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Just as the furore about the trophy hunting of the pride male named Skye began abating, another incident has highlighted the ethics of hunting in the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) alongside the Kruger National Park.

This time the victim was a young elephant, shot 13 times within sight of traumatised guests at Balule, a reserve within the APNR. After the first shot, the elephant began screaming and its cries were only silenced 12 shots later. 

Guests staying at Parsons Nature Reserve near the boundary of Maseke Nature Reserve were relaxing on the verandah when hunters blazed away at the elephant within view and later hauled it away past their safari tents on the back of a truck. The professional hunter in charge, Sean Nielsen, claimed the elephant had been ‘shot in self-defence’.

However, seven eyewitnesses said the elephant was standing about 80 metres away from the hunters when the first shot was fired, after which it fled into the bush, trumpeting pathetically, pursued by the hunters who continued firing.  

The guests said the elephant appeared to be juvenile. Tusk weight and size measurements are yet to be completed but, according to a local butchery where it was taken, it yielded only 1.8 tons of meat, whereas an adult elephant typically yields between 2.2 and 2.7 tons.

According to Balule chairperson Sharon Haussmann, the hunt conducted by Nielsen – a long-term lessee of Maseke Game Reserve – had the correct permits in place, but she said it seems the incident “did not comply with the sustainable utilization model of ethical hunting in accordance with the hunting protocol that governs all reserves within APNR and to which Balule and hence Maseke are bound.” A full investigation has been launched.

Haussmann labelled the incident as "completely unethical and inconsiderate and a huge embarrassment for Balule". She also said the initial report from the hunting party regarding the incident was unsatisfactory. 

"They issued a statement which I was not happy with and I sent it back with questions asking for more details and a site visit. They are not 100% forthcoming, but we have ways of dealing with that." When approached, Nielsen refused to comment. 

This is the second time that Balule has been in the spotlight over elephant hunting. In August this year, regional warden Frikkie Kotze was convicted for conducting an illegal elephant hunt in the reserve and the death of a collared elephant named George. 

Following Kotze's guilty plea, he was fined R50 000 or five years imprisonment, with both options suspended for five years. Haussmann said that Kotze's hunting rights in the APNR had been suspended for 2018, but would be reviewed following the court case. 

Mark de Wet, executive committee member and one of the founders of the Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation - South Africa (CPHC-SA), says unethical practices should not be tolerated. 

“You're supposed to know exactly what you're getting into if you're hunting in those areas [the APNR]. Punishment for illegal activities within APNR must be harsh enough to deter and discourage culprits from carrying out further illegal and or unethical practices.”

The recent clearly inept hunt of the young elephant highlights a growing conflict between hunting and photographic safaris operating on the same land in the APNR, which adjoins in the Kruger with no intervening fences. 

Audrey Delsink, Wildlife Director for Humane Society International (HSI) Africa says the organization is “deeply concerned about the number of incidences that have surfaced regarding hunting irregularities, non-compliance and unethical practices in the APNRs” of late.

“The horrific shooting of the Maseke elephant bull in front of tourists should serve as a long-overdue wake-up to the consequences that trophy hunting has on South African tourism,” she says.

Haussmann says the ethical violations of the APNR hunting protocol were difficult to govern because it made no provision for unethical practices, despite being based on the notion of ‘ethical and sustainable hunting.’ 

“It’s something we will have to discuss within the whole APNR structure," she said, “as it affects all the private reserves within the Greater Kruger area. The APNR hunting protocol is based on ethical hunting and this [hunt] is not ethical." 

She said that, going forward, stricter control would be implemented during hunting, but was unable to specify what she meant by that. 

In the past, the Kruger National Park has threatened to re-erect fences because of poor governance in APNR reserves. According to Glenn Phillips, Kruger National Park managing executive, “it only takes one individual or organisation to smear the good name of those reserves that seek to comply with ethical and responsible practice.

 “The KNP will not condone any practice that is unethical, unsustainable or to the detriment of the conservation estate,” he said, and SANParks “keenly awaits the finalisation of the [Balule] investigation”. 

Conservation Action Trust