Dinokeng Game Reserve's dominant elephant bull was recently shot as a ‘problem animal’ for breaking fences and escaping from the reserve, even though management admits that the fences on the property are not up to standard.
The bull, Hot Stuff, is the third elephant to be shot for wandering beyond the reserve’s poorly tended perimeter fence. Ten days after the bull was downed, two younger bulls, J Junior and Tiny Tim, broke out. This past weekend again, the two younger bulls and six other elephants in the herd broke out through the fence on Dinokeng’s eastern border, roaming into adjacent land at risk of destruction.
One of the younger bulls, Tiny Tim, has also come into musth since Hot Stuff’s death.
According to Dinokeng Management Association chairman Rodney Du Toit, Hot Stuff was destroyed under a Damage Causing Permit (DCA). Dinokeng’s manager, David Boshoff, is listed on the DCA permit, but none of the Dinokeng management officials, including Du Toit and Boshoff, have been willing to confirm whether he indeed shot Hot Stuff on 1 September. The inexplicable secrecy has fuelled unconfirmed reports that one of the Dinokeng directors might have felled Hot Stuff.
The permit issuing authority, Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), has also refused to share any details of the justification for the hunting permit.
If Hot Stuff had been shot by any person other than the one listed on the DCA permit, it would constitute to a permit violation. But neither GDARD nor Dinokeng have been willing to share the post-destruction report, which would detail every aspect of the hunt.
A Dinokeng press release after Hot Stuff's destruction states that “following numerous meetings and discussions it was finally decided to apply for a permit to euthanize." However, members of the Dinokeng Elephant Steering Committee (DESC) and some of Dinokeng's strategic partners say they only learnt of the death after the shot had been fired.
"They didn't inform us of the decision to shoot Hot Stuff and they didn't inform us when they shot him," says Elephants Rhinos People (ERP) director Dereck Milburn. This despite the ERP-Dinokeng contract stating that any decision regarding the elephants needs to be disclosed. According to Dr Marion Garaï, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group (ESAG) chairperson and DESC member, the Steering Committee was also not consulted.
The killing of the bull came as a shock to Dinokeng elephant management partners, particularly after a statement by the Dinokeng Management Association chairman Rodney Du Toit on 15 August 2018 saying “it seems as if the herd may have settled recently and may have finally accepted Hot Stuff as the new dominant bull."
In the last available communication on the matter from the Reserve, Du Toit stated that "a detailed plan of euthanasia can only be shared once and if we make the final decision … [and] we are working on improving the situation and will continue to do so." Two weeks later, without further consultation, Hot Stuff was shot.
ERP gave the reserve 14 days to respond to questions relating to Hot Stuff's destruction. No reply was forthcoming.
This is not the first time Dinokeng's elephant management issues have caused controversy and, ultimately, the death of an elephant. In November 2016, a young bull was shot on a neighbouring property without the required approval. A young female elephant was also illegally shot, leaving her severely injured and untreated. She was then misidentified as a bull by the Dinokeng vet, Dr Jacques O’Dell, during a collaring and immobilisation process which eventually killed her.
In March this year, the reserve also disregarded concerns of its strategic elephant partners and administered controversial GnRH treatments to some of the elephants, including Hot Stuff. The full treatment series was never completed however, and in the statement following Hot Stuff destruction, Dinokeng claims that the treatment had been done "too late, as the fence breaking had become a learnt behaviour".
Dr Garaï opposed the GnRH treatments, saying the main issues in terms of managing the bulls at Dinokeng had always been about the improperly maintained fences, both on the perimeter but mainly on the maze of internal fences that are not based on any standard elephant-proof specification.
Millburn agrees, saying half of the fences of the reserve are in a failed state. A recent ERP report showed that "50% of all measured fences and 74% of all measured gates did not fulfil the requirements given in the norms and standards for elephant management".
In March, Dinokeng Game Enterprises Chairman Etienne Toerien confirmed that much of the fencing within the property was not up to standard, leaving elephants to break through into properties inside Dinokeng as they please.
The latest developments seen in the younger bulls’ breaking out and coming into musth prematurely, is just a repetition of the same issues with different elephants now
facing destruction. It is clear that until the fence issue is addressed, the destruction of an elephant is not going to solve the reserve’s breakout problems. According to Milburn, repairs and upgrades would prevent more of the elephants learning how to break fences. "It is the only long-term solution to the problem."
As it stands, Dinokeng’s elephant management partners fear for the welfare of the remaining herd, especially considering the ad hoc manner in which elephant management has been applied to date. The consequences of destroying the oldest dominant bull elephant is also likely to cause tremendous displacement within the bull hierarchy and the dynamics of the reserve’s breeding herd.