THE TWO elephants that temporarily escaped from hunters during a controversial five-animal hunt a fortnight ago after watching their infant calves darted and removed by a controversial game-capture veterinarian, were yesterday gunned down from an airborne helicopter.
The shooting took place at Sandhurst Safaris near the North West border with Botswana.
Disturbing facts emerging from the latest chain of events at Sandhurst yesterday reveal the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism employed an unidentified and possibly relatively unskilled staff member yesterday to “finish the job” from the air. According to Sandhurst Safaris owner Leigh Fletcher, the pair of pachyderms had returned to Sandhurst’s property from Botswana three days ago after making a run for the border.
She said they had not caused any damage or trouble since their return and did not show signs of aggression. “On Tuesday when we called them from our vehicle, they were only 100 yards away and did not charge’’ she said.
After being in contact with North West conservation authorities since their escape, she was notified yesterday morning that the department was dispatching a helicopter to shoot the elephants. Nine officials from the department conferred on the issue, before the helicopter took off to seek out the animals.
“After about one-and-a-half hours, conservation officials told me the elephants had been destroyed and I could go and retrieve the carcasses. “They also said I could apply to the department next week for a keeper’s permit for the skins and tusks,” said Fletcher.
But she was not prepared for the gruesome scene she would find when she arrived at the scene where the elephants had fallen. She said she was shocked to find the gunman in the chopper had fired at least 11 rounds into the pair of tuskers before they were pronounced dead.
“When we got to the bodies, we could to see the elephants had been shot all over their bodies multiple times. “One elephant had bullets in its tusk, its ear and its face. I could not believe that it took the shooter six shots and five shots each to kill both animals.”
The news of the shootings has enraged wildlife conservationists and is sure to ignite a fierce row that could make things difficult for the department. NSPCA wildlife inspector Isabel Wentzel said it was “downright disgusting and unacceptable that wildlife authorities are sent to clean up a mess they helped create and cannot even do their job professionally”.
Asked whether the council intended pursuing legal action in the matter, she said: “It’s a big option we are looking at.”
The chairwoman of the ElephantSpecialist Advisory Group, Dr Marion Garaï, said: “This is horrific, scandalous and absolutely unacceptable. I’m incensed by this whole issue… Both Sandhurst Safaris and the North West department officials could have found a home for the whole herd if they had really tried.
The director of the Lawrence Anthony Foundation, David Bozas, said: “We would have even been willing to take the whole herd at our 20 000 hectares near Camperdown in KwaZulu Natal had we been asked, but we were never notified the owner wanted to get rid of the them.”
Simon Bloch, Cape Argus, March 28, 2013