapple planters had strewn the elephants’ path with twisted
nails, to keep hungry elephants from entering their plantations
and ruining the crops,” wrote Prachuab Khiri Khan of the
The Kiatsarn case was just the latest of a series of
incidents in the vicinity, also including two suspected poisonings
of elephants during 1997, and the starvation death of a
month-old elephant calf who may have been orphaned by
But the Thai response, despite the sporadic retaliation
by an apparent handful of individuals, was uniquely tolerant.
After the starved calf’s remains were found, Sun
Muakmuang, a village headman in Prachuab Kiri Khan
province, organized 100 fellow villagers into the Kui Buri
Forest and Elephants Club. On November 22, 1997, they formally
commenced work by planting 300 wild banana trees
along a favorite elephant feeding path.
“Our most urgent task is to keep the elephants away
from crops,” Muakmuang explained. “The
fastest solutions are electric fences and growing
wild bananas––their favorite wild food.”
Added local forest chief Boonlue
Poonil, “We can’t afford to lose elephants.”
The Kiatsarn case brought further
action for elephants. Outraged, agriculture
minister Pongpol Adireksarn ordered “that
problematic plantations be confiscated and
turned into a buffer zone to separatre protected
and agricultural areas,” wrote Chakrit
Ridmontri of the Bangkok Post.
Thai forestry chief Sathit Sawintara
sought the return of tracts damaged by logging,
which earlier were donated to the
Agricultural Land Reform Office for conversion
into pineapple plantations.
“While the negotiations are underway,”
Ridmontri reported, “Sathit said the
department would plant elephant food such as
bananas, sugar cane, and bamboo at the edge
of the forest to prevent wild elephants from
trampling on nearby farmland.”
Similar efforts were already underway
to the north. At year’s end, the newly
created San Phandaen Wildlife Sanctuary near
Mai Hong San had already attracted more than
60 elephants, while a forestry center near
Lampang was reportedly being prepared to
rehabilitate 72 former working elephants, in
honor of Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej’s
forthcoming 72nd birthday.
In the Kanchanaburi area, however,
the Yadana pipeline project brought trouble.
The pipeline will connect oil fields in the
Andaman Sea, off the Burmese coast, with
Thai refineries. During 1997, the L o n d o n
O b s e r v e r and Free Burma Coalition charged,
the SLORC junta ruling Burma since 1988
purged members of the Karen ethnic minority
from the pipeline route by creating the
Myinmoletkat Nature Reserve around it.
Claimed the O b s e r v e r, “The
Burmese army has murdered 2,000 people and
driven 30,000 from their homes, razing entire
villages, raping and enslaving.”
Refugees fled into Thailand, adding
to the environmental stress created by the
pipeline itself. Bringing an estimated 50 to 60
work elephants with them, many turned to
log-poaching for subsistence.
As Petroleum Authority of Thailand
crews cut into elephant habitat in the Thong
Pha Phum district, and after an elephant fell
into a pit allegedly dug for the pipeline,
wildlife activists in January 1998 tried to stop
the project with a sit-in.
In February 1998 the discovery of
endangered regal crabs and Kitti’s hog-nosed
bats in the Huay Kha Khaeng forest reserve
brought hope of a delay. The bats are the
smallest known mammals.
Conflict next erupted in early April,
when a five-year-old elephant fell into the
pipeline trench near Ban Huay Pak Khok.
Villagers claimed his herd was starving, cut
off from food and water.
The Kanchanaburi provincial government
and Friends of the Asian Elephant
countered that protecting wildlife food sources
endangered by Karen illegal logging would be
more effective than stopping the pipeline. The
Thai army pledged to help guard such food
sources, and the villagers of Tambon Sa-iab
organized to seize seven elephants who were
allegedly being used for log-poaching in Mae
Yom National Park.
The seizure came after an eighth elephant
belonging to the alleged log-poachers
was found dead of apparent overwork and malnutrition,
bereft of tusks, tail, and genitals.
Accused of failing to stop illegal
logging, Sathit Sawintara was replaced in
April by Plodprasop Suraswadi, previously
chief of the Agricultural Land Reform Office.
Suraswadi promised a prompt crackdown
against a village counsellor and a retired police
official who allegedly used forged papers to
raise fruit within the Huey Khayeng reserve.
But the Elephant Lovers of Thong
Pha Phum were unmollified after the remains
of two elephants were found nearby. One had
starved; the other was poached. Elephant
Lovers’ representative Vipa Thanomwongsa
said the deaths were locally unprecedented. A
road built to facilitate the pipeline construction
was supposed to have been destroyed afterward,
so that it could not be used by poachers,
but remained intact, Thanomwongsa and fellow
activists charged, also accusing the
Petroleum Authority of illegally filling streams
and ponds, failing to fund forest restoration as
promised, and hiring Burmese workers instead
of local people.
Thai officials meanwhile pondered
what to do about all the elephants––as many as
4,000 of the 6,000 in the nation––who might
be out of work if a 1989 forest protection law
was fully enforced. Elephants were banned
from the Bangkok and Phuket streets for a
combination of humane and safety reasons
some years ago, but desperate mahouts still
bring them into the cities, and accidental
injuries to elephants remain common.
Mahouts in Chiang Mai province run
several elephant training centers and elephant
tour businesses, but competition for business
in October 1998 brought a new problem, as 14
work elephants died of alleged poisoning.
Elephant Nature Park director Saengduen
Chailert suggested that at least some of the
deaths resulted from mahout rivalry.
African elephants are protected not
by religious tradition, but by law––and the
law tends to favor elephants only against
poachers, while making plenty of provision
for legal killing.
Administrators at Kruger National
Park, South Africa, were already complaining
about too many elephants on October 24,
when Christina Herzog of Stuttgart, Germany,
took two flash photos of an elephant who was
grazing on the golf course at the Hans
Merensky Country Club & Lodge, near
Phalborwa, next to Kruger. Startled, the elephant
charged, trampling to death Herzog’s
mother, Rita Hahn, 58.
Two days later, Kruger manager of
conservation and development Leo Braack
announced a resumption of the culling policy
the park had pursued until 1995. The Kruger
elephant population is now at about 8,600,
well above the 7,000 to 7,500 that Kruger
managers have long considered optimal.
Opponents of culling argue that the
current population includes herds who fled
into Kruger from Mozambique during the long
Mozambiquan civil war. With the war over,
they say, South Africa should dismantle the
powerful electric fence that it eventually put
up to keep the elephants in and keep poachers
out, and let the Mozambique herd go home.
But the tusks on those extra elephants
could bring the South African government
a lot of money at auction. In June 1997
the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species allowed Botswana,
Namibia, and Zimbabwe to sell “culled” elephant
ivory. South Africa did not seek a similar
exemption in 1997, but did unsuccessfully
seek an exemption to a similar ban on exports
of culled and/or confiscated rhino horn, and
can be expected to seek an exemption to
enable the sale of culled ivory as soon as so
doing seems politically viable.
As predicted by opponents of the
exemption, elephant poaching surged in other
African nations soon after it passed––as delegates
from Niger, Togo, Senegal, and Ghana
all told Matar Gaye of the Pan African News
Agency, while attending the May 1998
International Union for the Conservation of
Nature conference in Dakar. Incited by the
opportunity to pass off stolen ivory as part of
the “culled” stock, thieves also took stockpiles
confiscated from smugglers by Niger wildlife
authorities, as well as ivory souvenirs which
were displayed in hotels.
Togo wildlife directorate head Kofi
Batawila attributed the surge in poaching in
part to the resentment of neighbors of wildlife
parks at being excluded from using them.
The World Wildlife Fund and Safari
Club International, among other powerful
nongovernmental organizations, favor countering
such resentment by selling the right to
shoot surplus elephants and other species to
trophy hunters, as is already done in
Zimbabwe. The proceeds would presumably
go to community development. That
approach, earning Zimbabwe about $600,000
a year, is officially endorsed by the Bill
Clinton/Albert Gore U.S. presidential administration,
and is backed by $5 million a year in
USAid funding for the Zimbabwean CAMPFIRE
program, which is essentially a mechanism
for promoting trophy hunting.
But shooting elephants is opposed by
most animal protection charities. Even selling
animals to accredited zoo conservation programs
is disfavored by some who oppose all
captivity. The 1998 Thai and Botswana
episodes were presaged in 1995, when Walt
Disney Inc.––at urging of then American
SPCA wildlife programs director Kathi
Travers––offered to buy whole family groups
of elephants and hippos who were otherwise to
be shot from South Africa.
As the deal was in negotiation,
almost year after ANIMAL PEOPLE p u blished
a summary of the Disney offer, the
International Fund for Animal Welfare donated
land enough to the South African wildlife
department to enable the elephants and hippos
to remain in the wild. South Africa then cancelled
plans to cull them, keeping a promise to
IFAW, and Disney withdrew the purchase
offer––which didn’t stop Friends of Animals
and the International Wildlife Coalition from
“exposing” it and initiating public protest
against it approximately two weeks later.
Buying more land was a popular
temporary solution. But even with the
resources of major international conservation
organizations committed to making the purchase,
more land is not infinitely available––
as the Rondevlei Nature Reserve near Cape
Town found in October 1998 while seeking a
20-year lease on a municipal pasture, in order
to keep the only hippos on the Western Cape.
Not native to the area, the hippos
were imported about 15 years ago to eat a
problematic water weed. Crowding and scarce
food subsequently caused three adult hippos, a
male and two females, to kill nine calves.
Biologists estimated that without the additional
land, the reserve had only enough fodder in
1998 for the three adults. Negotiations, however,
dragged on for months, because Cape
Town anticipated other possible needs for the
land and had few alternatives for any of them.
Some African nations have the
option of reclaiming land for wildlife which
has been seized by squatters. Kenya, for
instance, in late November moved to oust
squatters who were illegally grazing livestock
on the Buffalo/Sheba Game Reserve in Isiolo,
and to crack down on alleged police corruption
that brought the invasion. The squatters were
allegedly associated with increasing forest
fires and robberies.
Squatters at the Masai Mara National
Reserve, also suspected of sparking a local
crime wave, didn’t take the hint––so on
December 28, Kenyan president Daniel arap
Moi transfered the Masai Mara rangers to the
Kenya Police Reserve Unit and rearmed them.
They were disarmed in 1995 amid controversy
over the shoot-to-kill anti-poaching policy
instated by arap Moi in 1985 and vigorously
pursued by the Kenya Wildlife Service under
Richard Leakey. About 130 alleged poachers
were killed during Leakey’s first tenure as
head of the KWS, 1989-1994. Leakey
resigned in March 1994 after clashing with
some of arap Moi’s relatives who allegedly
wanted to make economic use of wildlife and
wildlife reserve property, but accepted reappointment
by arap Moi in September 1998.
In South Africa, unlike in Kenya,
the newly enfranchised indigenous population
is legally taking back some of the land that the
former apartheid regime seized in the name
wildlife conservation––albeit often under circumstances
that suggested the real object was
upholding racial segregation. About 26,000
individual and group land claims are pending.
The claimants’ first major victory
came in May 1998, when 5,000 registered survivors
and descendants of 1,700 Maluleke people
who were evicted in 1969 from property
now encompassed within Kruger National
Park regained title to 94 square miles. Under
an agreement with the South African National
Parks Board, ratified on December 15, the
Parks Board and the Maluleke are to jointly
develop the property for eco-tourism, and the
Maluleke are to remain meanwhile at their current
homes. But the number of people claiming
a piece of the action doubled between May
and December, and is now at 10,000-plus.
The Maluleke success encouraged
descendants of the people who were cleared
from the first parts of Kruger in 1924 to file
similar claims covering the Skukuza and
Gomondwane regions––including the Kruger
administrative office site.
By March 1999, according to Fiona
Macleod of the Johannesburg Mail &
Guardian, the 300 San, better known as the
Southern Kalahari Bushmen, are expected to
gain partial control over a 600-square-mile
section of the Kalahari Gemsbok National
Park in the Northern Cape district, from which
their people were evicted in 1973 after a 42-
year political struggle.
That property will also be put under
joint conservation management.
Neither the Maluleke portion of
Kruger nor the southern Kalahari are great
habitat for elephants, hippos, or rhinos. The
Maluleke area is best known for birds, while
the Kalahari isn’t hospitable to any animals
with much need for water or mud.
But other areas involved in land
claims are more sensitive. The Ndumo Game
Reserve, bordering Mozambique in northern
KwaZulu-Natal, is a key site for both hippos
and elephants. Founded in 1927, it is South
Africa’s second oldest reserve. In 1995 it was
named a World Heritage site. In November,
however, KwaZulu-Natal minister for traditional
and environmental affairs Nyanga
Ngubane allowed 100 families to grow crops
on 10 hectares of Pongola River bank.
The “temporary” authorization is
seen by conservationists as a dangerous precedent.
Ngubane, on the other hand, has depicted
it as only a concilatory measure.
A week earlier, Mpumalanga Parks
Board manager Herb Bourne inflamed indigenous
activists by telling media that 24 families
who refused resettlement in 1987 and were
fenced into a wildlife reserve near Barberton
“should accept it as part of nature” when wild
animals damage their crops, eat their livestock,
and even kill and injure members of
their families. Bourne spoke about five weeks
after a Cape buffalo or rhino reportedly killed
Gegule Lizzie Sheba, 71, as she drove her
herd of cattle through the park.
A month after Ngubane’s concession,
KwaZulu-Natal minister of forestry and
water affairs Kader Asmal raised tensions further
by ordering the eviction of 30,000
Dukuduku people who had invaded the
Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park.
One way or another, the options for
most elephants and other large animals tend to
be only death, captivity, or semi-captivity
within confined reserves.
The controversial Thai/Indonesian
and Botswana/South African elephant deals
were not unique. The Kruger resident hippo
population of about 600 has spilled out along
the Crocodile River. As of October 1998,
about 90 hippos lived along a 40-mile stretch
outside the park. Asked to deal with about
three dozen hippos who were displaced by the
construction of 2,000 government-subsidized
homes, the Mpumalanga Parks Board raised
$4,500 by selling three permits to shoot hippos
to foreign trophy hunters, then used the
money to advertise their availability of hippos
to various captive venues. At last word, 19 of
the hippos had been captured and exported.
But there is suspicion that the need
to export wildlife may at times be manufactured
to meet demand. Gareth Patterson, who
earlier blew the whistle on the Ghiazza elephant
export scheme, in November warned
the MPB that a tourist boycott could result
from issuing an export permit for 17 African
lions to Marloth Game Farm owner Roy Plath.
In 1996 The Cook Report, a British
television program, showed guides allegedly
conducting a “canned hunt” at Marloth by
drugging a nursing lioness, separating her
from her three cubs, and coxing her out of an
adjacent portion of Kruger. A German tourist
shot her virtually against the fence.
The killing occurred, said former
Marloth game farm manager Bruce Hamilton,
even though he and his wife Chantelle personally
asked the MPB not to permit it.
The fate of the cubs was unclear,
but they may have been raised by Plath.
On June 18, 1998, the MPB authorized
professional hunter Andr Booysen and
his father-in-law, Dick de Villiers, to buy 17
“surplus” lions from Plath and export them to
Mozambique. Border officials intercepted the
attempted export twice, on grounds that
bovine tuberculosis testing allegedly hadn’t
been completed, but 14 of the lions were
finally delivered to Booysen and de Villiers on
November 3. The whereabouts of the other
three lions were unknown.
Said Patterson, “We strongly suspect
that the lions will be hunted and killed,
since there is no regulation in Mozambique
which prevents canned hunting.”
The MPB forbade canned hunts only
after The Cook Report raised global protest.
As the lion export deal came to light,
Namibian environment and tourism deputy
minister Nangolo Ithete banned exports of live
wild animals––a major source of foreign
exchange since 1975. But Ithete didn’t act for
Ithete told The Nambian, of
Windhoek, that “the decision to cease the
export of live game was taken to encourage
local processing,” as opposed to encouraging
consumptive use of the same species abroad by
selling breeding stock.
Nature is at least trying to have the
final say. As of 1930, a survey of the Queen
Elizabeth Park elephant herd in Uganda discovered,
only 1% of the elephants were born
without tusks. Lack of tusks was considered a
Reported Ugandan wildlife authority
elephant specialist Eve Abe in September
1998, “Up to 30% of a sample of adult elephants
in Queen Elizabeth Park now do not
have tusks.” Among elephants whose gender
Abe determined, 15.5% of the adult females
lacked tusks, as did 9.5% of the males.
In the interim, poachers cut the park
elephant herd to 200, from 3,500 in 1963.
Explained Abe, “We are left with
the genes which result in elephants being born
without ivory. This is the elephant’s way of
saving itself from extinction.”
World Wildlife Fund conservation
officer Richard Barnwell confirmed Abe’s
finding, adding that similar effects were evident
in at least six other African nations.
Barnwell told Paul Brown of the Johannesburg
Mail & Guardian that essentially the same
thing also occurred at what is now Addo
National Park, South Africa, about 100 years
ago. After years of intensive hunting for trophies
and ivory, the Addo elephants became
notorious for short tusks and shorter tempers.
“Hunters decided that trying to kill
the Addo elephants was not worth the risk, so
being bad-tempered is a survival technique,
too,” Addo explained.
But that was in the era of single-shot
rifles. Now that stampeding elephants rarely
get the chance to stomp a hunter while he
reloads his weapon, the irrascibility which
once might have saved them could create even
more pressure to kill any who can’t learn to
stay within ever tighter bounds.