By Metro News
A herd of elephants in South Africa face being shot dead after two rogue bulls killed a conservationist trying to shepherd them back to a reserve. Reserve of Mawana head Beyers Coetzee, 45, was trampled and gored to death while trying to guide 32 elephants back to safety after they had strayed off.
Employee Thobani Masondi, 38, was by Mr Coetzee’s side when he died last week. He said: ‘I was leading and Beyers was close by and had been setting off the crackers and I warned him the elephants were getting angry.
‘But he wanted to get them over the river into the safety of the reserve. I did not see the two elephants but I could smell them. Then they came out the bush from 15 metres.
‘Everyone was running and I nearly collided with Beyers then I heard a thud as the bulls hit him and they had him. There was nothing that anybody could do to help him.’
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife which has previously questioned Mawana’s Loziba Wilderness project over uncompleted fencing is deciding whether to cull the 31 strong elephant herd.
Its spokesman Musa Mntambo confirmed they were investigating the circumstances of the death of Mr Coetzee but had not yet decided the fate of the herd.
He added: ‘We are in the business of conserving animals and a decision to destroy any animal is taken with a heavy heart and in most cases is done to prevent the further loss of life’.
But sources close to the authority said that a cull of the entire herd was being put forward.
Married father-of-two Mr Coetzee had devoted his life to the elephants living on the Mawana Reserve and was on the brink of securing a deal with landowners to quadruple the size of the reserve to 40,000 hectares.
However, he faced a constant battle with the authorities when the elephants damaged or destroyed property after straying off the reserve due to inadequate fencing. Knowing how delicate relations were with neighbouring communities in securing a deal for a larger reserve he was desperate to drive them back to their safe area.
Along with other conservationists they got between the elephants and an outlying village and began driving them back using loud thunder flashes and gunfire to move them on.
But with only a few hundred yards to go to push the elephants over the Thaka River two bull elephants separated from the herd and doubled back and ambushed the conservationists.
Coetzee was gored several times by one of the bulls and both of them then trampled him to death.
Following Mr Coetzee’s death, fellow conservationists are now urgently trying to raise £800,000 to build 100km of secure fencing to ensure the safety of the herd forever. Decorated ex-Royal Marine James Glancy, 37, led tributes to his friend and insisted that his legacy to save the elephants must be honoured.
He said: ‘Beyers was a genuine legend and a true gentleman and was killed protecting a herd of elephants he had been fighting to protect from destruction.
A close friend of Mr Coetzee elephant specialist Dereck Milburn, 34, who is the Regional Director of the Aspinall Foundation added: ‘These are not aggressive elephants but they were being pushed hard that day to get out of the community area and the two bulls got frustrated and this was their normal behaviour.’
Mr Coetzee posted a video of himself driving the elephant herd back on to the Mawana Reserve two weeks ago.
The reserve of Mawana was established by Kerneels van der Walt who died three years ago and was taken on by his daughter Una and her husband Mr Coetzee and her brother Johannes.
Johannes van der Walt who runs the Mwana Trust with Beyers wife Una said: ‘For the authorities to now harm the elephant herd would just be immoral and it has to be remembered the elephants were panicked and unfortunately they reacted accordingly’.
The funeral of Mr Coetzee was held on Thursday in Pretoria and wife Una was supported by hundreds of conservationists.