Last of the big tuskers in danger

Published Apr 8, 2017


VERY few tourists will have the privilege of seeing a real tusker in Africa’s game reserves today.

Historically, a tusker was defined as an elephant with tusks each weighing at least 100 pounds (45kg), but those days are long gone. The largest tuskers have been all but wiped out, with possibly 40 or fewer hundred-pounders left in Africa.

The US-based Safari Club International (SCI) now requires a minimum tusk weight of 90lb (41kg) for trophy status, but says tusks above 70lb (31kg) are still considered “very good”.

It is against this background that Timbavati private game reserve in Mpumalanga has come under fire after seeking permission to hunt 11 elephant bulls, including one “trophy bull” with unlimited tusk weight. 

Privately owned, Timbavati shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park – where hunting is prohibited.

Dr Johan Marais, a Pretoria-based wildlife vet and author of two books on Africa’s last tuskers, says these animals are the last remaining “lords of the wilderness” and form part of our heritage.

“They need to be protected at all costs!” he said in a Facebook post last month.

The Timbavati hunting application was made through the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) whose latest hunting off-take request includes a trophy bull. The APNR hunting protocol confirms there are no tusk weight limits for elephant bulls over the age of 50 – clearly implying that a hundred-pounder would not be off limits.

Timbavati, with three other private reserves west of Kruger, all form part of the APNR, whose hunting protocol specifies that only bulls can be hunted. No collared elephants and no “iconic tuskers” can be hunted in the four reserves, and a representative from Kruger must be present to assist with calculating the age of the elephant

But Timbavati warden and general manager Bryan Havemann denies there are plans to hunt a “super tusker”.


“Timbavati will not hunt a 100 pound tusker… period. We will not be hunting a tusker that has ivory even near to that approaching 80-100 pounds per side. The category would most likely be in the 60-70Ib class, if at all,” he said in response to recent criticism on social media and online petitions urging the government to ban the hunt.

His response clearly contradicts the Offtake Request for a trophy bull of unlimited tusk weight.

Nevertheless, Marais remains opposed to hunting any large-tusked elephants.

“I don’t care whether you are talking about Kruger, Kenya, Zimbabwe or Timbavati – you just cannot issue a permit for a 100 pounder… finish and klaar.

“People come from all over the world to see these magnificent bulls. Yet the custodian of our wildlife national heritage seems to think this (hunt) is okay. What is wrong with us? 

"Everyone is going down hard on Timbavati, but the decision lies with SA National Parks and they should be taken to task on this.”

SANParks have approved an offtake request which includes the trophy bull as well 33 other elephants and more than 5 000 other animals in the four APNR reserves (Timbavati, Klaserie, Balule and Umbabat).

Elephant researcher Marion Garai, who chairs the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group (Esag), says bulls are sexually active as long as they live. “Bulls from 45 years and above are the preferred choice of matriarchs to sire their offspring in a natural population. 

"This is because the old bulls with the largest tusks have the most experience and the best genes. If we take out these large bulls, we are changing the genetic pool and shifting it to lesser-sized tusks. 

"It is never justified to take out the best genes and largest knowledge, especially as we have too few large tuskers left.”

Fellow Esag elephant researcher Dr Lucy Bates also argues that hunting is not compatible with eco-tourism and that many tourists would be appalled to learn that some of the animals they photographed were shot later to raise revenue.

Havemann argues that bulls over the age of 50 are “getting into their twilight years”.

“Timbavati has not said that they no longer breed, only that as mature bulls they have had at least 10 years between the ages of 40 and 50 to pass on their genes in the system.”

On criticism that Timbavati allowed hunting and eco-tourism, he said: “Timbavati has very successfully had photographic and hunting safaris operating on the same area for many years. Why must they be mutually exclusive?” 

However, the storm of comments on social media appear to clearly indicate that several tourists considering visiting wildlife areas are indeed concerned that hunting may take place in areas offering photographic safaris

At the date of publication, SANParks had failed to answer the following questions:

● The current APNR hunting off-take request appears to have an “unlimited” tusk weight (for bulls over 50), suggesting that Timbavati could sell a hunt which could potentially include some of the Greater Kruger National Park’s so-called tuskers with ivory approaching 80-100 pounds per side. Is this correct?

● In considering and commenting on the off-take request, SANParks does not appear to have raised any objection to hunting a trophy bull in Timbavati. Is this correct? If the point is incorrect, please specify what recommendations/ objections have been raised by SANParks.

● It has been suggested that SANParks is the custodian of national parks and that hunting any trophy elephants should not be allowed in the light of estimates that there are just 30 to 40 true 100-pounder tuskers in Africa. What is SANParks response to these issues?

● Because there are no fences between Kruger and the APNR, it appears that very rare large-tusked elephants could legally be shot and killed within the APNR, whereas hunting inside national parks is prohibited. What protocols and agreements are in place with APNR to regulate hunting, especially with regard to threatened, protected or iconic species that cross over the Kruger boundary line?

SANParks did not respond to all the questions specifically, but said: “We have noted the public criticisms and comments over the proposed hunting of a ‘super tusker’ or trophy elephant bull in the Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP). SANParks is committed to supporting ethical, sustainable and resilient wildlife economy initiatives in conservation areas adjacent and open to national parks. 

“There are key guiding principles which govern such approaches and they are ethical practices, maintaining the sustainability and integrity of the system, compliance with the legal framework and relevant protocols, accountability and co-operative partnerships allowing for fair and equitable distribution of benefits from the use of natural resources in all National Parks.

“Kruger National Park is consulted on animal take-offs for systems open to the national park. Neighbouring conservation areas submit annual scientific monitoring reports, specialist studies and further requested information as per protocols that govern animal off-takes, whereafter Kruger will make recommendations. 


"Neighbouring conservation areas are also requested to sign protocols that govern any animal take-offs which are regulated by provincial conservation authorities. The protocol stipulates that no iconic tuskers will be hunted.”

While it was not responsible for issuing hunting licencesw in neighbouring private parks, SANParks would “not condone any practices outside the legal framework or outside protocols supportive of ethical and sustainable use or practices that might negatively impact biodiversity management”.

However, this appears to be contradicted in correspondence with the APNR in January and again in March. SANParks complained that the APNR Hunting Protocol had not been signed by all four APNR reserves and warned that no further off-take requests would be considered until this was done.

While APNR chairman James Campbell insists that the protocols were all signed off in early February, it still begs the questions why SANParks signed off the APNR 2017 off-take request and saw fit to express “concern and disappointment” and to state that it would “critically review” future hunts in the APNR.

The Independent on Saturday

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