By ADRIENNE CARLISLE AND GUY ROGERS – HeraldLIVE
An urgent application to halt the removal of 11 elephants and other animals from the controversial Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve was dismissed with costs in the Grahamstown High Court on Wednesday evening.
After the decision was handed down by judge Gerald Bloem, advocate Albert Beyleveld SC, representing the provincial environment department, confirmed that the R900,000 relocation operation would go ahead on Thursday.
Aspinall Foundation regional director Dereck Milburn said he was elated by the decision.
“We have been able to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.
“The legal teams for the department and the SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] have been exceptional.
“This is the beginning of a better life for the Blaauwbosch animals.”
The foundation is co-ordinating the relocation of the animals.
The matter came to court after the owner of the reserve, United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalaf Ahmed Khalaf Al Otaiba, on Tuesday night launched the application for the search and seizure warrant held by the relocation team to be reviewed and set aside.
In court on Wednesday, the sheikh’s counsel, advocate Lila Crouse, said the removal of the animals amounted to the forfeiture of valuable property without a forfeiture order.
She argued that the animals were in no imminent danger from the drought because they were being fed lucerne and water was being provided.
But advocate Ivana Bands, for the SPCA, said renowned wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds had found that the removal of the animals was urgent due to the state of the reserve, which is situated in the Kleinpoort area between Uitenhage and Jansenville.
Dams were empty, the land was barren of browse and radical intervention was necessary.
No-one had tended to the animals before the intervention of the SPCA, she said.
“We know these animals are suffering.”
Beyleveld said Al Otaiba had not bothered to get the requisite threatened or protected species permits since 2014.
This meant he had no right to have the animals on the property, and the court could not countenance the ongoing illegality of having the animals on the reserve.
He said huge fines of up to three times the value of the animals as well as a stiff prison sentence could be imposed and, compared with these penalties, the seizure and removal of the animals was not out of proportion.
The court order and the removal operation followed a long history of problems at Blaauwbosch.
In 2010, two years after it was purchased by the sheikh, the SPCA paid its first visit to the property and, after continuing problems, in January 2017, the provincial environment department served a compliance directive on Al Otaiba, related to concerns about his management of the reserve.
In April of that year, an elephant bull escaped and had to be shot.
In June 2017, the department said there had been no effort by Al Otaiba to rectify problems identified in its directive and that it was considering pursuing criminal charges against him.
In the same month, an independent ecological review of Blaauwbosch conducted by respected conservationists Dr John O’Brien and Brian Bailey, warned of “insufficient water, little or no operational budget and poorly maintained fencing that will facilitate further elephant breakouts”.
In October 2019, another jumbo escaped and looked set to to be shot under instruction from the department because of the danger it posed and the damage it was causing.
It was saved by the intervention of the farmer on whose property it had holed up on and the animal was instead captured and removed.
Later in October, the SPCA’s Uitenhage branch, with the help of business and a neighbouring farmer, installed four new water points on the parched northern side of the reserve.
Backed by the department and the SPCA, the team set to now capture the remaining 11 elephants on Thursday includes American Chris Holcroft, who flew in specially and whose organisation, Wild 911, is co-funding the operation with the Aspinall Foundation, elephant relocation expert Kester Vickery and Fowlds, who is expected to dart the animals from a helicopter.
Milburn said earlier that the elephants would be relocated to Buffalo Kloof Game Reserve near Makhanda and the other animals, including buffalo and a giraffe, would go to separate reserves.