By Guy Rogers, The Herald Live
Drama is unfolding in Kleinpoort over the fate of an escaped Blaauwbosch elephant. The Eastern Cape environment department has ordered that the animal should be shot, but the farmer whose land it is on says she will not let that happen.
The situation is disturbingly similar to the incident in April 2017 when an escaped elephant was shot at the instruction of the department after repeated warnings from neighbours and the conservation sector about poor management at the Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve – owned by Arab Sheik Khalaf Ahmed Khalaf Al Otaiba.
Eastern Cape economic development, environmental affairs and tourism department spokesperson Ncedo Lisani said on Wednesday the department had decided to put the animal down. “A permit will be issued to a professional hunter and it will be shot tomorrow [Thursday].”
But farmer Sandra Skinner said on Wednesday night: “That is not going to happen.
“The fate of this animal is on the heads of all those parties who knew about the management concerns at Blaauwbosch, including the lack of water and the broken fences, and did nothing.
“It is not going to be shot on our farm.”
Earlier in the day at the offices of Al Otaiba’s legal representative Kuban Chetty, Skinner and her husband John, and Blaauwbosch neighbours Patrick and Vanessa Grewar, handed over letters of concern about the matter, highlighting their concern about the animals on the reserve and the danger to people and property if they escaped.
Skinner said the elephant had arrived on their farm Mon Desir on September 22.
After they raised the alarm, a provincial environment department official had responded and the animal was darted on October 2 and returned to Blaauwbosch, which is situated in Kleinpoort, between Uitenhage and Jansenville.
“Our concern was that unless the water supply at Blaauwbosch was attended to and the fence fully repaired and electrified, the same would happen again – which is exactly what happened.”
On Saturday, the elephant rumbled through onto Mon Desir again, endangering workers, interfering with livestock operations, damaging their fence and creating the risk that their valuable hunting game would escape. Asked about the status of the process which saw the department in 2017 issue a directive to Al Otaiba relating to management concerns, Lisani said he could not immediately comment.
In June that year, the department said there had been no effort by the reserve owner to rectify problems identified in its January directive and that it was considering pursuing criminal charges against him.
Lisani said he could not respond to questions about this process or the independent review done in 2017 by respected conservationists Dr John O’Brien and Brian Bailey, which warned of “insufficient water, little or no operational budget and poorly maintained fencing that will facilitate further elephant breakouts”.
Grewar appealed directly to Al Otaiba.
“Several management steps need to be put in place immediately for the wellbeing of the game and the safety of the communities of Kleinpoort and Wolwefontein,” he said.
“These include the immediate repair of the broken fence, feed to be purchased for drought-stricken wildlife, and additional staff and preferably professional wildlife management to be brought in.”
Boreholes and pumps had to be repaired and water should be immediately distributed to the parts of the reserve that were dry, he said.
“Should you not want to take any of these steps, you should consider selling.”
In a letter to the provincial environment department, Cockscomb Agricultural Association chair Schalk van der Merwe said Blaauwbosch was not adhering to regulations for containing wildlife.
“The electric fence is not working. Elephants and other animals regularly escape.
“We are calling for a solution. If the owner cannot look after the Blaauwbosch reserve, they must be moved to a place where they can be kept safely.
“The responsible parties will be held accountable for any damage or injury that results from this situation.”
Chetty said his understanding was that Bay businessman Yusuf Jeeva was overseeing some aspects of the Blaauwbosch operation.
“I will contact him about the fence and then I will be in touch with His Excellence [Al Otaiba] and hopefully convince him to come down to assess the situation.”
Several attempts to contact Jeeva were unsuccessful.