An elephant walking through a treed area at the Kruger National Park. File picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)

The management of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR) wishes to respond to an article published on IOL by Louzel Lombard Steyn on 14 August 2018 titled “Poor governance forces Kruger National Park to consider re-erecting fences”.

Our statement firstly corrects inaccurate comments made in the article regarding the management of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Secondly, we share an alternative perspective to the author’s description of the purported current state of the relationship between the Kruger National Park (KNP) and its neighbouring private nature reserves.

1. In the article, Ms Steyn states: “In recent hunts, two elephants shot on Timbavati exceeded the maximum tusk weight allowed." This statement does not reflect the complete picture. The TPNR conducted a full investigation into these events in December 2017. It was found that the tusk weights on the two elephants in question were indeed above the weight applied for on the off-takes request and this information was immediately disclosed to the authorities. 

A disciplinary hearing was held with the TPNR representative who was responsible for those hunts, and the outfitter involved was given a lifetime ban from hunting within the TPNR – these steps were taken already in December 2017. The necessary corrective and punitive actions that were implemented by TPNR Exco and management were communicated with SANParks and the relevant authorities on 12 February 2018. 

To prevent such situations from occurring in future, TPNR resolved that all staff involved in hunting events which transgress hunting protocols will be subject to financial punitive action, following disciplinary proceedings.

2. Ms Steyn also writes: “The reserve also failed to submit the ages of 11 previously-hunted elephants, as required by the Hunting Protocol, apparently due to rodents eating the tags attached to the jaw bones.” This statement is incorrect, as the situation referred to was already remedied in August 2017, and all age data was submitted in the post off-takes meeting on 25 May 2018. 

Once again, the article does not complete the story. The TPNR responded immediately to the problem with corrective and remedial action. The tags referred to were not completely destroyed, and the 11 jaw bones were then aged by experts as required and matched to the animals hunted. Furthermore, all of the animals in question were found to have complied fully with the hunting protocols. TPNR has now implemented a new tagging system that prevents possible corrosion and animal damage by using more robust materials on its tags.

3. In a final allegation, Ms Steyn claims: “Two lions were also hunted on the reserve without notifying Kruger rangers, as required." This statement is also incorrect, as the TPNR has documentary proof of the necessary notifications in the form of emails sent to relevant officials. The email trail shows that the TPNR representative sent a notification to both the MTPA State Veterinarian and KNP Representative, on 28 July 2017. This email was thus sent 11 days before the hunt started, and is in line with how all notifications are sent by TPNR to the relevant authorities. This is a standard practice.

In all of the above allegations against the Timbavati, Ms Steyn has omitted important information, which was available with documentary proof, months before she went ahead with publishing her article. Furthermore, at no stage did Ms Steyn contact any representative of the Timbavati to ask for comment on these allegations, a simple fact-checking process which could have cleared up any misunderstanding.

Of equal concern for the Timbavati, is the attempt by Ms Steyn to create an imagined tension between the KNP and its neighbouring private nature reserves over hunting practices. 

For the last two years, the KNP has facilitated numerous public participation forums to update and define the agreements which will regulate the relationship between the KNP and its partners in the Greater Kruger National Park. This process ensures that all partners in the Greater Kruger are regularised (properly declared and managed in the interest of conservation), and have the necessary capacity to ensure that conservation norms and standards are effectively applied by reserve managers and individual members.

If there has been any talk of re-erecting fences that were taken down in the 1990s, this has been centred around certain partners’ either being unwilling or unable to comply with these regularisation and constitutional requirements. Thus the threat of fencing, and therefore fragmenting the Greater Kruger once again, is a threat that applies to all of the private nature reserves that are open to KNP, and not only those who practice hunting. 

The non-hunting reserves that form a part of the Greater Kruger have been fully included in all discussions related to the new co-operative agreements, and their own need to comply with all aspects of these agreements, or be fenced out, have been addressed with the same firmness. 

If this issue had been about hunting alone, the non-hunting reserves would have been automatically excluded from any such discussions. The TPNR management and exco have been pro-active participants in these discussions. We are confident that under the strength of our constitution, and under the strength of our compliance with regulations, the Timbavati is one of the private nature reserves that is most likely to meet all of the requirements of the new co-operative agreement with KNP.

The TPNR continues to co-operate with our KNP counterparts on practical matters such as rhino security, ecological management and local community investment. In the last year alone, the TPNR injected over R2 million into local communities through the Timbavati Foundation, an initiative born entirely out of the membership of the Timbavati Reserve.

Through the Timbavati Foundation, the TPNR supports many ongoing projects including environmental education projects, borehole and rainwater catchment projects, community garden projects and the support of many students in tertiary studies. 

The TPNR recognises that in addition to the vital role that we play in the security and ecological integrity of the western boundary of the KNP, our role in the growth and development of the communities that we form part of, is an equally vital part of the Greater Kruger vision.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.